As our industry matures and greenhouse owners and producers start to think about succession–whether to a younger family member, a loyal employee or an excited young grower–the question of how long it will last comes to mind. It is a long-standing question in our industry, whether or not the current level of floral product consumption will continue into the foreseeable future.
As many greenhouse professionals know, the core group that does the majority of floral product purchasing is the mostly female, 45-to-65-year-old demographic. The 25-to-44-year-old group lags behind, and the nearly non-existent 18-to-24-year-old group (in terms of purchasing) is behind them. Is this reduction in consumption a result of indifference to the products that we are selling? Or is it due to differences in lifestyle and buying power?
Ohio State University’s annual trials program makes an effort to gauge consumer preference by asking our corps of volunteers and Master Gardeners to complete a simple evaluation. We ask them to rate plants on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best possible value and 1 being the worst based on their own criterion. The mean is calculated for these ratings and then posted on our website. This evaluation process is repeated four times throughout the growing season so a good picture of plant performance and preference can be inferred. The group of evaluators is representative of the overall core demographic group that our industry relies so heavily upon, so its opinion is very indicative of what may eventually become popular.
During the first evaluation in the 2010 season, done in late June, we were fortunate to have a group of students participate as well. These students were from one of our general education credit horticulture classes and the student work force of the OSU Chadwick Arboretum. This group is just as diverse as our core group and has an interest in gardening, but represents that missing demographic group of 18-to-24-year-olds. We kept this younger group’s evaluation separate, found mean values and then compared them to the core group’s mean values. The difference in these mean values shows if one group preferred a variety, and if so how greatly (the greater the difference, the greater the preference that particular group has.)
The tables within this article represent a summary of the comparison of these two groups. The first table shows the varieties our core consumer group preferred more than the younger group; showing varieties that received ratings of 4.0 or higher, but with a difference in preferences of 0.6 or more. The second table shows the varieties that our younger group of evaluators’ preferred, again showing varieties that received ratings of 4.0 or greater but with a difference in preferences of 0.6 or more.
Some notable differences in the preference scores can be seen in these tables. Our core group seemed to strongly prefer more varieties, especially foliage plants and varieties that have cultural improvements over industry standards (i.e. ‘Senorita Rosalita,’ ‘Snow Princess,’ etc.). Our young group seemed to prefer fewer varieties but had much stronger preferences, focusing more on varieties with exciting, unique and novel flower forms.
It is important to note that despite these few differences, there are far more commonalities. Of the 643 varieties evaluated in this first evaluation, 420 had no significant difference in preference between the core consumer group and the younger group. This shows that although there are some significant differences in the preference of a few specific varieties, the young group preferred the majority of the same varieties as much as the core consumer group–strong evidence for a good future consumer base.
The differences between the two groups’ preferences can also be used in more directed sales and production, depending on the customers your business serves. But it should also serve as a reminder to avoid tailoring your business too drastically to one type of consumer. We are currently reaping the retail rewards of customers who have been built up into lean, mean gardening machines for decades. There is an appreciation for floral products by younger people, but it is sometimes different and not as easy to capitalize upon.
Still, let’s not be so focused on the core group of consumers while ignoring the younger, less experienced gardeners who will be the core group in 20 years.