Business

Nation's flower industry wilts amid deflation, overproduction

by Shigemi Kotaka

Kyodo News

Japan’s flower industry flourished in the 1990s during the global gardening boom but has been stalled by deflation and overproduction, bringing about a collapse of prices.

Producers are trying to develop new species, including blue roses recently marketed, but only 40 percent of households in Japan buy cut flowers more than once a year.

In the latter half of the 1990s, producers dreamed of a 5 trillion yen market, unworried by the preceding collapse of the bubble economy, but the era of fast sales was short-lived.

The industry has been plagued with overproduction as well, as vegetable farmers got into the flower business.

Some producers sold cheap, low-quality flowers. “A truckload of pansies was sold only for 1,000 yen,” a market source said.

The average price of potted plants has gone down nearly 50 percent in the last 10 years. In July, a very hot month, demand dropped more than usual, and a producer said, “There were flowers whose prices could not be fixed.”

Carnation production in 1998 was valued at 22.8 billion yen, but the value decreased to 19 billion yen in 2001. The value of the overall flower market also went down — from 630 billion yen to 570 billion yen — in the same period.

The scale of the flower market, including sales of flower-related materials, reached its peak around 1998 but has since dwindled and is now put at about 1.8 trillion yen, the market source said.

“The industry is lagging behind in arranging an environment to act in concert to sell flowers to the general public,” said Kosuke Ogawa, a professor at Hosei University.

The industry has been depending on corporate demand, chiefly for flowers for ceremonial occasions, which account for 80 percent of the total, but such demand has been declining as well.

“What we seek to know now is whether we can offer flowers at prices that can win over the general public,” said Ryoji Shimizu, director of sales and planning at Suntory Flowers Co., a subsidiary of Suntory Ltd., the brewing conglomerate.

In Shibuya, a fashionable quarter in Tokyo, there is a flower shop that attracts some 700 people a day and is the envy of other shops.

The Aoyama Flower Market, run by Park Corp., looks like a French market, selling different bouquets to be placed in various places in the home. Prices range from 300 yen to 1,500 yen.

“We are trying to create a pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere,” said Mai Fukaumi, the shop’s public relations representative.

Miyako Hazama, director of sales and planning at Kirin Brewery Co., which is also in the flower business, said flowers are the same as fashions, and in Europe, flowers are developed with due consideration to the next year’s fashion colors.

In an attempt to break the impasse in the industry, young growers have launched direct sales on the Internet.

“The chief purchasers of flowers are women in their 40s and over. The key is how to expand the demand to young people and men,” said Shuitsu Honda, director at Sakata Seed Corp., a major seed and flower producer.

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