Roses are red and florists are blue

Columbia Road Flower Market trader Lisa Burridge Pic. Sophie Soar

Once again, Valentine’s Day looms around the corner: cute, cuddly and candy-filled. But while supermarkets brim with bountiful bouquets, the floral fancies reveal nothing of the struggle behind the UK florist trade.

A 2016 YouGov survey estimated that 41 per cent of UK consumers buy Valentine’s Day products. As a nation, we spend around £1.5 billion on the holiday and wooers’ favourites fall to flowers, with approximately £262 million spent on buds and blossoms for February 14.

Despite such seemingly encouraging figures, the industry has wilted by 16 per cent since 2007. British traders begun opting for Dutch imports, which were initially cheaper, but the depreciation of the pound has made importing flowers much more expensive. Market research at IBISWorld revealed florists’ trade revenue has decreased at a compound annual rate of 1.2 per cent since 2013.

According to Caroline Marshall-Foster, managing director for trade magazine The Florist, the total market for flowers increased by £1,826 billion between 1995 and 2015. But in 1995, florists had 44 per cent of the market share and supermarkets had 20 per cent. Today, florists see only 30 per cent of sales whilst supermarkets account for 60 per cent.

Statistics from The Florist

Market trader Lisa Burridge has worked on a flower stall at Columbia Road Flower Market for 31 years. She has seen a drastic change in the industry since she began working on her father-in-law’s stall at the age of 18, believing the gradual disappearance of florists is “down to supermarkets”.

She told EastLondonLines: “We cannot compete with their prices as they get such a bulk amount. The supermarkets order off growers and exclude them from trading with anyone else. Then if they have over-ordered, they will back out but the flowers aren’t allowed to be sold anywhere else and are destroyed.”

Columbia Road Flower Market. Pic: Sophie Soar

Simon Lycett, royal and celebrity florist, views the supermarkets’ monopoly differently. Lycett told EastLondonLines: “Buying habits in the UK florist industry have become lazy and monotonous. I think too many florists have become slaves to the quick and easy method of buying.

“Attitudes are going to have to change and change quickly. They stock the same old stuff week in, week out, and quite frankly there’s not a lot of difference between them and a supermarket, so why should a customer make the effort to go to them?”

Where supermarkets and florists can differ, Lycett explained, falls to the craft upon which the trade was built. He emphasises the need for “showing off a skill base, showing that you can take a flower and add value to it.” To him, a successful florist will work hard to “give your customers something different”.

Simon Lycett creation. Pic: Simon Lycett

For business to bloom, creative flair requires extra effort with seasonal limitations. The cold winter months hinder homegrown options in January and February, limiting English flowers to fewer blooms, such as snowdrops and narcissi.

However, whether the most fabulous floral creation or simply a single red rose, the gift of flowers will always say more than you think. As Lycett explained: “Flowers say whatever you want them to but they always hit the spot.” No wonder, considering the symbolic significance of each and every bud.

Whilst the snowdrop signifies hope and the cactus symbolises endurance, the romantics amongst us will no doubt steer towards the rose. However, Lycett advises caution: “We all adore roses on Valentine’s Day but be careful what your intention is. If you give a thornless rose, the message is love at first sight, a red rose is for desire and the white for charm and innocence.”

Burridge too expects the red rose request this Valentine’s Day but she recommends combining a few with white lilies and some gypsophila. But again, proceed with caution: lilies symbolise devotion and the red rose provokes passion. However, a sprinkling of gypsophila suggests fertility.

Whatever message you want to send your loved ones, supermarket checkouts can’t advise either way. So whether wanting to woo with incredible creations or seeking a simple yet symbolic bouquet, side-step the commercialism and make a statement with true meaning and real value.

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