“I think if you ask most women, I think red roses wouldn’t be their favorite,” said Robert Kitayama, a third-generation flower farmer with operations in Aptos and Watsonville. Kitayama Brothers grows mainly lilies, gerbera daisies, lisianthus and snapdragons, he said. “I do think men, if they took two minutes and ask their wife or their girlfriend what their favorite flower (is), they may be surprised.”
This is one of the busiest times of year for Kitayama and his cohorts, with almost all manner of flora flying out the greenhouse and warehouse doors on the wings of Cupid.
“Traditionally, it is roses, but unfortunately, the U.S. grows less than 2 percent of the roses sold in the United States each year,” said Kasey Cronquist, CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission. Most roses nowadays come from Colombia and Ecuador, where production costs are lower, he said.
“We’ve been able to pivot toward other crops that continue to be successful for us and are also enjoyed during the Valentine’s Day holiday for those folks who break away from that rose-giving tradition,” he said.
Indeed, Kitayama senses a generational change taking root.
“I think the younger generation is not so tradition-bound,” Kitayama said. “Gerbera daisies are very popular—very bright colors, very fun flower. I think there’ll be a lot of tulips; tulips are very plentiful and reasonably priced. There’s a lot of new flowers, such as orchids, that come on the market and seem to be popular.”
Kitayama said he sees younger flower shoppers gravitating toward the novel and the unconventional.
“I think the consumer is a little bit more savvy nowadays,” he said. “They can go on Pinterest and see things like vernaculars, dahlias, hydrangeas.”
Or stick to Old Reliable, which is what a lot of Valentine shoppers do—mainly because they’re guys.
“The issue with Valentine’s is that most of the buyers are men,” Kitayama said. “Women buy more than 80 percent of all the flowers. But it’s the one holiday where a lot of men shop, and they are very, very tradition-bound, or they’re just not comfortable getting out of a little bit of a box, and that box is red roses.”
Whatever the chosen blossom, Kitayama’s business is blooming.
“It will be a good holiday,” Kitayama said. “Demand is up for all commodities, all varieties.”
Cronquist sensed growers had all they could handle trying to keep up.
“Product seems to be tight right now,” he said. “It seems like demand’s stronger than we have availability, and I think some of that’s related to some of the weather we’ve had.”
That’s what Allan Nishita was seeing at Sacramento wholesaler Flora Fresh Inc.
“It’s a tough time. A major holiday during this winter season, growers are affected by the weather,” Nishita said. “It makes it tough on the growers in getting their production to happen for Valentine’s.”
In addition to roses, Nishita was filling orders for daisies, carnations, tulips, lilies, oriental lilies and the “fillers,” such as gypsophila (also called baby’s breath), wax flowers and assorted greenery used to fill out bouquets and arrangements.
As with most other crops, timing is everything. A midweek V-Day drives up demand, said Dave Johns, owner of flower wholesaler Cal-Nevada in Sacramento. Johns estimates about 85 percent of the flowers moving through his business will be roses, about 10 times the average for the rest of the year.
“This year, it’s very good because it’s on a Tuesday,” Johns said. “Any time it’s on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be your highest demand for flowers for Valentine’s Day.”
That timing can help lovebirds make a big splash.
“With Valentine’s landing during the work week, the benefit is that deliveries are made at the office,” Cronquist said. “Who doesn’t like having a beautiful bouquet of flowers from your significant other land at your desk in front of all of your co-workers to see? You miss out on some of that pomp and circumstance that comes around the holiday when it’s just a privately held event at the home.”
And on some level, flower buyers these days might like to know whether those are local blossoms they’re seeing in the florist’s displays.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing people care more and more about where things come from,” Cronquist said. To that end, the CCFC helped launch BloomCheck, a sustainability certification program (www.bloomcheck.org).
“That really helps us give credit to farmers where credit’s due,” Cronquist said.
The commission, along with the Certified American-Grown program, also hosts its own variation on farm-to-fork events called Field to Vase.
“We’re hosting these dinners in fields across the country to help raise awareness for what’s American grown,” he said. “We found that to be a really successful tactic. We’ve sold out these dinners throughout the country over the last two years.”
The commission, he said, has also used the California Grown program to help flower shoppers identify state-grown products.
Nishita said he looks for California-grown flowers first, and on Monday morning had a warehouse featuring a large number of blooms with California Grown or Certified American-Grown labels. He goes to out-of-state or overseas growers if the product he needs isn’t available in the Golden State.
And U.S.-grown roses? What happened to them?
“Once upon a time, we were the country’s largest rose grower,” Kitayama said. Cost, especially in the face of cheaper overseas competition, is the reason he and others got out of the rose business.
“It’s expensive to grow roses,” Kitayama said. “Takes a lot of heat, a lot of labor, a lot of chemicals.”
Even so, there may still be a future for the California-grown rose.
“There is a trend back toward garden roses, which is kind of a different type of rose, very popular for events and weddings,” Kitayama said. He added that these roses are fragile and difficult to ship, but some California producers have done well with them.
Permission for use is granted by the California Farm Bureau Federation.Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.