Here's what it takes to pick, pack, and ship 150 million Valentine's Day roses

IMG_4222.JPGRachel Premack/Business Insider
  • Americans will spend an estimated $2 billion on roses this Valentine’s Day.
  • The overwhelming majority of those blooms come from Colombia, particularly the temperate highlands outside of Bogotá and Medellín.
  • Business Insider traveled to Colombia to learn why roses are grown there and how the floral industry is shaping the country.

FACATATIVÁ, COLOMBIA – Your Valentine’s Day roses were probably cut from the stem in a farm outside of Bogotá by a man like Raúl Olmos.

Olmos has worked in Colombia’s flower fields for two decades. And the scope of his job has changed massively since he started working in the Colombian flower industry.

Since the early 1990s, flowers have grown to become one of Colombia’s biggest exports – shipping more than $1.4 billion cut flowers per year, just slightly less than gold and coffee. Nearly 80% of the flowers go to the US.

And Valentine’s Day roses lead the pack among Colombian flowers. For Francisco Ricaurte, a general director of UPS in South America, the months leading up to Valentine’s Day are peak season – not Christmas – simply because the region sends so many roses to North America.

The tremendous growth of the Colombian floral industry is thanks to a slew of US policy changes, an excellent local ecosystem, a location that’s actually more convenient to export from than former floral hub California, cheaper labor, and a transportation network that includes everything from airplanes to massive refrigerated warehouses to modest carts.

Here’s the process of bringing 150 million roses from the Colombian savanna to your local florist – and why the system works the way it does: