Montgomery: Veggies Market Reshaping

If you talk to anyone in the industry, most agree vegetables and herbs grew faster than other product segments, with some vegetables and herbs experiencing 30 to 40 percent growth. Most industry members also agree the growth will continue for the next few years.

Currently, the number one provider of vegetable plants at retail is Bonnie Plant Farms, which services retailers nationally from 60-plus production locations across the country. Bonnie is the primary vegetable vendor for Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart, along with a number of other local and regional retailers.

Unfortunately, Bonnie Plant Farm has been linked by the press and some extension agents to an outbreak of Late Blight in the Northeast, and now we see the back-and -forth accusations and denials. It is not my purpose to accuse Bonnie or anyone else as the culprit regarding this dilemma, but clearly by perception alone, there are those who feel Bonnie is tied to the issue.

Bonnie Plant Farm is a well-known vegetable brand with national distribution built over the past 20-plus years into a much admired and respected company. It would be in Bonnie’s best interest to focus on the future and take actions that will tell the marketplace what it’s doing to ensure the integrity of its products. I believe Bonnie should take some measures ensuring it is not tied to this type of incident in the future.

These are the measures Bonnie should take:

- Retain leading pathologist Margery Daugherty or someone of that caliber to design a disease management program at all locations
–Install HAF fans to keep foliage dry in the winter
–Disinfect all 60 plus locations
–Institute weekly testing at all greenhouses
–Develop new and innovative marketing programs.

Bonnie should also communicate these activities to the marketplace with an intense public relations campaign that focuses on the future instead of dwelling on the past. Bonnie is a very successful consumer brand that is well respected by the consumer. The issue is to maintain that trust and increase brand loyalty.

Bonnie is by far the largest supplier of vegetables and herbs in North America with a great track record. It has grown faster than the industry at large. To continue this growth pattern, Bonnie must do what is necessary to regain the confidence of consumers in the affected area. If not, the coming competition will have negative impact on Bonnie’s market position.

Changing Market Dynamics

With the current economic downturn predicted to go into 2012 to 2013, it’s clear vegetables and herbs will continue to grow in popularity. This growth presents many business opportunities. A number of people I’ve talked to see the opportunity, and I would expect to see a number of new national, local and regional programs.

Consider what is already in place for Spring 2010 that will be the biggest and most powerful products launch in the history of the category. The Burpee Home Gardens brand will be available at many retailers with an innovative high-profile program. Burpee is arguably one of the most recognized consumer brands, especially in the Midwest and Northeast with millions of customers who follow the brand religiously. Now, those consumers can acquire Burpee vegetable and herbs as plants at retail.

Word on the street has at least one large retailer developing its own “house brand” of vegetables and herbs that will be launched next spring. Expect to see local programs focused on organic vegetables, some using eco-friendly containers while others will be more aggressive with their traditional local programs.

There has been a noticeable increase in the independent garden centers of the Chef Jeff’s vegetable brand that has the best visual packaging I have seen in this category. There are also some really interesting local programs already on the market like the “earthe” and “growe” brands from Smith Gardens in Bellingham, Wash. Smith has developed great organic programs uuing eco-pots and outstanding POS materials.

Couple the increased consumer demand with the awakening of the industry that has with the exception of Bonnie Plant Farms abdicated the vegetable category in favor of annuals, and there will be more focus on vegetables than we have seen since the 1970s.

The Burpee Home Gardens brand will create tremendous competition both for the Bonnie brand as well as others in the category and this makes it even more important to separate the brand from any and all allegations. Let’s not forget  Bonnie Plants is currently the only national vegetable brand and has built a sophisticated system of national production and distribution. The future for Bonnie Plant Farm is squarely on the company’s shoulders. Its business practices will dictate the future, not those of its competitors.

About the author: Jerry Montgomery is a 40-year veteran of the floriculture industry and has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers specializing with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, he works for large growers, distributors and breeder/producers. His focus is to understand the market dynamics from breeder to consumer through intense retail travel, visiting almost 1,500 stores since January 2008.

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16 comments on “Montgomery: Veggies Market Reshaping

  1. The measures you suggest are SOP measures their management should have taken for the sake of their employees and the industry they have tarnished.

  2. Did you say they don’t even use HAF fans? Their use is an inexpensive and basic operating procedure.

    As a wholesale grower of herbs and vegetable plants I have observed this issue from the side. But perception being what it is, it seems Bonnie Plants is responding more defensive in some of their responses and less proactive. I agree with your suggestions and wish them well.

  3. So what evidence to you have to say that they are not doing any of these things already. I think that we as a society are all to eager to cast blame when something goes wrong. I agree Bonnie needs to look foward, but so do the rest of us.

  4. To;Anonymous
    I have no evidence and make no claims my suggestions were only meant to start looking forward. They may have many of these processes already in place.
    Most people want to see this comapny continue to flourish.

  5. Every year I have customers that come in with either early blight or late blights. This is nothing new. We need to educate all these old and new gardeners to rotate their crops. When I ask my customers this all important question, they say they don’t have enough room or they want to use the same potting soil over again in the vegetable containers. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants even strawberry plants can not follow each other for 4 years. We try and teach our customers this but it is hard getting novices to understand the consequences. Please help to educate customers on correct garden practices so they will be successful. It may not be growers faults at all but weather and cultural practices at the home level.

  6. The measures you suggest are SOP measures their management should have taken for the sake of their employees and the industry they have tarnished.

  7. Did you say they don’t even use HAF fans? Their use is an inexpensive and basic operating procedure.

    As a wholesale grower of herbs and vegetable plants I have observed this issue from the side. But perception being what it is, it seems Bonnie Plants is responding more defensive in some of their responses and less proactive. I agree with your suggestions and wish them well.

  8. So what evidence to you have to say that they are not doing any of these things already. I think that we as a society are all to eager to cast blame when something goes wrong. I agree Bonnie needs to look foward, but so do the rest of us.

  9. To;Anonymous
    I have no evidence and make no claims my suggestions were only meant to start looking forward. They may have many of these processes already in place.
    Most people want to see this comapny continue to flourish.

  10. Every year I have customers that come in with either early blight or late blights. This is nothing new. We need to educate all these old and new gardeners to rotate their crops. When I ask my customers this all important question, they say they don’t have enough room or they want to use the same potting soil over again in the vegetable containers. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants even strawberry plants can not follow each other for 4 years. We try and teach our customers this but it is hard getting novices to understand the consequences. Please help to educate customers on correct garden practices so they will be successful. It may not be growers faults at all but weather and cultural practices at the home level.

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