The bulk of plant marketing traditionally falls on the breeders, but based on the supply chain, they’re farther from the marketplace than the growers who handle their plants and the retailers who sell them.
Still, quality plants with vibrant colors start with breeders, and they can’t introduce top-notch varieties to the market without understanding consumer trends. Breeders certainly have some ideas about hot items consumers want, but growers have more direct links to the market.
Yoder Brothers recognizes this, and it’s taken the lead on the development of Senses Merchandising and Promotion, a program that unites breeders and growers with retailers and opens doors for discussion about how they can serve the market better together.
"A lot of times, breeding efforts will be one-sided," says Bob Humm, program coordinator for Senses. "The breeder will develop products and programs without looking at the ultimate consumer. I think this connection has shortened the communication process and the length of bringing plants onto market."
Four growers – Aldershot New Mexico, Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses, White’s Nursery and Greenhouses and Yoder Canada – have already joined Yoder Brothers through Senses, which is designed to eventually send blooming potted plants to supermarkets nationwide.
"There hasn’t been a lot of work done with the breeders from the standpoint of trying to promote the potted plant market at grocery stores," says Bill Riffey, director of marketing at Yoder Brothers. "So we’re kind of cutting new ground here."
Riffey says the program is about to break ground in the market after spending the last three years in development stages. Yoder Brothers and the growers involved used that time to find new plants, test and produce them, evaluate them for quality and shelf life and prepare them for the market.
It hasn’t necessarily been a speedy process, but successful development, testing and evaluation of plants never is.
"A big part of this group is working together and sharing information among ourselves," Riffey says. "If we have trials at their locations, we’re evaluating those trials and making selections. We’re also working through where we want to go with our next product and to determine our forecast numbers. It’s building a relationship between all the growers, too."
Yoder Brothers actually had existing relationships with the majority of growers involved, and it brought Loop’s aboard last year at the Super Floral Show in Columbus, Ohio. At the time, Loop’s was looking to introduce new products to the marketplace, and Senses sold Loop’s president David Loop on the idea that potential breeders could introduce some unique potted blooming plants that Loop’s could grow.
"Potted blooming is a category that could use some new products," Loop says. "We also want to create a brand that can be recognized as high standard and high quality to the whole nation. I think the gist of what we’ve accomplished is coming up with a format of how we want to do those things."
Senses members are confident about the format in place, and they’ve strived to set standards for quality. Standards have rarely been set across growers, Riffey says, and a lack of standards leads to inconsistency and confusion at the retail level. Senses is determined to execute standards among growers, though, to provide products for retailers that are consistent to regions of the United States in color, container and shelf life.
Still, setting national standards across growers can be a challenge. Some regions might seek taller plants while others want certain colors. Fortunately, the four Senses growers already involved represent a corner or chunk of the United States, and all four have already established relationships with supermarket chains across the country.
"You’ve got White’s (Chesapeake, Va.) in the East, Loop’s in the South and Aldershot in the Southwest," Humm says. "Then, you’ve got (Yoder Canada) covering Canada and the Midwest, and we cover most of the major grocery stores.
"I think the package is important, too, because we not only want to have the product look good going into the stores and have a product that consumers want to buy, but the supermarkets have to be successful marketing it. The consumers have to be successful with it in the home, as well."
But consumers, of course, don’t always do their part to extend shelf life, which is a major focus for breeders at Yoder Brothers. They’re always looking for ways to extend shelf life, Humm says, and they’ve developed items like self-watering pots for extending shelf life in stores and homes that Senses will unveil June 17-20 at this year’s Super Floral Show in Orlando, Fla.
The pot is designed specifically for hydrangeas, which Yoder Brothers isn’t traditionally known for producing. But to meet the needs of today’s more lifestyle-driven market, Yoder Brothers has branched into some programs that it historically hasn’t tried.
"The industry might think that Yoder breeds mums, asters, tropical hibiscus, azaleas and some perennials," says Christine Kelleher, media manager at Yoder Brothers. "Senses is not restricted to those programs."
The program is not restricted to Yoder Brothers as the lone breeder, either. "We would like to recruit other breeders, whether those are larger companies or smaller breeders that have unique items they’re trying to bring to market," Riffey says.