Flowers from here, there and everywhere – Daily Breeze


By Jenelyn Russo

After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the 133rd Tournament of Roses Parade, in all its floral glory, returns to the streets of Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

With the 2022 theme “Dream. Believe. Achieve.,” all eyes will be on the hundreds of thousands of fresh blooms, seeds, grasses and other natural materials that are used to make the float designers’ visions come to life.

As 40 of these larger-than-life floats make their way down Colorado Boulevard, it begs the question — where, exactly, do all those flowers come from?

Historically an event that celebrated California-grown foliage, the Rose Parade now features plenty of international flair, including carnations from Colombia, orchids from Thailand, proteas from Africa and roses from Ecuador.

Tim Estes, president of Fiesta Parade Floats, has worked the last 56 Rose Parades, starting as a float decorator when he was just 8 years old. Established in 1988, the award-winning parade float design company has The UPS Store and the City of Torrance on its list of clients. Estes recalls that 40-50 years ago, 85-90 percent of the floral product used on Rose Parade floats came from California. Now, he estimates it might be closer to 10 percent.

While California’s constant drought status may come to mind as the culprit behind the decline in the Golden State’s floral contribution, the answer is actually more global in nature. With the ability to provide lower labor costs, Colombia, Ecuador and other South American countries are able to grow float design go-tos such as carnations, chrysanthemums and the parade’s namesake roses at a much lower cost than in the United States.

Related: How much does a Rose Parade float cost?

Additionally, those countries can produce blooms that are larger and more uniform in size and color. As float designs over the years have become bigger and more complicated, consistency has become key.

“If I’m going to put 40,000 roses on a float, I need them all to be the same color,” Estes said.

There are exceptions to this global approach, as each year a handful of Rose Parade floats, such as the joint entry from Cal Poly Universities in Pomona and San Luis Obispo, earn the “California Grown” certification from the California Cut Flower Commission, with at least 85 percent of the flowers used on the float grown on in-state farms.

But with the majority of the floats’ flowers arriving from offshore, the effort to get them to their destination in time for decorating the week between Christmas and New Year’s is no small feat. For an event that already required a near perfect blend of timing and logistics, the floral industry this year faces the same supply chain issues currently plaguing many networks within the global market.

“The ability to procure that massive amount of flowers in a very short window of opportunity, at a holiday time when people don’t want to work, is already a challenging endeavor,” says Bob Mellano, vice president of Mellano & Company. “But it’s like the difficult nature that we’re dealing with normally is now times 10.”

A third-generation floral company started by Mellano’s grandfather in 1925, Mellano & Company has provided flowers in some form to the Rose Parade for nearly 90 years. This time, they will supply the flowers for 21 floats (nearly half of the parade’s entries), either through product grown on their 400-acre farm in San Diego County or through vendors from all over the world. But not without a little luck.

COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on the floral industry on several levels, beginning with the growing cycle. At the start of the pandemic, there was an instant decrease in demand for flowers and labor to work the farms. As a result, many varieties were not planted.

When restrictions loosened, the demand for flowers returned almost immediately, driven mostly by the significant number of weddings that had been postponed. Mellano says that the last six months have been the busiest he’s ever seen the industry. Floral production remains below normal, and sourcing certain flowers has been difficult. He checked in early with his clients, including Fiesta, and made sure to place orders in June for December delivery.

But even as product is slowly returning, the next layer of challenge for flower foragers has been managing the shipping.

Cargo planes into Miami or LAX are the typical routes for flowers from South America, but the shipping containers sitting off the Southern California coast are having a trickle-down impact, with many larger or luxury retailers opting for cargo plane transport in lieu of sea freight to bypass the wait time.

This means less room on the cargo planes for flowers — and a drastic hike in cost.

Mellano estimates that cargo plane shipping rates into LAX are up 45-50 percent, with the rate increases even higher into Miami. At the end user level, Estes estimates product previously priced at $100 may now cost closer to $150- $160.

Flowers arriving from Europe have additional challenges. Irises and other bulbs that come to the U.S. from The Netherlands normally travel via commercial planes, and with fewer flights and limited space available, Mellano estimates those shipping costs to be up nearly 300 percent.

Concerns about receiving the flowers in time to decorate for the big day on Jan. 1 don’t stop when the product arrives stateside, as the trucking industry is facing a labor shortage to the tune of nearly 80,000 drivers, per the American Trucking Associations.

But Mellano and his team have been working hard to stay in front of these issues, and he feels confident that the fresh flower orders will arrive at the distribution center in Los Angeles right before Christmas in time to deliver to parade float builders beginning Dec. 26.

“Right now, I feel pretty comfortable with where we’re at with just about everything and in our ability to pivot to something else that will work for them,” Mellano said in November. “I feel much more confident about it now than I did four, five, six months ago.”

Pivoting is something the float designers have had to do plenty of this year as well, as some of the fresh bloom varieties, dried flowers and seeds typically used for float decoration have been harder to come by.

“Throughout the years, we’ve always had a Plan A and a Plan B in case something changes, but we never lessen the floral impact on our floats,” Estes said.

Scott Lamb, floral director at Artistic Entertainment Services (AES) agrees. Lamb is in his 50th year of working on Rose Parade floats and counts companies such as Honda, Wetzel’s Pretzels and the San Diego Zoo among AES’s client list for the 2022 parade. With all the pivoting and uncertainty he and his team have had to navigate in recent months, Lamb is confident in both the timely arrival of his floral orders from sources such as Mellano & Company and the backup plans they have in place in case they don’t.

Regardless, he is thrilled to be welcoming the return of all the sights and sounds that accompany this beloved New Year’s tradition.

“This has been a monumental task dealing with COVID in the back of our minds,” Lamb says. “I’m looking forward to Jan. 1.”



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