The rush is on at Flowers by Miss Bertha to assemble gift orders for Mother's Day. The coolers are jammed with freshly cut stems and buckets of lilies stand ready to be pressed into bouquets.
But pandemic uncertainties and disruptions in the global supply chain have forced the Minneapolis flower shop to get creative, as prices for fresh flowers have spiked and shortages of some colors and varieties abound.
"Prices have been fluctuating on a weekly basis," said Cara Dalton, whose mother owns the longtime Whittier neighborhood store. "Now there's a shortage of daisies. Really? It's such a common flower."
Consumers are paying about $5 more per bouquet, Dalton said, and sometimes more, depending on what they want. Last week, roses jumped 30 cents a stem. Flowers by Miss Bertha has to price them at $50 a dozen, about $10 more than usual.
A "florist's choice" bouquet option allows Dalton to hold prices down and use the freshest flowers available rather than trying to use a certain number of specific varieties that may be difficult to get.
"Thankfully our customers and our neighborhood have been supportive and accommodating," she said.
Fresh-cut flowers may seem like the ultimate discretionary purchase, but consumer demand has remained relatively strong in the past year as people have been unable to spend time with families for holidays and special occasions. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted both the supply and transport of flowers, leading to scarcity and soaring prices.
About 80% of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported. Colombia and Ecuador supply most of the roses and carnations, while the Netherlands is the world's largest producer of tulips.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, farmers around the globe destroyed their stems and planted conservatively, uncertain about when retailers would be allowed to reopen and whether consumers would be buying.
Wet weather in South America caused additional shortfalls for supplies in recent months. So did decisions by California flower farmers to switch to cannabis, which is a higher-value plant with strong demand.
The pandemic also complicated distribution. Fewer cargo planes and passenger flights landed in Miami, where 90% of flowers sold by retailers in the U.S. and Canada arrive. The rise in online shopping and even the distribution of vaccines affected room available for perishables like flowers.
This lack of freight space led to a doubling and tripling in some prices.
"All florists are facing this issue," said Karen Bachman Thull, advertising and marketing manager of Bachman's Floral, Gift and Garden. "Some shortages are due to demand or to weather. Increased lead times for perishable products makes things challenging."
Bachman's, the Twin Cities' largest family-owned florist and landscaping company, has tried to control costs on rising imports by balancing its Mother's Day assortment with hanging baskets and potted plants grown at its farm and greenhouse in Farmington.
But most of the cut flowers Bachman's sells at its stores and through Lunds & Byerlys are imported, so the retailer has tweaked its "recipe" of flowers to keep that $19.99 bouquet at the same price.
"It's still a beautiful, value-driven bouquet," Bachman Thull said. "We just might have to adjust slightly."
The upheaval in the international flowers market may be a boon for Christine Hoffman's effort to expand interest in locally grown and chemical-free flowers through the Twin Cities Flower Exchange.
Hoffman founded the wholesale market in 2017 and has tripled the list of registered buyers of retailers and event florists. The exchange now sources from 20 farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Local flower farmers are unaffected by current global shortages and supply chain disruptions. If prices go up, it is because of improved quality or increases in the cost of production, Hoffman said.
The Twin Cities Flower Exchange opened on Wednesday, just in time for Mother's Day and wedding season.
Tulips and daffodils are plentiful, Hoffman said, along with flowering fruit tree branches. Soon it'll be time for peonies and by early June hundreds of varieties of annuals.
"We're at a really advantageous spot now," Hoffman said. "When I first started working with local flowers in 2013, we only had two growers and most consumers didn't even know it was an option. Here we are, eight years later, with a fairly robust supply of local flowers that we're able to meet some of this demand."
Mother's Day is the second-biggest sales event for most retail florists after Valentine's Day, and the event usually kicks off a busy spring and summer.
The owners of Flowers by Miss Bertha said the current crunch on imported flowers is a survivable hitch for the business started by Bertha Alevizos, the daughter of Greek immigrants, in 1961.
Dalton's mother, Kim Nguon, became an apprentice at Flowers by Miss Bertha after she and husband, Pach, emigrated from Cambodia in 1980. Kim Nguon bought the flower shop on Nicollet Avenue in 1990, and these days relies on her daughter for marketing, buying, designing and day-to-day store operations.
Dalton shops four different wholesalers and makes daily runs to keep bouquets fresh. The shop has limited hours and is closed to walk-in traffic, but online orders have almost doubled during the pandemic.
While the number of big events, such as weddings and funerals, declined last year, sales were strong for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays, Dalton said.
Mother's Day sales look strong and she's sensing an upswing in the busy wedding season as vaccines roll out and pandemic restrictions ease.
"Our cooler's full," she said but added a warning to shoppers. "Get your orders in ahead of time, so we can buy accordingly."
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335