You Say Tomato

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You Say Tomato

Homegrown herbs and vegetables are at a popularity level not seen in a generation, and thanks to a host of branded programs on the market, growers and retailers have plenty of opportunities to capitalize on the trend. 

Plug Connection’s Organiks line of organic herbs and vegetables, for example, appeals to consumers through its unique, colorful packaging. “We decided to go with the lifestyle look,” says Josh Schneider of Cultivaris, a consulting firm to Plug Connection. “We basically ignored the perceived wisdom that you need an exact picture of the plant.”
 
Instead, the thyme plant, for instance, features a picture of halibut with a thyme sauce, and the pepper tags feature a photo of mouth-watering kabobs. “The entire Organiks marketing concept, with the bench cards, signs and all of the supporting marketing material, is to showcase the big, lush, beautiful opportunity that is presented to you as you’re standing there at the garden center,” Schneider says. “You’re not just seeing a bunch of little, ugly tomato plants, but you’re seeing signs with baskets full of lush tomatoes.”
 
Plug Connection marketing associate Jennifer Yokum says the whole Organiks program was designed to make it easy for growers to have an attractive brand package for the products they grow. “Our tray talkers were designed specifically to inspire the customer to the potential of the plants rather than the usual information,” she says. 
 
And, the retailers get POP that works well for them, too. “The sell-through of our plants at independent garden centers and high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods has been fantastic,” Yokum says. “One of our largest independent garden center customers told us this was the first plant brand that ever really worked for them.”

Creating Consumer Demand

Ball also is diving into herbs and veggies through the Burpee Home Gardens program, which is in its trial year. “Our activities have been focused on engaging consumers in our regional test markets,” says Ball public relations manager Layci Gragnani. “Aside from a robust advertising campaign that includes print, radio and online components, we’re also doing some fun things with public relations to get gardeners in these areas involved.”
 
In the Dallas test market, Ball partnered with a group called All Church Home for Children to plant a veggie garden for the children there, and in Baltimore, the “Dream A Little Green” contest gives consumers the chance to win their own dream vegetable garden.
 
“It’s our goal to help our customers have their highest sell through with this program, and consumer marketing support is a big part of that,” Gragnani says.
 
Attracting younger gardeners is another goal for the program. “We like to call vegetables the gateway to gardening,” she adds. “A lot of times, people start with a few tomato plants or herbs, get hooked and move on to bigger gardening experiences.”
 
For growers and retailers, Gragnani says, the program is about “leveraging the well-known Burpee name, along with a great selection of tried-and-true plus new and innovative varieties, to be more successful in the category.”

An Opportunity For Success

Elzinga and Hoeksema Greenhouses in Kalamazoo, Mich., has created its own line of organically-grown vegetables and herbs called Fresh Flavors, which includes all the basics as well as different segments, like classic flavors, which include heirloom varieties, and ethnic flavors, too. Current lines include Asian, Italian and Fiesta flavors. Next year, Flavors of Mumbai will be introduced. Colorful trays and flats help attract the consumer’s eye, and POP is available, too.
 
“We have a good position in the garden centers we go to. We have benches set up and we use poster boards,” President Mark Elzinga says. “We have 7 by 11 price cards for everything. Bench tape is big, and also big banners on the outside of the garden centers announcing Fresh Flavors.” 
 
Elzinga says there has been a little resistance to organics, but it has just beefed up sales of the non-organic vegetable flats he grows. Elzinga points out that older demographics often prefer smaller packs, while the busy soccer mom who works full time probably prefers a larger size with less work involved. “We’re always trying to meet that demand,” he says.
 
And, as Schneider says, the most important part is making sure the consumer is successful. “If we can get them in and encourage them and help them be successful, then chances are they’re going to spend more next year,” he says. “I think the industry has such a huge opportunity this spring to really be successful and help encourage people in the right direction.”

Ann-Marie Vazzano was managing editor of American Fruit Grower magazine, a Meister publication.

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