Bangalore: At 8.30am every weekday, at least 40 buyers stream into International Flower Auction Bangalore Ltd (Ifab) at Hebbal Road, hoping to get the best deals on roses and other cut flowers that come in from floriculture farms in and around Bangalore.
On the mornings of 10, 11 and 12 February every year, the action gets more stressful as supply strains to meet demand.
Valentine’s Day, a celebration of mush and a day of heightened sentiments that has often pushed couples into harrowed expenditure, does the same to vendors and suppliers of flowers too.
A close look: (from top) Buyers use advanced interactive systems on their desks to bid for roses at International Flower Auction Bangalore Ltd (Ifab); red roses account for 75% of the supply on the days before Valentine’s Day, followed by pink and yellow roses; the high-tech auction room at Ifab has made flower sales both convenient and transparent. Hemant Mishra/Mint
This year, the difference is not the slowdown or any recovery from it, but the production of roses. Despite an increasing number of growers, it has dipped by 5% because of cloudy weather in the months before February. Also, demand has increased for red roses in tier I and II cities across India, according to Shankar Murthy, business development officer, Ifab.
Bangalore, with a climate conducive for flower farms, accounts for 50% of the country’s rose supply and is also the largest exporter of roses.
S.V. Hittalmani, additional director, fruits and floriculture, department of floriculture, government of Karnataka, puts the changes in perspective. “The demand for roses this season has increased by at least 10% in both domestic and international markets. Even small towns are buying roses for Valentine’s Day. Looking at the growth in the industry, especially with roses, we have seen seven-eight cultivators enter the domain every year.”
The buyers, or bidders as they are called, sit at electronically-enabled desks resembling the stock market and stoically watch as trolleys of flowers are brought in for examination. The auction officer seated at the “pit” of the auction house, designed in amphitheatre style, announces the description of the lot that has been brought in and the lowest quotable price.
James Paul, a Bangalore-based wholesale flower dealer, walks to the pit to take a close look at the red roses that have come in from a small farm in Doddaballapur, 35km from Bangalore. The roses, with 40cm-long stems, meet his approval. He heads back to his desk, inserts a card in a slot on the table to register his presence with the main server and punches in his quote.
He wins the bid and the lot is taken by Ifab workers to be loaded into Paul’s vehicle.
Paul, who has been in the business for seven years, has bought 20,000 stems on each of the three days, in contrast to the 8,000 he usually buys through the year.
“Before Valentine’s Day, the demand doubles. The domestic market doesn’t always get the best quality. Most farmers keep the best for export purposes. But even the ones that we get during this time are sometimes sold at twice the price as that on any other day of the year,” says Paul, who sells the bunches to wholesalers in Hyderabad and Delhi at profit margins of 5-10%. They then sell to local florists.
The most expensive roses with stem lengths of 60cm sell at Rs5 on any other day, but the price went up to Rs9 this year.
“Bangalore and the areas around produce around 10 lakh stems of roses per day. Of these, 10-15% of the best quality stems are exported, a majority goes into the unorganized domestic market while around 10% come into Ifab for sale to wholesalers,” says Shankar Murthy.
“On a normal day, we receive around 80,000 stems. On these three days, the numbers vary between 1 lakh and 1.5 lakh per day,” says Thanu Murthy, auction officer, Ifab.
He says that although most of the domestic sales take place through local markets, buyers and sellers are beginning to move towards the more transparent process at the auction house. The number of bidders has only been increasing since Ifab’s inception in 2007.