Stepping outside the box stores, Floragem is breaking new ground with the biggest plant introduction of all time through a partnership with National Geographic.
Founded by Deena Altman of Altman Plants in Vista, Calif., the marketing firm is best known for branding programs at mass retail, like the VIVA! brand of herbs, vegetables and flowers, and Sunpatiens impatiens at The Home Depot. For the past few years, Floragem has been developing a conservation-conscious botanical program with National Geographic, one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations.
The partners found the perfect plant to launch the program — the Wollemi Pine, one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees. Thought to be extinct 2 million years ago, a small grove of trees was discovered in Australia’s Blue Mountains by New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service Officer David Noble. Dubbed one of the most significant botanical finds of this century, the tree is a member of the 200-million-year-old Araucariaceae family. Because fewer than 100 trees exist in the wild, extensive research is being done to propagate and conserve this species. Consumers now have a unique opportunity to assist in the efforts by purchasing a tree, which is similar to a Norfolk Pine, for their home. The pines are being sold for $99.95 as 10-inch-tall plants in copper colored containers in National Geographic’s holiday catalog. A care manual tells the story of the discovery and fascinating history of the Wollemi Pine. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will fund ongoing conservation research. Consumers will also have the opportunity to buy the Wollemi Pine at leading independent garden centers this spring at the same premium pricepoint.
“National Geographic has a rich heritage of supporting botanical research and sharing findings with our audiences,” says Krista Newberry, National Geographic’s vice president of licensing in the home category. “This new endeavor is a wonderful way to further our mission-based work of inspiring people to care about the planet and to raise awareness about conservation efforts. Supporting Wollemi Pine this holiday is just the beginning of a long-term program to support and propagate the plant. Expanding distribution in 2007 is a key initiative to build the conservation efforts in the United States.”
The Big Rollout
Josh Schneider, who manages the licensing rights in North America, brought the Wollemi Pine to Floragem. Garry Grueber of Kientzler in Germany is managing the rights in Europe. Each part of the world has taken a different approach to introducing the Wollemi Pine to consumers. In Australia, it was positioned as their discovery and their plant as it was introduced through a Sotheby’s auction. In Europe, large specimens were ushered in and protected by armed guards to heighten the value and mystique.
Wollemi Pine made its debut in the United States during Garden Centers of America’s Fashion In Bloom event in September as one of the special attractions at White’s Greenhouse & Nursery in Chesapeake, Va. That same week, there was a ceremonial planting at National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. A media event was also organized in New York City, the hub of all big consumer media. So far, the Wollemi Pine has received prime editorial coverage in Time magazine, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and on “The Martha Stewart Show.”
A Great Story
“With National Geographic being such a big brand, media reaction has been very strong compared to when the horticulture industry takes a story out,” Floragem’s Laurie Scullin says. “National Geographic has been around a very long time and has 100 percent brand recognition. If you look at the very good programs in our industry–PanAmerican’s Wave petunias, Proven Winners, The Flower Fields — they all garner relatively little brand recognition at the consumer level.
“This project (Wollemi) is what happens if you approach the problem in a different direction. This is a good example of how to market plants with real brands versus making them up from scratch. We’re delighted to be involved.” Partnering with an organization like National Geographic is also a good way to reach consumers we might not normally engage and raise a whole new generation of plant enthusiasts. National Geographic is in 300,000 classrooms with its children’s magazines, Scullin adds.
“This is the kind of thing I think consumers will care about in context,” he explains. “At the end of the day, we’re all shoppers. The product has to be packaged a certain way for our brains to register, ‘This is a good product. I could learn about it and help the world.'”
In addition to raising funds for conservation, Wollemi Pine will be putting millions of dollars of new business into our industry’s market channels. At press time, growers and retailers were being lined up for the spring season. For more information about the Wollemi Pine, contact Schneider at [email protected].