Roses can be many things: a symbol of romance or friendship, a thoughtful gesture, or a confession of love. In whatever context, roses are among the most popular flowers sought out in the United States. Where there is high demand, there is possibility of profit – and most recently, Colombia has seen the benefit.
Over the past two decades, the rose industry has seen a major shift from domestic production to a heavy import market. In fact, rose growing in the American flower industry is down by 95%, from 545 million roses to less than 30 million. In 1986, there were 228 domestic flower growers producing specific types of roses. By 2015, that number had decreased to only 15.
So where has the rose business gone? The answer lies in one sunny city: Bogota, Colombia. With around 12 hours of sunlight daily and a temperate, high altitude, Bogota is the ideal place for growing roses. Bright, high quality roses grow more rapidly in this climate, allowing for a quicker production time overall. It can be faster to get roses from Colombia to the East Coast than from California.
Another important factor in this industry shift is the low cost of labor. The Colombian economy has benefited greatly from floriculture, with many low-income families finding jobs as a result. Around 130,000 Colombians currently work in the flower business, which has turned into an elegant supply chain that mixes high technology with precise manual labor.
Now that customers are purchasing flowers differently, companies demand faster and more efficient ways of buying flowers en masse. Whereas clients used to purchase their bouquets directly from florists, more and more consumers are turning to supermarkets and online retailers. In fact, Walmart and its competitors have replaced florists as the top sellers of roses.
This has created an ideal situation for the Colombian rose industry, fueled by a demand for cheap roses and an expanded free-trade agreement with the United States. As such, Colombia exported around 4 billion flowers to the United States in 2017. Valentine’s Day is a particular winner for Colombia – even though Colombians themselves do not celebrate the holiday, it brings in about 20% of annual revenue in the floral industry. In the weeks before Valentine’s Day, 30 cargo jets fly to Miami daily, with more than a million flowers altogether. Walmart alone purchases 24 million Colombian roses to sell for the holiday.
Unable to compete with the near-perfect rose growing conditions in Colombia, American growers have readjusted their focus to flowers for events and weddings, leaving roses behind. The benefits of this increased rose industry are indubitable – Colombia has a new way to thrive, with new opportunities for its citizens, and consumers stateside can count on high-quality roses year-round at a reasonable price.