Norwich Tropical Flower Company Shifts Operations to Cope with the Pandemic

One of Oxford County’s newest businesses is also one of its most unique. Spectrum Tropicals opened its new distribution centre in Norwich in January, just one of several changes required for the business to stay profitable during the pandemic.

Spectrum Tropicals represent 18 different tropical flower farms in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Their main clients are florists and supermarkets and they also have an online retail store and business relationships with FedEx, UPS and Canada Post to ship anywhere in North America.

The company has been in existence since 1988 but the recent move to Norwich came because of COVID-19. “The pandemic really did throw us a curveball. On the one side it helped us because the first shutdown forced us to move the distribution centre here from Florida,” said President John Van Dyke. “Traditionally we were supplying other distributors through Miami and the Dutch flower auction in Holland.” John adds that the company made the choice to pay the wages of their thousand-plus workers despite business being down. “Our employees have been greatly affected since the countries where our farms are located don’t have assistance programs for lost wages. As an owner, you carry on paying those wages.”

The ongoing pandemic and border restrictions have proven to be difficult for the company in more ways than one. “We did not anticipate a second and potentially a third wave. Our supplies come in from the various scheduled airlines that fly into Toronto from the Caribbean and other places. When that was severely affected, so was our supply line,” said John. He added he was able to have UPS ship from countries like Ecuador, Costa Rica and Columbia but the transportation costs are close to double which affects the cost of the flowers. Another challenge he faces is the health of the flowers. “It has to do with temperatures. We do not have control over what happens after an airline flies the flowers in. Between six to ten hours, they are stuck in a warehouse and if the temperature is -16 then you have a problem. Some of my shipments have been severely affected by freezer burn.” Tropical flowers must maintain a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius or higher.

John and his team have also decided to offer customers a different way to place orders, moving to a subscription-based service for his 15 thousand florists. “Some like it, some don’t. We are giving them the choice, but for those on the program they get the same number of flowers every few weeks, can make their own bouquets and sell them for a lot more. For us, it’s a positive as we have a fairly good idea of how many flowers we need to produce and can look to expand as needed.” John also has some businesses in Brantford looking for regular shipments every two weeks and his wife is working on a special promotion. “Businesses can subscribe and get a bouquet delivered regularly. The nice thing about tropical flowers is, unlike roses and other traditional flowers, they have a shelf life of three weeks. That’s what makes them so attractive from an economical standpoint.”

The company does have plans to renovate some buildings on the Norwich property including greenhouses to allow for more stock. “We are hoping to have a retail stand on the side of the road in the near future, so anyone is welcome to come by and try us out. We also do free deliveries in a 50 km radius from here that takes in Woodstock, Brantford, Tillsonburg and all the smaller municipalities in between, in case anyone wants to try our products out,” said John.

His love for what he does is obvious. “It’s a business with feeling. Flowers have a special place in everybody’s heart. Flowers are given when you are born, on your birthday, other special days, even when you die.” You can find more information on the Spectrum Tropicals website at spectrumtropical.com.