Lunar New Year

Wilting sales for Hong Kong florists ahead of Lunar New Year as interest in festive blooms fades

Flower sellers are resigned to lower takings this year, but at least one is still trying to liven up a long-standing tradition with a Japanese orchid plant costing over HK$20,000

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2018, 9:00am

While Lunar New Year decorations typically include plants and flowers that symbolise luck and good fortune, florists in Hong Kong expect overall sales to droop compared to last year, with some estimating earnings to fall by up to 30 per cent.

Those who spoke to the Post attributed the drop to dwindling interest in festive blooms, cheaper imports from the mainland, and higher greenhouse costs due to the prolonged cold snap in the city.

The purchase of lucky shrubs and flowers – such as potted citrus plants for good fortune and peach blossoms for prosperity – usually begins about one month before the Lunar New Year. With this year’s holiday starting on February 16, sales would be expected to peak next week, after 15 festive fairs open for business this Sunday.

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But at Sum Kee Yuen, a 37-year-old flower trading company, manager Bonnie Ng said she was not hopeful that sales would pick up.

The Mong Kok shop’s largest single sale this past week was worth less than HK$2,000, even though their biggest customers were corporate clients who would usually spend on potted plants for their offices.

“Our sales won’t take a U-turn and go up next week,” Ng said, “Overall revenue from this new year’s sales will be 20 per cent to 30 per cent less than last year.”

While real estate management companies or owners’ corporations used to buy citrus or peach trees that would reach waist height for their buildings, they were now buying smaller plants and spending less on flowers, Ng said.

“They told us that bigger plants were now not as preferred because it would be difficult for them to dispose of the ‘trash’ properly after the festive period – they couldn’t just dump it outside their buildings and there are few recyclers they can turn to,” Ng said.

Forecasting less robust sales, Sum Kee Yuen prepared a smaller stock for sale this year and cut prices by 10 to 20 per cent.

Yeung Siu-lung, nicknamed “King of Orchids” for having the largest orchid farm in Hong Kong consisting of 10 greenhouses, said it was likely he would send some of the 40,000 pots he prepared for the festive fairs back to his farm.

“About 20,000 pots will be transported to the fair at Victoria Park, and another 2,000 to 3,000 plants will be displayed for sales at the East Point City mall in Tseung Kwan O,” Yeung said.

“It is very likely they will not be sold out,” Yeung said, adding that he had witnessed his business slide for the past decade as more orchids were imported into the city from the mainland.

“We charge at least HK$128 for one plant but those from the mainland could be sold at HK$68, usually at the wet markets,” Yeung said.

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And even if revenue this year remained similar to last year’s, Yeung said his profit would definitely take a hit due to the recent spate of cold weather.

Since the start of the year, there were close to 20 days when the temperature in Hong Kong dipped to below 12 degrees Celsius. With heaters in Yeung’s greenhouses turned on each time the mercury went below 18 degrees Celsius, he said his electricity and diesel usage was much higher this time round to ensure a pleasant environment for the delicate flowers.

“I have been having the heaters on around the clock for two weeks more than in previous years. I expect that will cost me a lot,” Yeung said.

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But despite the flagging sentiment towards festive plants, Yeung still tried to inject some zest into the long-standing tradition.

This year, he said, he was debuting a special orchid from Japan. The flower, known as “Yan To” in Cantonese, had taken more than seven years to cultivate and each plant could have more than 100 blossoms at a diameter of 15cm.

“No more than 10 plants will be available and each will be priced over HK$20,000,” Yeung said.