For flower farmers, getting ready for Valentine’s Day, requires planning ahead. Depending on the weather, preparation needs to start up to two months ahead of time.
“The past two weeks were a little chilly,” said Zelalem Melesse, head of the Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association (EHPEA). We did not get as many flowers as we wished.”
For exporters of red roses, this is a peak season. Not only does demand increase, but so do prices. Last February saw an increase of 70,000kg of flowers exported, compared to January.
“The prices of all flowers increase at this time by about 50pc,” Hailye Nigussie, farm manager at Yassin Farm said. “But the prices of red roses increase 30pc to 40pc more than the others.”
For the rest of the year, of the 15 types of roses Yassin Farm has to offer, red roses are cheaper than the others.
“Demand has decreased this year,” Hailye said, “and prices are down about 25pc compared to last year.”
Cooler weather meant that only 70pc of the volume the Debre Zeit-based farm had aimed for, bloomed in time. Europe being the primary destination for Ethiopian floriculture, the depreciation of the Euro also affects flower farmers’ revenue.
The local flower market fares better. Valentine’s Day causes not just a surge in volume, but also in value. Though the peak in exports, and the collision with the wedding season make sourcing hard, local flower markets manage to thrive.
Meaza Yitbarek owns a gift shop at the entrance of Alem Building on Bole Road. Her displays are packed with Valentine labelled chocolates, and an assortment of candles some shaped like champagne, others that are scented, in addition to flowers.
“Because the demand increases,” she said, “prices increase threefold in the week leading up to February 14.”
Flowers that she used to buy for a little over one Birr, are now sold from three to four Birr depending on their quality. And those she used to sell at three Birr apiece, she has been selling at five Birr apiece until February 13, the eve of the big day. Then, the price is eight Birr apiece. She plans to sell at 10Br a stem on the day itself.
Her best flower customers are hotels. A regular week consists of 2,000Br worth of floral sales, but Valentine’s week has seen her receive orders 400 more flowers, in addition to 1,500 stock of red roses she is keeping for Valentine’s Day.
Hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets are also capitalizing on this season.
Harmony Hotel is hosting a Valentine’s Day event for the sixth year in a row. For 1,000 Br per person, or 900 if you are a couple, one can enjoy an evening of live music, a specially organised menu, with a complimentary glass of wine.
The change in demand is considerable. In 2012, when the Hotel hosted a similar evening, the entry price was 400 Br, and of the 250 couples’ tickets that were printed, only 111 were sold.
“Last year we printed 600 tickets,” said Henok Abera, marketing manager, “and we still had to turn people back from the gate.”
This year, the Hotel has printed 800 tickets.
The spirit of the day (and the business opportunity), is catching on. It is Capital Hotel’s second time hosting a Valentine’s Day dinner.
“Our lifestyles are changing, and people have more disposable income,” said Michael Teka, director of sales & marketing, sharing his thoughts on how the trends are changing. “They just want a reason to go out – and it’s all kinds of people,” he added, describing last year’s turnout.
His observation was that patrons represented a cross section of society, young and old, local and foreign, from different walks of life.
He believes their advertising, which utilized radio as well as various social media, influenced this.
Last year Capital had 80 guests, for a candle-lit dinner, with performance by a live band, and the option of a 25pc discount on rooms if they wished to stay the night. This year, the hotel is ready for 150 guests, and it has expanded the venue from just the restaurant, which will feature live violin players, to include the open patio by the pool. Another live band will add to the ambience of the poolside setting.
Guests will have access by paying 2,000 Br for a couple’s ticket, 1,500 Br for singles, which Michael says is not too far from what the dinner and wine cost on regular days.
“We will almost be breaking even,” he said. “These events are more about marketing and promotion than revenue generation.”
Supermarkets, on the other hand are not breaking even. They see their profits rise in the name of St. Valentine of Rome, the third-century saint commemorated on February 14 and associated with a tradition of romantic love.
Bambis, a supermarket on Jomo Kenyatta Street near Urael Church, is expecting an influx of customers. Gift cards, fruits, chocolate, wine and flowers are some the items that experience a surge in sales as these are preferred Valentine’s Day gifts.
Twice as much chocolate is sold on the eve and day of Valentine, than at any other time. Among the high quality chocolate brands, best sellers include the Italian Rovelli and the Swiss Stella Chocolate. The former is sold for 820 Br of which roughly 300 bars were sold, and the latter, is sold for 180Br a bar, with 200 sold for last year’s celebration. Fewer than 50 bars of Stella are sold on regular days.
Flowers also experience a surge in sales. Regular days see 70-80 stems of flowers sold, whereas on Valentine’s Day last year, 450 stems left the store.
Other supermarkets experience a similar trend.
“There’s no question,” said the supervisor of Safeway supermarket, Yonatan Minda. “As long as we provide the goods, our customers buy them up.”
Two and a half times more chocolate is sold in two days than on regular days. Last year, about 500 pieces in a heart-shaped box of chocolates were sold. This item is displayed only for the Valentine sales.
Safeway sells various types of chocolate, postcards, flowers, dolls, and gift boxes for the occasion. They import some of these items and others are bought from suppliers.
“Valentine’s display is up by Thursday or Friday,” Yonatan said, “as soon as we have everything ready.”
Here too, there is a doubling of the price from around four Birr to seven and eight Birr for the four days leading up to Valentine’s Day.
They acknowledged the competition with the export market.
“We have to order well ahead of time,” Yonatan said, “and still sometimes still don’t get as much as we asked for.”
Yonatan reflected that it used to be unmarried couples that indulged in the festivities, but now, even married couples are doing it, he observed.
Shoa Supermarkets’ Bole branch sees sales increase not only in the items mentioned but also in perfume and lotions. So much so, that when the supermarket was faced with a shortage in the supply of chocolate, it promptly moved on to wrapping gift packages of cosmetics and skin care products. They have wrapped up a set of body splash and lotion for her, and lotion-deodorant-body spray set for him.
“The number of gift buyers hasn’t changed much over the years,” Behailu Tsegaye, store supervisor said, “but the items sold are changing in nature and value.”
While 50pc more chocolate is sold on the occasion than on regular days; Lomyad supermarket, managed to sell over 2,000 red roses at the price range of 10 Birr to 15 Birr; though regular days will see the flowers sold at three to 3.5 Br.
With the lovers’ day falling on a Sunday this year, the colour red has been very much in evidence all last week in displays and gift items. Dolls dressed in red are also a popular gift item.
”The surge in sales tend to happen on the day,” Metsnanat Mamo, store supervisor, “not before.”
Last year, the supermarket witnessed a bright Valentine, she added; customers were covered in red, and bought more red items; although the year before saw fewer festivities.
Not many shoppers may be aware of the origin of those red hearts and the symbolism of the blood red colour. It is said that Valentine defied the order that had banned engagements and marriages in Rome and was put to death for secretly marrying young couples.
Since Valentine’s Day has also come to involve a night out, boutiques also put out their elegant red and white dresses. Not only are the guests dressed in red but hotel staff are now in on the act as their employers have begun to invest in their appearance on this special day.
Yeab Bisrat is a store in Haya Hulet that makes staff uniforms. This year, unlike last year, three hotels have ordered red uniforms for their waiting staff, said Mahlet Awraris, the clerk. Not everyone gets caught up in the Valentine’s Day frenzy but any day is good day to give a gift.