How the Global Flower Industry Has Adapted to the Pandemic
Florists’ Review Magazine February 2021, powered by FloraLife
With its global footprint, FloraLife is in a unique position to understand the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the floral industry in various parts of the world. While there are many common threads across the globe, there are also contrasting perspectives in how different areas are coping with the impact. Here are observations and lessons learned from seven different markets located on different continents.
China, the first market impacted
The first market area impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic was China. In January, the country was closed down by the government to prevent people from moving around. Corporations were shut down, supermarket hours were limited, cinemas, restaurants and entertainment venues were totally closed. As a result, there was virtually no floral business, and many flowers were simply thrown away at farms. When the country began to reopen in mid-March with restrictions, the floral business resumed and gradually the economy began to rebound.
Sales related to the floral business boomed because of weddings and other events that had been rescheduled after long delays. Floral sales continued to increase, and now, as reported by the government, the country has reached the same economic level as compared to October 2019.
Several business strategies played into China’s floral business turnaround. Businesses adhered to government requirements, but also obtained government relief programs such as reduced fees, insurance and taxes to help them get back on their feet.
During the pandemic, successful floral businesses stayed in communication with their customers by phone, text, and social platforms like WeChat. They continued to promote their brands during the closure in order to ensure that when businesses reopened and consumers were ready to purchase flowers, their brand was top of mind. Finally, smart businesses used this downtime to improve their processes from technology and equipment to inventory, so that when business returned to normal, they would be poised for success.
Demand increase, supply slows down in Australia
At the start of the pandemic, the future of the industry seemed very uncertain as weddings, social functions and funerals were limited to 10 people. But it soon became evident that the floral industry would survive, even though florist shops were shuttered. Florists soon started to receive large volumes of website and phone orders from people who could not attend these events but still wanted to send flowers.
The supermarket trade quickly went into overdrive with 15 percent increase in sales on average. Since more than 50 percent of flowers sold in Australia are imported, the floral industry was quickly faced with major supply issues. This resulted in local flower growers not being able to supply the new demand, even after many increased their production. Today, imported flowers are slowly returning to the Australian market.
To survive, Australian floral companies had to keep their businesses going at all costs. This meant leveraging generous payments and tax rebates from the government. Adjusting to meet the new trends, such as a recent interest in dry flower arrangements, and improving website capabilities.
UK: A positive focus on the crisis
In the United Kingdom, florists experienced unprecedented demand from their customers despite the fact that the florist shops were forced to close due to lockdown restrictions. Although closed for foot traffic, UK florists used phones, websites and signage to let their customers know that they were open and ready to deliver flowers. And they quickly discovered that consumers wanted flowers delivered.
The gift of flowers is one of the most emotional and sensitive statements of affection a person can receive. So, when people couldn’t take holidays, couldn’t visit restaurants, couldn’t visit friends and relatives, they turned to giving flowers in an unprecedented way that was spectacularly supported by florists.
Adapting to customers is imperative. As an example, florists responded to customers wishing to create their own holiday wreaths by producing “how to” videos accompanied by DIY kits.
Work at home stimulates Japanese market
As in other markets, events and weddings in Japan were cancelled or postponed during the pandemic. Predictions indicate the wedding business will not enter a recovery phase until fall of 2021. Funerals have shifted to smaller scale, one-day, family-only events, which resulted in a 30 percent decrease on businesses focused on funerals.
“Stay home” and “work from home” edicts, however, actually stimulated interest for flowers in Japan. Consumers were inspired to purchase at supermarkets, garden centers and neighborhood flower shops in outskirt areas, rather than metropolitan business districts. Chain floral shops increased their focus on e-commerce and subscription programs designed to provide customers with casual enjoyment of flowers at home.
South Africa sees boom in online business
South Africa went through a month-long lockdown period followed by strict restrictions of essential-only businesses. As a result, florists were only permitted to conduct business online.
Many florists moved their businesses to their homes, where they had less overhead and more control. Florists that were not online when the pandemic started, quickly shifted their business online to survive.
In an effort to find new ways to supply not just the florist, but also the consumer, many flower agents and bouquet makers also launched online and direct sales platforms. While this initially caused some disruption, florists have now accepted it, and the agents continue to flourish.
Supermarket chains maintained or steadily grew in sales, as they were able to remain open from the early stages of lockdown. The popularity of one-stop shopping also helped to increase their market share, along with the absence of florist shops that had closed.
Businesses that stayed ahead in terms of technology heading into the pandemic were in a better position than ones that had to make that investment when they weren’t generating income.
South African businesses that focused on increased customer service, stayed up to date with training to help lower outsourcing, and diversified where possible to find unique products for their channel, found increased success. Florists who stayed on top of trends, such as Boho flowers and botanicals did better. Maintaining displays and merchandising even with less traffic, helped maintain business levels. Finally, keeping up to date with government resources and collaborating with suppliers to uncover opportunities led to success.
Changing the mindset of flowers from special occasions to everyday enjoyment in India
In India, the floral business is driven mainly by events and weddings, rather than retail florists. When the total lockdown was imposed in March, right before the traditionally peak wedding months of April and May, it was a huge shock for the entire floral industry. Growers and flower importers were forced to throw away large quantities of flowers.
During the pandemic, the Flower Council of India (FCI) formed. Industry stakeholders relentlessly worked together to create awareness about fresh flowers and encourage consumers to casually send flowers to friends and family that they couldn’t meet with.
Nearly all floral industry businesses increased their online and social media presence during the pandemic. Retail and online florists changed their marketing strategies and began taking digital marketing courses to leverage social media opportunities.
The pandemic caused the floral industry in India to realize its heavy dependence on weddings and triggered it to shift awareness about flowers for other occasions, as well as everyday life.
“Let Hope Bloom” campaign sparks The Netherlands market
In the Netherlands, the floral industry was severely affected at the beginning of the pandemic. Exports nearly stopped, and the ability and motivation of consumers to buy flowers reached an all-time low. During this time, sales dipped dramatically, and suppliers threw away as much as 85 percent of their flowers, an image that was captured on social media and shared to millions of people.
In response, the Dutch Flower Council created a social media campaign, “Let Hope Bloom,” that became a viral sensation and was viewed by millions of people all over the world. The campaign resulted in 69 percent of consumers saying they would now buy flowers.
To salvage flowers from being thrown away, businesses collaborated with the council to create the “together against loneliness” movement, which became known as the “Hope Campaign.” The campaign provided 150,000 bouquets that were distributed to elderly people on Good Friday, helping the recipients and reviving the industry.
Florists that mainly served businesses saw a significant 25 percent decrease on average of their business, although many were able to compensate with online and retail shop sales. With more people working from home, flowers at offices were not needed. Although one positive trend was that many employers sent flowers to their employees working at home.
Out of crisis, opportunity is created. For an example, one Dutch company bought up surplus flowers at a very reduced price, treated them, and sold them as dry bouquets, creating a trend that continues today.
The turnover of florists in the Netherlands increased by more than 10 percent in the first three quarters of 2020 and margins have fallen from 53.5 to 51.3 percent, mainly due to the high purchase prices. Although there are companies in the flower industry that are struggling, expectation for the future is positive.
Collaboration, hope and strength
While overall the global floral market fared better than initially anticipated, the economy will continue to be impacted by the consequences of the pandemic. Many industries have suffered from COVID-19, but the collaboration, hard work, adaptability and efforts of florists are ensuring that the floral industry will be stronger than it ever has been as the world comes out of this crisis.
To learn about best practices from the experts in flower care or to inquire about products and availability in your region, visit www.floralife.com or contact your local FloraLife representative.