Sold! Behind the scenes of North America's largest Dutch flower auction

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Roses

Valentine’s Day is considered one of the most profitable holidays for florists. It’s estimated over 150 million fresh cut flowers are sold across Canada on February 14but where do these flowers come from?

Buzz buzz, my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. It’s an early start for me, but an important wake up time for the lower mainland’s flower industry.

Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 6 a.m., hundreds of floral retailers head to southwest Burnaby for the largest Dutch style flower auction in North America.

This is where I went for a behind-the-scenes look at this busy industry leading up to Valentine’s Day.

“This is a main function of floral distribution in B.C. and in Western Canada,” says United Flower Growers (UFG) CEO, Bob Pringle.

Pringle and I are seated on a couch just outside the auction gallery. Inside the gallery there are hundreds of metal trolleys filled with plants and fresh cut flowers rotating on a conveyor belt. Large screens display three different auctions happening simultaneously.

The atmosphere seems calculated and reserved, as dozens of buyers use laptops to electronically place their bids to secure flowers for the upcoming holiday.

Auction Gallery

“Dutch auctions are auctions that, by definition, are in reverse,” Pringle explains. “So the price starts high and declines until the first bidder comes in so the first bidder is the bidder who gets the bid.”

This auction is considered a “small one” with only 327 trolleys. The plants come from UFG’s 82 floriculture growers; most of which are located in the Fraser Valley.

Although the valley is considered to have a thriving plant and flower industry, the most popular crop for Valentine’s Day, roses, are not typically grown in this region.

“There are very few rose growers left,” Pringle discloses, “It’s a relatively high cost crop to grow and maintain.”

Instead, UFG brings in roses grown from Ecuador and Columbia to keep up with the demand.

As the flowers are auctioned off, they’re immediately sorted for the buyers to pick up and bring back to their shop.

“Today I bought a lot of roses, about 250 stems,” says Bernie Liu, a small florist who owns Forever Bloom Flowers in East Vancouver. I ran into him in the parking lot after the auction as he was getting ready to load up his van.

“Valentine’s Day and Mothers Day tend to be the busiest time of the year,” Liu says. “You can cover about three months worth of sales in one day.”

Flower Trolleys 1

It’s not just roses people are interested in; Pringle says they’re also auctioning off lots of mixed bouquets, red and pink flower varieties, and tulips.

“Our tulips are our main cut flower crop, so we’ll see those as gifts as well.”

The auction happens every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 4085 Marine Drive in Burnaby. Visitors are welcome, but unfortunately there are no public sales.

 

Images: Jen Muranetz

Written by Jen Muranetz. Follow Jen on Twitter at @jenmuranetz.

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