The week before Mother’s Day, a handful of growers representing four flower farms on the West Coast, traveled to the other side of the globe to explore whether there’s a place in the Chinese floral industry for American-grown flowers.
“I’d never given much thought to that part of the world, but when the opportunity came about to go with fellow farmers, I decided it would be worthwhile,” said Tyler Meskers, operations manager at Oregon Flowers in Aurora, Oregon.
The group, a coalition from American Grown Flowers, toured importers’ and wholesalers’ facilities. “The agricultural region of China is pretty small compared to the size of the country and those flowers are primarily for personal consumption,” explained Meskers. “There’s definitely a large demand for imported flowers.”
Most of the businesses they visited were pretty new—five-years-old or younger, he said. “The middle class in China is growing like crazy there, so there’s definitely a new market of flower buyers,” Meskers said.
Touring the facilities, Meskers saw tons of lilies—an Oregon Flowers specialty. While the demand for his product certainly exists in China, he has reservations about exporting across the Pacific.
“It would be a really big hurdle to produce flowers at prices they can handle,” he said. “They have a high tariff and primarily import from Ecuador, South Africa, and Canada. For our company, I think it would be hard to make ends meet selling to China.”
It might work for other American companies, he said. “They like Ilex berries for the Chinese New Year, foliage, and greens. They’re really interested in off-season and unique items.”
Although he doesn’t anticipate doing business with China, Meskers still found the trip eye-opening.
“The Chinese are much more advanced with technology than people in the United States,” he said. “They do everything on a smartphone. Some buyers told us they don’t even carry a wallet anymore. With flowers, each vendor has a QR code—even the guy whose stand was just a bucket—that you scan on a phone and hit ‘pay.’ And everyone uses an app called WeChat that’s basically like Amazon and Facebook rolled into one.”
He also paid attention to their processing system. “It could use improvement,” he said. “Our wholesalers here keep our lilies in the cooler in a sleeve, trying to sell them before they open. In China, they do not care if they’re opened or closed.”
Part of the reason, he hypothesized, is that customers want instant gratification. “In Holland, where my family’s from, people like to buy flowers, put them in a vase in the dining room and watch them open up over the course of the week. Part of the fun is watching them change, plus you get to enjoy them longer,” he said. “In China, they seem to want that open presentation immediately.”
His biggest take away, though, was increased appreciation for the personal freedom of being an American.
“We saw cameras on every street corner,” he said. “There’s so much censorship, corruption and regulation in China. Our ability to think freely and make our decisions is such a wonderful privilege.”