U.S. shippers busy bringing in flowers for Valentine's Day

The war of the roses is on.

An expected surge in Valentine's Day flower purchases this year is proving to be a boon for both South America growers and major shipping companies.

Atlanta-based UPS Inc. and Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp. are bringing in extra workers and planes to handle all the flower shipments from Colombia and Ecuador, where the bulk of the roses sold in the United States are grown.

And demand is predicted to be high with roughly 175 million roses produced for Monday's holiday, according to the Society of American Florists.

FedEx this week expects to carry 900,000 shipments of Valentine's Day gifts, including flowers, teddy bears and chocolates. UPS said it expects to move in excess of 20 million flowers alone.

"While our total volume is roughly the same as last year, our peak day _ Monday _ is going to be 30 percent higher than last year," said Jack Muhs, FedEx's vice president of global network planning.

FedEx doesn't deliver on Sundays, so that means more shipments of flowers this year will be made on Monday. Last year, the holiday fell on a Saturday.

"Most of the husbands or sweethearts want to get the product there on Valentine's Day," he added. "This year, with the holiday falling on a Monday, we're focusing a lot of attention on the weekend."

To handle the extra volume, FedEx is adding more than 100 refrigerated trucks and more than 50 flights this week. Spokeswoman Lourdes Pena said about 40 corporate employees have volunteered to help at the company's Miami distribution hub.

At UPS, the company said that during the run-up to Valentine's Day, it doubles its number of flights out of South America to handle the flower shipments. Retailers place their orders with growers in Ecuador, who then work with export cargo agents to get shippers like UPS to bring the flowers into the United States.

UPS operates a 200,000-square-foot warehouse at the Miami airport that it uses to store the flowers it brings in from South America.

"UPS's transportation responsibility is to deliver the flowers on time to our warehouse in Miami. The import agents collect those flowers from us and take them to distribution centers," said Tom O'Malley, UPS's vice president of cargo.

The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend less on average this Valentine's Day, though more people will be celebrating the holiday, which could give a boost to overall spending. It says 2005 Valentine's Day spending is expected to reach $13.2 billion.

Greeting cards remain the most popular gift, though nearly 58 percent of men surveyed by the retail group said they plan to buy flowers for their sweetheart.

Valentine's Day cards account for 7 percent of all individual greeting cards sold industrywide for the year, with about 200 million cards exchanged among sweethearts, said Rachel Bolton with Hallmark Cards Inc. That's not including boxed cards and miniature Valentines often passed among schoolkids.

That slice of market ties Valentine's Day with Christmas for the biggest card-giving holiday.

And often cards accompany flowers on the most romantic of holidays.

"Good roses always sell," said Peter Sessler, director of purchasing for Los Angeles-based Mayesh Wholesale Florist Inc., which imports flowers and sells them to retail shops and party planners.

Flower prices have remained relatively stable in recent years, which has helped keep demand strong.

Last year, the average price U.S. florists charged for a dozen arranged roses was $71.13, compared to $68.64 in 2001, said Jennifer Sparks with the Society of American Florists. The Alexandria, Va.-based industry group won't have this year's average until after the holiday, but it is not expected to fluctuate much.

Colombia, which supplies about 75 percent of imported flowers sold in the United States, expects to export the same number of flowers this year for Valentine's Day as they have done in the past few years, said Ana Cristina Bueno with the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters. In 2004, Colombia exported 196,000 tons of flowers, 8 percent of which went out for the Valentine's Day holiday. Bueno said increased competition mainly from Holland, Kenya, South Africa and Kenya have kept prices low.


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