(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the florist sector
In recent years there have been many changes to the structure of the flower growing industry. These changes include:
- global production that has seen imported flowers account for around 90% of the flowers sold in the UK (although the mid 2010s have seen something of a increase in the popularity of UK-grown flowers, they still only make up a small proportion of flowers bought by UK consumers)
- genetically altered varieties
- computer controlled growing conditions
- artificial climate control
- an extensive and efficient 'cool chain' distribution system
- the use of preservatives, conditioners and plant foods
This has encouraged the supermarket chains to become involved in retailing flowers, although generally they only sell fairly simple bouquets and bunches of blooms. The supermarkets' entry into the sector has actually succeeded in expanding the demand for flowers so, in general, unlike other market sectors, specialist florists haven't suffered too much from this. The vast majority of cut flowers bought in the UK are imported and the value of flower imports has more than quadrupled since 1990. The total value of retail sales of cut flowers is estimated to be around £2.5 billion.
The sector has also seen a big increase in the number of people ordering and paying for flowers online which are then sent by post or by courier. All the major supermarkets sell flowers online and there are also a number of online-only florists such as Serenata Flowers. Recent years have seen online flower subscription services like Bloom & Wild becoming popular. These developments have created a very competitive market for traditional florists.
The specialist nature of the flower selling trade should ensure that florists will continue to be a strong presence in the sector, due to their expertise in creating more complex floral arrangements and the fact that they can cater for weddings, funerals and other functions. (Together, spending on wedding and funeral flowers accounts for over 10% of the total market and is worth around £300 million a year.) In recent years, the sector has become more fashion-led, so it's very important to keep up to date with the latest trends and tailor your stock-buying accordingly.
The UK's decision to leave the EU had an immediate effect on the flower industry because of the resulting fall in the value of the pound. Consumers in the UK spend £2bn a year on cut flowers and 90% of these are imported, 80% from the Netherlands. Because the market is so competitive, florists have not been able to increase their own prices to cover the rise in costs. Predictions in 2018 are that florists will be looking to buy flowers grown in the UK to keep their costs down. It remains to be seen whether the horticultural industry will rise to the occasion now that they no longer have to compete with cheap imports and whether the flower growing skills still exist in UK horticulture.
Quite a lot of florists offer sales of champagne, prosecco or other celebratory alcoholic drinks with some of their bouquets, for which they have to be fully licensed by the local licensing authority in the same way as an off licence is. Recent legislation changes relaxed the licensing regime for these 'ancillary' sales of alcohol by accommodation providers like bed and breakfasts, although it will be some time before it's extended to businesses like florists (if it is at all).
Keep up to date with developments
A good way of keeping up with developments is to join an industry association. The British Florist Association represents all those in the floristry sector and acts as the voice of the industry on legislative and commercial matters. Visit the Association's website for more information.
The Flowers and Plants Association also plays a very active part in the promotion of the industry. Their website also provides a great deal of helpful market statistics, retail advice and hints and tips.
The Florist is a monthly journal for the flower industry which contains articles and features of interest to florists.
It can be useful to attend trade shows and exhibitions so that you can meet suppliers and keep abreast of developments in the industry. The Exhibitions UK website includes details of trade shows that may be of interest to you.