While some plant varieties are introduced through very controlled networks, which limit supply, others are widely distributed in the marketplace through the broker system and are open to all growers and retailers.
When we ask readers and industry sources to name the most successful brands in plants, Wave petunias and Proven Winners are the two that are named most often. Both brands started 15 years ago and have grown significantly in their strategies to engage growers, retailers and consumers.
One problem PanAmerican ran into more than five years ago is growers substituting different petunias for Wave in the Wave pots. This counterfeiting is most obvious when the flower is a color not found in the Wave series.
“While it’s true that the Ride The Wave family does have a wider range of colors than it did five years ago, there are still many more colors in standard petunias, and people are still putting these standard varieties in Wave pink pots or labeling them with Wave tags,” explains PanAmerican’s Sales Director Ben Walraven. “For example, in the past year, we’ve seen standard petunias with yellow or even striped flowers promoted as Wave petunias, so it can sometimes still be pretty obvious when counterfeiting is taking place.”
When a suspected counterfeit is in a color similar to the Waves, PanAmerican can identify the DNA fingerprint of its varieties versus others. “Even in cases where a non-Wave red or purple petunia is sold as a Wave and it may not be apparent to the naked eye, we can tell at the genetic level whether or not it’s our variety,” he says.
When imposters are discovered and traced back to growers, they receive a phone call from PanAmerican followed by a written notice informing them of the violation with a request to cease and desist and sign a statement to promise the violation won’t be repeated. As part of the compliance, all inventory in the greenhouse or delivered to the stores has to be repackaged and relabeled correctly or destroyed.
“With only one exception, this process has always solved the problem,” Walraven says. “Our procedure now is basically the same, but there is certainly a new group of offenders, and that ‘s why we have to remain diligent. We have to follow through for a few reasons. We have a legal requirement to protect our trademark. If we don’t do that, we lose the mark, period. We also share the Wave trademark with Kirin, and they rely on us to police the mark in North America.”
Walraven also cites an obligation to keep the playing field fair for growers. “It’s simply not fair to those growers who do it right, if others use cheaper or inferior inputs to make more money at their expense. And we have an ethical requirement to protect a product that’s really loved by a lot of consumers.”
He adds it’s a small minority of growers who engage in counterfeiting. “The vast majority of growers do everything they can to do things the right way, but the few who do it should know better,” he says. “The growers we find in violation of our trademarks or selling counterfeit plants are many times very active in the industry and working with large, national companies to put product in the marketplace. They’re not tiny operations who could possibly claim they’re not familiar with the process.”
Branders are also more connected with consumers than they used to be. Interactive Web sites allow consumers to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction directly to the manufacturer. “Our Wave-Rave.com Web site gets thousands of hits a month, and the consumers who use the site send us e-mails telling us what’s on their minds,” he says.
Proven Winners is experiencing great success with its white branded pots in many sizes, ranging from 4 1/2 inch to 3 gallons. The branded pots are backed by a guarantee that they will sell better than generic pots.
“More and more branded containers are being sold and used correctly,” says Proven Winners’ Director of Marketing Marshall Dirks. “2006-2007 container sales have already exceeded all of 2005-2006 sales and only 50 percent of the orders are booked.”
A new line of variety-specific branded pots have been introduced as Proven Packages to support unique plants, like euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost,’ leucanthemum ‘Broadway Lights’ and cleome ‘Senorita Rosalita.’
The partnership with garden celebrity P. Allen Smith has also generated a 132 percent increase in Web site traffic and a 300 percent increase in requests for Proven Winners’ consumer catalog.
“We are releasing new programs as the industry matures and values them,” Dirks says. “Our brands may be occasionally misrepresented, but to a much lesser degree than before and most definitely not like others, as retailers see the value in Proven Winners and in doing it in a professional and organized manner that helps all levels look good.”