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Workers preparing bouquets of red roses at Black Tulip warehouse ahed of Valentine's Day. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Image Credit:

Sharjah: If you are feeling anxious about Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for those working in the floral industry. For them, this is the busiest time of the year, and it’s largely about just one flower: the ubiquitous red rose.

Ahead of February 14, Gulf News visited Black Tulip Flowers, the region’s largest floral company, to gain an insight into how they deliver millions of Valentine’s Day roses in 35 countries worldwide.

Valentine's Day in UAE: Where will your rose come from? Sonia Shah, Videographer, Logan Fish, Videographer, Mazhar Farooqui, Features Writer

The Sharjah-based company begins operations at 3.45am when most of us are still in bed, to prepare for their biggest days of flower sales.

“We are the third largest flower grower in the world and this is the peak time for our business so one can well imagine what’s it like here,” said the company’s owner and chairman M.M. Ehiya, an Indian expat who started from a small flower shop on Sharjah’s King Faisal Road in 1990.

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The flowers are harvested in farms in Kenya

Flourishing business

In addition to 21 outlets in the UAE, today Black Tulip owns 11 flower farms in Kenya, five in Ethiopia and two in India. Around 8-10 tonnes of flowers are imported from these farms daily.

The company’s nondescript headquarters in Al Nahda was abuzz with activity as scores of florists worked overtime, pruning roses and trimming stems when Gulf News dropped by at the place on Monday.

“Valentine’s Day is all about the red rose, the unquestionable symbol of love,” said head of marketing Deepali Gupta who, like most of Black Tulip’s 8,000 odd staff, has been scrambling to meet the enormous demand.

"We cater to over 200 hotels across various emirates besides major hypermarkets, government entities and corporate houses in the country," she added. "All hotels under annual contracts for weekly flowers have got bespoke florals displays installed by our designer crew ahead of Valentine's Day while remaining hotels chains associated with us for wholesale supply have placed bulk orders for red roses for their guests. Each hypermarket chain is buying anywhere between 30,000 and 70,000 roses." 

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Workers pruning rose stems at an overseas farm

Petals to the metal

A staggering 1.5 million rose stems have been flown to the UAE alone in the last week. That’s almost twice as much as the company imports in an entire month.

“We cater to 217 hotels in the UAE besides almost all major hypermarkets in the country. Almost all hotels chains have placed bulk orders for rose buds for their guests, while each hypermarket chain is buying anywhere between 50,000 and 70,000 roses from us daily.

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Flowers being transported by a donkey drawn cart

Kenyan connection

Around 70 per cent of these roses are from Black Tulip’s farms in Kenya where decayed manure from 2,000 cows is used to help the flowers get their distinct crimson hue and myrrh scent.

“We have over 200 varieties of roses including the much sought-after Ecuadorians known for their large size, vibrant colours and long vase life. They are very popular among Russians,” said head of operations Imran Khan whose job is to ensure the flowers remain bright and fresh, and more importantly, reach customers on time.

“Ecuadorians stems can grow up to 150 centimetres, making them truly special for that someone special. However, each stem could set you back roughly Dh40. In comparison, a Kenyan rose retails for just Dh7,” explained Khan as he gave us peak into the journey of the delicate and time-sensitive perishable product from overseas farms to vases in the UAE.

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Workers preparing bouquets of red roses at Black Tulip warehouse ahed of Valentine's Day. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Cold chain

“The whole process entails several critical junctures. The cold chain is one of the most important aspect of floral management. We have to maintain consistent temperatures throughout the journey which starts from the farm where the flowers are harvested. Once farm workers place the flowers in cardboard boxes, they’re hauled to the airport where a plane brings them to the UAE. After they have cleared airport customs, the boxes are stored in refrigerated facilities before being transported to our warehouses in specialised cold trucks called Reefer Vans,” said Khan.

“Here, they undergo rigorous quality check and then moved to cold rooms before being dispatched to flower shops, Hotels, and direct end-users,” he added.

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Workers preparing bouquets of red roses in huge quantity at Black Tulip warehouse ahed of Valentine's Day. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Abraham Sunny, company’s group general manager said Valentine’s Day is their busiest and most profitable time after Mother’s Day. “There have been occasions when I had to sleep in office to oversee things,” he said.

Ehiya said despite the wide range of gifting options, roses reign supreme on Valentine’s Day. “As long as there is love, there will be red roses,” he said.

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Workers unloading the red rose flower boxes at Black Tulip warehouse ahed of Valentine's Day. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
In numbers
1.5 million - the number of rose stems that have been flown into the UAE for Valentine’s Day
150 centimetres - the stem length of Ecuadorian roses
Dh7 - how much a Kenyan rose stem costs in the retail market
50,000 tonnes - weight of flowers were transported globally by Emirates SkyCargo in 2018

Top tips to keep flowers last longer

  • Cut the stems: Use garden shears to trim one to two inches off and cut at an angle to allows for better water intake
  • Prune: Remove any leaves below the water line to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Water wisely: Get your bouquet hydrated, but do so wisely, don’t overwater, add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and sugar to the room temperature water.