If you got flowers today, they probably came from Colombia. Last year, the United States imported nearly one billion cut flowers between January 1 and February 14 in preparation for the holiday, and 71.1% of these came from Colombia, according French market research firm Ipsos.
The tale is similar in the lead up to both Mother’s Day and Christmas, the two other big U.S. flower holidays, and the Andean mega-producing nation on the other side of the Caribbean is the one reaping the most benefits.
Photo: Dozens of small flower stands like this shop sit in central Bogotá, and countless exporters from all over Colombia look forward to the Valentine’s Day bonanza. (Credit: Jared Wade)
The reasons for Colombia’s dominance are its highly developed production market and its ability to grow coveted flowers all year long. Farmers, more and more with each passing year, are also increasingly adept at harvesting and shipping them to United States quickly and efficiently.
“The key words of fresh cut flower logistics are ‘speed’ and ‘refrigeration,'” wrote Phoenix Zhang for Forbes. “Farmers in Latin America cut flowers at dawn and immediately pack them in temperature-controlled coolers, and these coolers are sent to the airport right away.”
He notes that the flowers are then packed into cargo planes at Colombian airports and flown to the United States. While there are technically various destinations, a full 89.6% of the flowers entering the United States in the first six weeks of 2016 landed in Miami International Airport. Two Southern Californian airports, LAX in Los Angeles and Otay Mesa in San Diego, imported another 6.4% while the rest of the arrivals were scattered across the country in small shipments.
Then comes the final step in the process: moving Colombian roses and other precious flowers from their point of arrival to the vases of millions of lucky ladies all across the United States.
“After pest inspection (normally within 24 hours of arrival), these flowers are transferred onto temperature-controlled trucks to flower distributors, which store them in refrigerated warehouses,” added Zhang. “According to UPS, the journey from the flower farm to the importer takes only 24 to 48 hours.”
Colombia’s largest airline, Avianca, says its cargo arm shipped 11,200 tons of flowers for Valentine’s Day between January 16 and February 7 this year. With 175 flights dedicated to flowers — mostly roses, carnations, hydrangeas, and chrysanthemums — this represented a 15% jump in volume over 2015.
While the carrier sent almost all the flowers directly to Miami from Colombia, their final destinations included locations as far flung as Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Frankfurt, Madrid, London, Tokyo, Sydney, and Shanghai.
“Not only did we exceed the volume of flowers transported last year, we also showed the quality and professionalism of our processes that allow us to fulfill the needs of the flower industry in the region,” said Andres Osorio, general director of Avianca Cargo. “It is gratifying to know that our team played an active role in the flower supply chain of countries around the world that celebrate this special date.”