It might not seem like Valentine’s Day to you, but if you are in the flower-importing business, there’s nothing but Valentine’s Day running around your head these days.
Valentine’s Day is the industry’s Christmas. The only holiday close, not surprisingly, is Mother’s Day. With something as perishable as a rose, projecting demand is stress-inducing, to be sure.
South Florida is ground zero for the United States’ fresh-cut flower importing business. More specifically, ground zero is Doral, where all the warehouses are, and Miami International Airport, where all the planes land.
In fact, it’s a matter of some local pride. Because my company, WorldCity, produces annual TradeNumbers publications around the country, I can say with some certainty that no community takes greater pride in an import than this one and its flowers. We’re just not that humble about it. Most communities, in fact, shun discussion of leading imports. That’s another story for another column.
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Here are a few quick statistics about fresh-cut flower imports to get you grounded:
Four months of the year, the value of flowers imported into the United States basically doubles from the norm: January, February, April and May. February is generally the biggest single month followed closely by April, the month that precedes Mother’s Day. Some might quibble with this extrapolation but this means we care more for our Valentines than our mothers, but not by much.
In 2013, for the first time, flower imports into the United States topped $1 billion. Flowers ranked as the United States’ No. 301-ranked import by value, behind ball-point pens and ahead of raw tobacco, which we produce quite a bit of in this country. Fresh-cut flowers are South Florida’s No. 12-ranked import, with a value of $840.29 million in 2013, the last year for which annual figures are available. That was a record year, the fourth in a row.
You can expect 2014 to have been a record year as well for South Florida, when the totals for 2014 are released in about three weeks. Through the first 11 months of the year, South Florida imports totaled $794.86 million, a rather slight 0.89 percent increase over the first 11 months of 2013.
Of the $794.86 million entering the South Florida Customs district, which stretches from Palm Beach County in the north to the Florida Key in the south, $792.90 million fly into Miami International Airport. That’s 99.75 percent of the total.
In fact, of the $963.07 million in fresh-cut flowers that had entered the United States through November, 83.19 percent entered at MIA. That’s domination. Over the years, a number of communities have made a run at South Florida’s domination of the flower import business, including Atlanta and Houston. Currently, Los Angeles International Airport is putting effort there, and it ranks second behind MIA, with $37.85 million through the first 11 months of the year.
MIA’s market share of U.S. imports, at 83.19 percent, has been relatively constant over the last decade, though the percentage, if it holds, would set a record for MIA. That last time MIA’s market share was below 80 percent was in the first 11 months of 2003, over a decade ago.
I don’t often write about tonnage — the weight of the exports and imports — because dollars are a more accessible language for most people, but MIA’s tonnage for fresh-cut flowers is, similarly, in record territory as its market share. In fact, for the third consecutive year, MIA’s tonnage accounted for more than 90 percent of all the fresh-cut flower imports into the United States through November 2014. The 2014 figure is 92.36 percent.
Why, you might ask, would the tonnage percentage be higher than the dollar value percentage? I am not on the ground negotiating or comparing products but my bet is that importers into Miami get a slightly better rate, based on the volume. Flowers entering South Florida tend to be about 8 to 10 percent less expensive — all other things being equal, which I can’t really know from the Census data — than the national average. The margin — dividing the value of the imported flowers by the tonnage — with LAX is relatively slight.
Many of us in Miami know the origin of the fresh-cut flowers entering MIA. Again, those figures have been remarkably constant over the last decade. That’s not surprising because the flower industry requires certain temperature and soil conditions, a commitment of time and land, and the expertise that comes with having both. It’s not like computer chip or T-shirt manufacturing, industries that, as South Florida knows well, are far more mobile and subject to market whims and other conditions beyond local control. Colombia started the decade accounting for 71.07 percent of all flower imports into South Florida and in 2014 was accounting for 74.05 percent. Ecuador, the other leading market for the flower import business into South Florida, was accounting for 22.66 percent of the total through the first 11 months of 2004 and 19.75 percent last year for the same period.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, this final thought: The oft-heard complaint about the fresh-cut flower business in the United States, when compared to Europe, for example, is that Americans just aren’t big on flower purchases — and to be clear, it is the casual, during-the-week purchase of a bouquet that is the issue. The value of imports of fresh-cut flowers has increased 32.58 percent over the last decade, from the first 11 months of 2004 to the first 11 months of 2014. During that same period, U.S. imports rose by 60 percent.
Ken Roberts is founder and president of WorldCity, a Coral Gables-based company that pays attention to the impact of globalization on local email@example.com.
Fresh-cut flower imports into South Florida
November 2014 YTD
Change in rank
Source: WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data