The impact of Brexit on the cost of flowers is something I have wanted to discuss for a while. Yes my blog is all about happy flowers, the joy they bring at life events such as weddings, and the day to day importance of having blooms at home or to send as a gift. But as a professional florist, I feel it is important to write about issues affecting our industry, and how this may in turn affect my customers. The cost of flowers has significantly increased recently, so I am going to highlight the issues of why in the post.
After a year of us all battling with the unprecedented times that Covid has forced us to deal with, Brexit seems like a long distant memory. Clearly we have all had more important things to have dealt with, but I personally feel the devastating effects of leaving the EU may have been missed due to Covid. The media, who we all know will represent the side of their story from their political view point, can often to be bias and misinformed. This is maybe why we are in this mess currently?! I mean remember the days of Nigel Farage standing on top of a boat waving a Union Jack banging on about fishing and immigrants... yawn. It is enough to send anyone over the edge, when you look back. Here is my viewpoint from a busy independent florist who deals with predominantly goods imported from Holland (Still in the EU!), based on facts. With of course a few of my own thrown in there too, just to spice things up!!
Holland is the most amazing country who's industry is built upon the growing and exporting of fresh flowers and plants. An incredible place, when you visit the flower markets, the sheer scale of the size of them proves what a lucrative and important industry flowers are. The markets are the size of small cities, with flowers zooming about on huge lines of trolleys, each destined for their new destination, which could be the UK, it could be any other European country, and further afield. Some flowers are flown in from Ecuador and Columbia, to be sold at the Dutch auctions, to then be transported out again. Ok this is not great for air miles, but this just shows how massive the flower industry is in Holland. It is their thing, and they do it incredibly well.
In order to understand how the impact of Brexit on the cost of flowers is affecting us, I want to talk a bit about the process of how I acquire my flowers. My flowers are all Dutch except in the summer wedding season where I use British flowers to top up. (I have a post on why I use British flowers within wedding flowers here to read, which explains the benefits to using British!)
The quality and quantity you can buy from Holland is insane, and I have a great relationship with my flower market, Flowervision Bristol. Who work by buying flowers directly in Holland with a buyer in the mornings auctions, these go online on their website for us florists that very afternoon, which we can simply log on and view what Flowervision have bought that morning. We buy what we like (my favourite time of day... online flower shopping!) The flowers are then transported overnight in lorries from Holland to arrive at Flowervision in the early hours. The staff will then unload, pick our orders and have them ready for collection from 5am when they open. It still blows my mind what a huge operation this is, but it is executed absolutely seamlessly and we are all 100% used to and reliant on being able to operate our businesses by buying flowers one day and having them in our workshops the next. This allows for last minute orders to be accepted, and lets face it flowers are last minute! It allows the market to have a constant supply of super fresh flowers, in a wide range, that are accessible to us florists each day.
So how has this process changed since us leaving the EU? At the moment, plant buying has only been affected. We used to be able to buy plants like we do flowers, hop online in the morning, and your beautiful selection of houseplants would arrive ready to sell the next day. We have been advised to buy 'low risk' plant varieties, which will mean a lesser chance of an inspection. This is not to say that other 'high risk' plant varieties cannot be acquired, it just takes a little more thought and organisation. Checks have now been introduced by Defra, and our market gets less than 24 hour notice that the inspection of goods will take place from 9 am the following day. Bearing in mind that our market opens from 5am-10am for florists to collect, the timescales are not idea for florist working hours. Plants have a much longer lifespan than flowers, so delaying our plant order collection by a day, is not the end of the world. Us florists just need to be more organised, and change our method in ordering.
However, when flower checks come into play, this will be a whole entirely different, and potentially complicated issue due to the fresh nature of the stock, and the reason we need the stock. From April 1st, all cut flowers imported from the EU will also require a phytosanitary certificate, and need to be inspected by a government official to check for pests and diseases. I work on huge weddings where I can buy 1000s of pounds worth of fresh flower, where myself and the team need a few days to work through in order to create our amazing weddings. If stock is delayed by a day because of checks, then this will hugely inconvenience us. We only have a set amount of time to fulfil our wedding work, and I am so experienced in buying my stock on the correct days. In May when the peonies take longer to open, we buy on a Tuesday so they are open for a Saturday wedding. I'll buy flowers with a shorter life such as stocks, on a Thursday so they are ready to be used that day in the wedding work, and still look at their optimum beauty for a Saturday wedding.
The Fresh Produce Consortium estimates that the new customs rules and tariffs will add £100 million to the cost of importing cut flowers into the UK.
Feedback from its members suggests the wholesale price of cut flowers in the UK is set to rise by between 5% and 10%. The extra checks needed will require lots more paperwork, which inevitably will see a price increase to allow for this. Delays at border check points, could also be a huge issue. When it comes to wedding flowers we cannot just order a day earlier, especially if it is warm weather... this will therefore mean having more to do in a day, meaning we have to employ more staff to complete the job.
The price increase in flowers we have seen over the last few weeks has been the highest over the last 30 years, according to our flower buyer in Holland. This is down to other contributing factors I want to explain too. The flower auctions run on supply and demand, at the beginning of the first lockdown, prices were incredibly low, due to the high amount of flower that had been produced, with no one to buy it. This saw heartbreaking amounts of flowers having to be thrown away due to the no demand. With lockdown forcing some growers to stop producing, and some to go out of business, there has been a lower supply of flowers, because they take time to grow and this involves planning. In these uncertain times growers have sensibly scaled back, to not avoid such wastage as before. With the two key flower dates Valentines and Mother's Day falling within a month of each other, the worldwide demand for cut flower is huge.
The effects of leaving the EU can be seen in extra checks and price rises and this is troubling, until you break it down and explain to people what is going on behind the scenes then people will view this as a smooth transition, or that we are just increasing our prices because it is 'Valentine's Day' or 'Mother's Day'. Apart from anything I feel that it is so sad that we are now having to deal with all this extra work/admin/price increases, because of leaving the EU. I feel sad that businesses like mine are potentially having to remodel how they have worked, pretty successfully for years, because of extra admin and checks, and the impact of what any potential delays in getting our stock will have for a business that deals in perishable goods. Of course we have to adjust to change, and this is not a rant about us leaving the EU (well it kind of is!) It is an explanation of how an incredibly efficient and reliable export/import relationship between Holland and Britain has been impacted, and how the impacts will filter through to everyday florists, and in the end to the consumer.
We have also seen an increase in price of sundries, which is packaging/pots/baskets...anything that is not fresh! Most of which comes from the Far East via my flower market, or I personally buy from companies in Sweden and Denmark. Due to the knock on effects from 2020 and UK companies stockpiling product in the ports due to Brexit, this has resulted in a large number of empty containers sat at UK ports and a shortage in the Far East for further shipments. Cargo companies who have ships and empty containers in the Far East are now charging $10,000 per container whereas this time last year the cost of transporting a container by sea was only $2,000. This will be ironed out I am sure, once the containers are all back in use again, however the immediate impact has caused price hikes and a huge delay in us acquiring stock. Getting hold of hand tied bags from Valentine's was like getting hold of gold dust!
Holland will always grow flowers, and we will always import them, and I know my market will do everything they can in these ever changing times to ensure we still get the best quality and variety of flowers available. There will inevitably be some stumbling blocks, that we will all encounter as we are all being forced to get used to this new way of working outside of the EU. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue and how you as a florist or consumer have been affected at all? You can get in touch via Instagram @TheRoseShed where I will post this also!