After a brutal spring for growers, flower sales bloom ahead of Mother’s Day in Carpinteria Valley

CARPINTERIA, Calif. – Ocean Breeze International, one of the Carpinteria Valley’s biggest flower growers, is finally seeing sales turn around as Mother’s Day approaches and California florists are allowed to reopen on Friday.

But not before the COVID-19 crisis brought sales to a screeching halt. Growers across the area saw a huge hit to business in March and April.

Ocean Breeze owner Rene Van Wingerden says his company saw record shipping numbers in January and February, before the pandemic forced buyers to stop buying.

“The customer base that we had in January and February is [now] in half,” he said.

Ocean Breeze mostly sells wholesale to grocery stores and to distributors, who then sell to florists. Those florists shut down for weeks across the country, and grocery stores stopped buying flowers to focus on other supplies, Van Wingerden said.

The pandemic has led Ocean Breeze to reconsider its business plan, knowing that crises like this could happen again. Direct-to-consumer shipments, with add-ons like bottles of wine, could be available in the future.

“Viruses are not gonna go away,” Van Wingerden said. “They’re gonna be around. So if we set up to market direct to the consumer, Fedex or UPS will make a lot of money, but at least people can order their stuff.”

The company did not cut production and has kept nearly all of its employees working and fully paid. One issue now, though, is that there are too many flowers, with too few buyers.

“In March and April, we’ve been actually giving all our flowers away instead of just throwing them on the mulch pile, so [we could] make a lot of people happy,” Van Wingerden said.

Those giveaways took place mostly at local businesses in Carpinteria. Van Wingerden expressed interest in seeing if local hospitals could use some of the surplus flowers as well.

Van Wingerden said Mother’s Day week sales this year are up from last year. He says the recent spike in sales is likely also because wholesalers have felt “starved” due to nationwide closures, and are now finally starting to buy flowers again.

But the next few months are more uncertain. Several weddings, graduation events and festivals–which usually lead to massive flower sales in the summertime–are now canceled or postponed.

Van Wingerden hopes this week’s momentum can, at least partially, continue into the summer months.

“We’re hoping that the wave keeps going,” he said.