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THORNY SUPPLY CHAINS

The cost of Valentine’s Day roses is soaring because air freight rates are up

A farm worker cuts roses in a field in Colombia.
REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez
A farm worker cuts roses in a field in Colombia.
  • Nicolás Rivero
By Nicolás Rivero

Tech Reporter based in New York

Published Last updated

Valentine’s Day shoppers aren’t loving the price of roses this year. Customers have reported paying as much as $100 for a bouquet of a dozen roses. Florists say they’ve had to raise prices as much as 20% since last year.

Fresh cut roses must often travel thousands of miles before they appear in the outstretched hands of your beloved. Harvested by the hundreds of millions in countries like Colombia, Kenya, and the Netherlands, roses are delicately packed into the bellies of thousands of cargo planes, and then airlifted across the world in the weeks leading up to Feb. 14.

Lately, air freight prices have skyrocketed thanks to lingering supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic. As ships clogged the world’s ports, many waiting for weeks to unload their cargo, retailers decided to avoid ocean shipping and import their cargo by air. That prompted cargo airlines to raise their prices to take advantage of soaring demand. Now florists are paying more to import roses and passing the cost onto shoppers with more expensive bouquets. Price hikes are being felt most keenly in the US, which imports more roses than any other country.

Latin American airlines love Valentine’s Day

Nearly all US roses come from Latin America, especially Ecuador and Colombia. It’s still too early to get an official count for this Valentine’s Day, but Bogota-based Avianca Airlines, the second largest airline in Latin America, says its cargo volumes are up 15% compared to the Valentine’s Day rush in 2021 when the US imported a record 102 million buds. Qatar Airways and the International Airlines Group also added extra charter flights out of Ecuador and Colombia to make up for extra demand for flower shipments.

Airports have also been bracing for another record year for roses. Miami International Airport, which handles 91% of US flower imports, estimated that it will bring in 1.4 billion flowers in the run-up to Valentine’s Day this year—up 17% from last year.

Kenyan flower farmers requested an airlift before Valentine’s Day

This year, Kenya, the largest export of roses to Europe, struggled to find enough cargo space to deliver its usual shipment of flowers to European and Middle Eastern markets. Normally, Kenyan roses travel to their destinations in the cargo holds of passenger flights—but as passenger travel has fallen during the pandemic, the country was left with less than half its usual air cargo capacity in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.

To fill in the gaps, the Kenyan government granted Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways permission to run dozens of last-minute flights to airlift Valentine roses out of the country. Those rescue flights didn’t come cheap; Clement Tulezi, CEO of the industry group Kenya Flower Council, told Bloomberg that the airlines charged an average of $5.70 per kilogram to deliver the flowers, up from $2.40 per kilogram last year.

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