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As demand blooms, it’s slim pickings for the flower industry

Flowers seen at the Los Angeles Flower District — the largest wholesale flower market in the U.S. — on Oct. 10, 2021. (Tonya Mosley/Here & Now)
Flowers seen at the Los Angeles Flower District — the largest wholesale flower market in the U.S. — on Oct. 10, 2021. (Tonya Mosley/Here & Now)

On most weekday mornings, the Los Angeles Flower District is a feast for the senses — a six-block showcase, brimming with flowers and plants from hundreds of vendors.

It’s the largest wholesale flower market in America, and it typically is the place where florists and flower lovers can find just about any flower they want.

But lately, the pickings have been slim. Many industries are facing widespread shortages, and the flower market is no exception. The shortage has put a strain on vendors like Wholesale Flowers, Incorporated.

Some flowers are almost impossible to get a hold of, says worker Pedro Peiros.

“It’s been hard with some items. Supposedly they’re in season, but it’s hard to get it,” he says. Flowers that aren’t in season are sometimes triple the price, he notes.

The demand for flowers was growing substantially before the pandemic. Katie Penn, CEO of the Society of American Florists, says that demand never really tapered off.

“People who already were buying some flowers are now buying more. And on top of that, you also have that whole working-at-home situation,” she says.

People working remotely are sprucing up their home decor with flowers, she says.

And as restrictions lift across the country and some people return to meeting in person, the demand for flowers at events — especially weddings, which are happening on overdrive — has bloomed, Penn says.

There’s also some issues in the supply chain, specifically from South America where a lot of the flowers come from. “That air cargo that used to be filled with flowers is now picking up consumer nonperishable consumer products because online shopping has increased so much,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean customers can’t still procure the bouquet of their dreams. According to Penn, it’s all about being flexible and taking advantage of a florist’s expertise. She says to be open minded about flower varieties instead of being tied to a specific type.

And just like with holiday toys and other goods impacted by the supply chain, florists need to plan ahead — way ahead — with their suppliers, she advises.

“Don’t just purchase the week before. Try and purchase a month before, or prior to holidays, two to three months before,” she says.

That way, florists can give quantity estimates to their suppliers, guaranteeing they’ll receive their desired flowers.

Shortages and demand aside, Penn thinks flowers are and will always be the perfect gift to put a smile on a friend’s face or brighten someone’s day.

“Use your florist and use them as the expert. Have them do the work,” she says. “You just tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll make it happen.”

Kalyani Saxena produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Chris Ballman and Tinku Ray. Saxena also adapted it for the web.

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