Sunnier Days Ahead After Stormy Spring

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Spring brought some of the most inclement weather we have seen in 10 years, with unusually cold temperatures and rain across most regions of the United States. In some areas, the season did not start until mid-May. In some regions, the season started and stopped three or four times.

Those who fared the best were companies that could respond with good product whenever the weather broke, good selection and precision distribution. From all of those I talked to, the only part of the country that had a somewhat normal window of opportunity was the Deep South. And even then there were periods of stopping and starting.

Contract growers may have been most affected. Word has it there were a lot of contracts that were not delivered because the weather-related issues stalled sales and the merchandise was not needed. With the poor weather conditions so widespread, it was difficult to sell excess material to adjoining regions.

Growers who can respond the quickest to good weather days suffered far less than those who could not immediately fill the retail shelves with needed products. Another activity that helped those companies who were the most nimble was the movement of product from one store to another. Those who understand the importance of doing both product and store analysis have the information to know when and where to shift products.

Overall, from traveling around a number of regions it appears this was one of the worst springs in the past 10 years, with more poor weather conditions across most regions. It is yet to be determined what impact it will have on the financial health of the grower community, but clearly many businesses were hurt and hurt badly.

On the broker side, brokers typically they have huge receivables by the beginning of spring and want to clear them by the end of spring. But you have to wonder how difficult it will be to accomplish this because many of their customers took major hits on their sales volumes that ultimately affect their ability to pay their bills.

New Programs

Cow Pots, a biodegradable container made from pasteurized cow manure, was seen in a few stores in the Northeast in a 306 configuration with nice labeling and cart banners retailing for $6.98. It is one of the few bio-positioned containers that actually break down the first season. Look for this container to be more widespread next season.

At several Lowe’s stores in Southern California, I saw a 109 tray that consisted of three different genera positioned as a product the consumer could make their own patio pot or window box. It was retailing for $15. It had more comprehensive information than you ever see on an annual product.

At Walmart in Southern California, the stores I visited had no Bonnie Plant vegetables. Instead, Walmart offered a generic line produced by Altman Plants. The quarts were produced in some type of paper, and all flats had a large flat talker on the end prominently displaying the variety and price point. Each pot also had a large colorful label. The generic vegetables were priced lower than the Bonnie Plants in other regions.

Other Observations

There’s no doubt the edible category continues to grow and expand. I observed consumers heavily shopping the edible products at retail. The retailers are putting a wider array of offerings in their stores, with an increase in varieties of vegetables and a lot more berries and small fruits in their inventories.

Noticeably absent is the lack of vegetables and other edibles for patio gardening, especially because there are a lot of varieties that are compatible with patio and small space gardening–most notably the Vegetalis line from Floranova. Clearly the industry is missing an opportunity to satisfy the demand, as research shows more than 50 percent of consumers who vegetable garden do some form of patio gardening.

Proven Winners continues to expand its footprint at Home Depot with more retail space. In some markets, Home Depot has built pergolas with Proven Winners-only products and POS retail signage. Clearly, Proven Winners is the lead premium here.
On the branding front, from my observations the Wave brand is the leading national brand that is in every store at all national retailers–and in some regions in large quantities. Most growers like the Wave product because it has created heavy demand, has low input costs and carries healthy gross margins.

Takeaways

Overall, this was not a good season. But it was clear as I stopped at retailers while traveling the country that there was pent-up demand by the consumer after a long, hard winter. This was the first year I remember seeing weekend traffic during the week when the weather broke. It seemed like many consumers were going to buy green goods and the only thing that mattered was what day the weather would be good enough to garden.

Patio containers continue to grow but only if they look great. There are too many of them on the retail shelves that are not appealing because they have little color. Some of the recipes being offered are leading to the lack of color because all items are not blooming or even growing together. If we want to kill this market, then continue to put unmatched recipes on the shelves. It’s simple: color sells.

Jerry Montgomery (mrplug@cfl.rr.com) is a veteran of the floriculture industry who has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, Montgomery 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 about 2,700 stores since 2008.

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