Florists Challenged By Ford Bouquets


    GRAND RAPIDS — The funeral of President Gerald R. Ford provided a unique snapshot of an increasingly global floral industry, as the call for red, white and blue bouquets could not have come at a more inopportune time.

    The last week of December and first week of January is historically the most difficult time of the year to acquire red flowers, particularly roses. The Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade prior to Monday’s Rose Bowl Game used millions of that most popular red flower in its 45 floats, carving out a significant chunk of the world supply. Meanwhile, global rose production grinds to a halt as growers pinch back blooms in preparation for the Valentine’s Day holiday.

    To a lesser degree, red carnations see the same shortages at this time each year.

    “It was a challenge, but we were prepared,” said Bing Goei, president and CEO of Eastern Floral & Gifts in Grand Rapids. “We were able to fly in enough flowers to cover our orders. This is one of those things in which we are blessed with having enough suppliers around the world to find and procure what we need for these occasions.”

    Eastern Floral assisted the Houston firm that was handpicked by the Ford family for funeral decorations — Floral Marketing International Group — in procuring and arranging the flowers for last week’s ceremonies at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids, which used a more somber color scheme, and for the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, where Ford was interred at sunset.

    Eastern Floral was the primary florist for a reception at Grace Episcopal, and on behalf of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, provided identifying floral pieces for family members and decorations for the museum. Arrangements were visible in the lobby area, where Ford’s casket was laid for public viewing. A large arrangement and orchid display, Ford’s favorite flower, were placed in the museum’s reproduction of the Oval Office, which was not open to the public.

    And Ford was not the only Grand Rapids native laid to rest last week with military honors. Chad Vollmer, a specialist in the U.S. Army National Guard killed by an explosive device in Baghdad, was buried Thursday at Chapel HillCemetery after services at CalvaryChurch, both in Grand Rapids.

    “We wanted to provide that family with as much of those red, white and blue flowers, and of the same quality, as we did for President Ford,” said Goei. “There were a significant amount of families last week grieving for the loss of loved ones, and we needed to meet all those needs.”

    To do that, Eastern pressed its global supply chain, flying in red roses, carnations and Gerbera daisies, along with other color varieties, from sources in Ecuador, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, California and Canada

    “The floral industry is significantly different than what it was 15 to 20 years ago,” said Goei, who owned and operated a floral wholesale network before buying Eastern Floral five years ago. “The United States used to have a significant amount of the market, but as energy and land costs increased, other nations with climate conditions more conducive to growing flowers realized this was something they could build their economies on.”

    Today, imports account for 70 percent of the $19.4 billion U.S. fresh flower market, according to the Society of American Florists, with the bulk of that coming from Colombia, Ecuador and Europe. The globalization further exacerbates demand issues, Goei said, as most Russians and Europeans use flowers in their homes on a daily basis. However, the cost of the product is much lower, and with a handful of exceptions, not dependent on seasons. Because of its size, Eastern Floral is able to deal directly with these sources, purchasing only 20 percent of its product through wholesalers.

    The floral industry is popular among developing nations, serving as one of South America’s largest imports and a growing sector for African and Asian nations, such as Kenya, China and Thailand

    Where Flowers Come From

    Imports account for approximately 70 percent of the $19.4 billion U.S. fresh flower market.

    Top Six Import Sources
    European Union10%

    Top Six Growing States

    New Jersey2%

    Source: Society of American Florists

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