An estimated 198 million roses were produced last year just for Valentine's Day. Most people who bought those roses knew little about what went into growing, harvesting, shipping and storing them. They only saw the price increase over what they pay at other times of the year.
Each phase of production costs more because of the massive volume, says Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida in Miami.
"It's a one-day holiday and all this stuff has to be done for one day. Sending flowers two days late won't cut it," Boldt says.
One florist, Kristi Pohly of Fleur Decor in Denver, says her cost for roses has more than doubled since Christmas. She pays $2.07 per stem, up from $1.05 at Christmas. Last year for Valentine's Day, she paid $1.75 per stem.
From the farmers' fields to the time when those arranged roses reach your loved ones, everyone's cost increases along the way. That's why you end up paying more than at any other time of the year. Here's a rundown of what happens.
Growers use Manual Labor
When farmers produce roses for Valentine's Day, they cut back the stems of plants slated for holiday production, says Boldt. That means normally productive rose plants won't produce full rose buds for 10 to 12 weeks.
Then, when those plants do produce, the farmers need additional labor for harvest, because the roses are processed manually. That requires temporary labor to help the permanent employees harvest, process and pack up to three times the normal volume of roses.
The costs from the hiatus while the roses aren't producing and the extra labor are eventually passed on to the consumer.
Transportation Costs More
Whether roses come by plane from Colombia and Ecuador or by truck from farms in the United States, the need for cargo space rises substantially in February in anticipation of Valentine's Day.
"Because more planes are needed to bring the roses into the U.S., we pay more for air freight as additional planes have to be used for the additional shipping volume," Boldt says. "Then the number of trucks that importers need to move roses from the airport, through their facilities and on to the over-the-road trucks increases, too."
In addition, the extra trucks and drivers are needed to haul the roses around the country.
The added transportation cost increases the cost to the end buyer. How much is difficult to say because each wholesaler has differing costs based on company size, labor expenses and location.
Men traditionally buy a dozen red roses. That hasn't varied over the years and shows no signs of changing, though surveys indicate women prefer pink, says Angie Zimmerman, owner of Heavenly Flowers and Events in El Dorado Hills, Calif.
In order to lock in the best price, Zimmerman orders her roses early, before any customers have placed orders with her. She uses her previous year's sales as a gauge for the size of her order. She usually doubles her normal prices for people buying Valentine roses.
"I have to raise them some," says Zimmerman. But she never raises them to the extent the wholesaler does. She says they sometimes charge seven times their normal price leading up to the holiday.
The economy factors in
"When the economy collapsed, a number of growers, both domestically and internationally, went out of business," says Pat Mullen, a buyer for Mayesh Wholesale Florist Inc. in Los Angeles.
That left fewer farms with the capital to grow roses correctly, Mullen says. Growers need loans to stay in business, and banks aren't lending them much money. They view horticulture as a risky venture.
Buyers in some countries pay more for roses than the U.S., including those in Europe, Russia and Japan, so growers sell to other countries. That decreases the supply available to U.S. buyers and boosts the price here.
"We don't pass along every cost increase we experience, and our retail customers most likely don't pass all their costs," Mullen says. "It's more important for us to still be in business after the holiday."
Paying for an expert
You can pay lower prices for red roses at big warehouse stores like Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club or your local grocery store because they buy in bulk, says Pohly.
"What we offer that those places don't is more uniqueness and personalized service. I suggest flowers other than roses that more closely match the personality of the recipient," Pohly says.
Whether you choose roses or other blooms, florists charge more than the big warehouse stores, but they also offer more. Florists extend the life of the roses they process by removing the bottom leaves, cutting the stems at an angle, adding preservative and placing them in warm water to increase the size of the blooms. Then, they create a carefully crafted artistic arrangement.
Alternatives to the rose
Kim Foren, owner of Geranium Lake Flowers in Portland, Ore., frequently finds consumers don't want to pay high prices for roses. She helps them figure out how to arrange a less costly bouquet.
Foren suggests including lower-priced flowers such as tulips, daffodils, freesia and Gerbera daisies.
For a lush look, she recommends using only one type of flower, such as all red tulips. For a loved one who appreciates a minimal design, she suggests three lilies and black rocks or even a single flower.
"It works. It's simple and not overwhelming," Foren says. "Men often try to overwhelm women with flowers."