If you’ve ever ordered flowers from a florist, bought a bunch at a supermarket or admired the displays in a church or wedding venue, chances are that the blooms come from Multiflora, the largest flower auction house in Africa.
Viccy Baker from Retail Price Watch visited the market this week to find out how it all works.
Some 600 flower growers from all over this country and even sub-Saharan Africa deliver to Multiflora’s premises in City Deep Johannesburg where the flowers are refrigerated until ready for auction to wholesalers. The wholesalers in turn distribute to almost every city, town and village in South Africa as well as – you’ve guessed it – exporting to other African countries.
This massive operation sees some 6 million stems (individual flowers) auctioned off in a single day, six days a week. If you’re imagining lots of auctioneers shouting their heads off, it doesn’t happen like that. The auction is conducted via sophisticated software in which the auctioneer chooses a price for the flowers which are displayed in a trolley below a clock-like structure. The price rotates lower on the clock face and a buyer presses a button on the desk in front of him stopping the clock at the price he intends to pay and indicating the quantity of flowers he wishes to buy. The trolley gets wheeled out, is labelled with the name and number of the buyer and the flowers are offloaded onto a moving gangway much like a baggage carousel, to be offloaded further down the line by the buyer. There are four “clocks” thus four auctions going on simultaneously so buyers have to be nimble and knowledgeable about prices.
The flowers themselves are mostly grown indoors and are inspected for quality and graded before being auctioned. At the auction last week a single King protea stem was attracting a price of R30 although the average price for all flowers is R1 a stem.
The auction is for registered wholesalers and florists only,, but there is an enormous mall for consumers who want to shop from one of 16 agents for flowers, florist accessories, potted plants and even wedding dresses, and where it is possible to while away a few hours just taking in the beauty of masses and masses of flowers at excellent prices.