Miami Herald

Americans spend big on roses for Valentine’s Day

- BY JAY L. ZAGORSKY Jay L. Zagorsky is an associate professor of markets, public policy and law at Boston University.

Valentine’s Day is an occasion that traditiona­lly combines romance with big business. One of the biggest businesses is selling roses, which Americans increasing­ly love.

Back in 1989, about 1 billion cut roses were sold annually in the United States. By 2023, that had risen to roughly 2.8 billion – enough to give every adult in the country a bouquet of 10.

As a business school professor who studies the economic impact of holidays, I wondered how much money Americans spend on roses each year while I was standing in line with two dozen red and pink ones for my sweetheart.

It’s not easy to find out. The National Retail Federation estimates people will spend $2.6 billion on Valentine’s

Day flowers, but that includes everything from azaleas to zinnias. The Society of American Florists says 250 million roses are produced for the holiday, but it doesn’t estimate spending.

So I decided to investigat­e. And what I found was surprising:

The roses in my hand were tied to the war on illegal drugs.

Roses sold in the United States were once largely homegrown but are now mainly imported from South America. To learn more, I turned to the U.S. Department of Agricultur­e, which for decades has tracked the number of domestic farms and nurseries selling cut roses. These farms are different from nurseries growing rose bushes sold in pots to landscaper­s and gardeners.

Back in 1970, there were almost 800 U.S. commercial farms and nurseries growing cut roses. U.S. cut-rose growers were powerhouse­s, selling almost half a billion roses annually.

But since the 1970s, American cut-rose growers have withered away. The USDA’s latest Census of Horticultu­ral Specialtie­s found about 110 farms and nurseries growing cut roses. These farms harvested only about 18 million roses, which is quite a comedown over 50 years.

Nowadays, cut roses sold in the United States primarily come from two places: Colombia and Ecuador. Colombia provides almost 60% of our roses, and Ecuador almost 40%.

The shift from U.S.grown roses to South American ones happened a few decades ago, when the U.S. and Colombian government­s were looking for new ways to stem the flow of cocaine into the United States.

One part of the strategy was to persuade farmers in Colombia to stop growing coca leaves – a traditiona­l Andean plant that provides the raw ingredient for making cocaine – by giving them preferenti­al access to

U.S. markets if they grew something else.

So, in the early 1990s, Colombia and Ecuador signed the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradicatio­n Act. Signing gave these coca-producing countries duty-free access to U.S. markets in exchange for clamping down on growing illegal drugs.

Whether the act stopped drug production is unclear, but many businesses in Colombia and Ecuador started growing and shipping flowers north.

While none of the sources directly answered my question on how much money Americans spent on roses each year, it’s easy to calculate a rough value. In 2023, there were around 2.8 billion cut roses sold. Given the average price in supermarke­ts over the whole year for a dozen roses was a bit over $12, this means people in the U.S. are spending more than $3 billion annually.

And if you’re buying roses for your sweetheart, then you’re contributi­ng to the roughly half a billion dollars worth of roses bought to say “I love you” at Valentine’s Day.

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