Yunnan florists cash in on lasting love

Updated: 2016-02-15 08:03

By Li Yingqing and Yang Wanli in Kunming(China Daily)

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A bunch of red roses is not such a surprising gift for Valentine's Day. But Zhang Hao, traveling from his home in London to Thailand to see his girlfriend on Feb 14, didn't have your average bunch of roses in mind.

Zhang planned ahead and rather than ordinary flowers, he bought roses that had been preserved using chemicals while fresh, and would stay that way for three to five years.

He ordered an 11-rose arrangement dubbed "Full of Love" on Taobao, China's largest online shopping site, on Feb 2. The roses themselves set him back 359 yuan ($54.6), much more than ordinary ones.

Getting them to his beloved was even more expensive - 550 yuan just for international air delivery from China's southwest Yunnan province to the United Kingdom. He said he wanted to have the roses in hand to give to his girlfriend at the airport.

The roses Zhang bought were produced by Soft Dream, a company based in Yunnan. In the week before this Valentine's Day, sales of preserved red roses were up 20 percent over the same period last year, according to Cui Shengzhan, a technician from the company. Sales have grown 30 percent annually over the past three years, Cui said.

"Preserved fresh flowers are a popular new trend between lovers. Some overseas customers buy such flowers from China because of the good quality and cheaper price," Cui said.

Yunnan is famed as "nature's garden" because more than 1,500 kinds of ornamental flowers thrive there. The province is now the country's biggest fresh flower growing and processing center.

But preserved fresh flowers are a relatively new product, still unknown to many customers.

After being treated in a proprietary blend of liquid chemicals, the rose's petals remain as soft as if they had just been gathered from the garden. Also, the colors of the roses can be modified according to the customer's wishes.

"There are so many orders from overseas that they exceed our production ability," said Guan Xin, marketing manager of RoseRola, another company specializing in fresh flower preservation.

The company's sales amounted to 40 million yuan last year, mainly from exports to Taiwan and international markets such as Israel and Japan. It currently cultivates more than 70 hectares of roses, growing about 12 million roses every year.

After years of developing the technology, Guan said, the preservation process is environmentally friendly and not harmful to human health. Guan declined to reveal the recipe for the preservative since it is protected under intellectual property law.

"All the flowers we will plant in 2016 were reserved by overseas purchasers in 2015," Guan said, adding that they plan to further explore the domestic market since its buying power has grown.

Some companies in the province, such as Soft Dream, have already turned their attention to the domestic market in recent years as demand has increased at home.

Soft Dream started to preserve fresh flowers in 2009, when they were virtually unknown in China. But in 2015, the domestic market contributed to 90 percent of its total sales volume.

"Preserved flowers are considered a symbol of something that is long-lasting, and have been widely accepted by many young Chinese. Moreover, with their beautiful, fresh appearance, such flowers are also preferred by those who love to arrange flowers," Cui said.

According to Wei Qunjie, a professor at Southwest Forestry University, the preserved fresh plant market in China has great potential.

"The driving force of the industry's further development in Yunnan is not only technology, but also product design, packaging and marketing," Wei said.

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 Yunnan florists cash in on lasting love

A customer orders roses at a flower shop in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, on Sunday, Valentine's Day. Peng Zhaozhi / Xinhua

(China Daily 02/15/2016 page4)