Tomorrow’s Containers

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Container Roundup

Want more on pots and trays? Check out a roundup of the latest container products and services, and more on the latest trends in decorative containers.

Pots and trays are a staple of greenhouse production, but there are some fairly dynamic developments taking place in containers, both for growers and suppliers. We spoke with representatives from several of the industry’s leading container manufacturers to get their takes on the issues driving the industry in 2009.

Changing Customer Demands

When your biggest customers come to you with new requirements, it’s often impossible to say no, even when fulfilling them means big changes. That’s what’s happening now with some of the box stores requiring more specific labeling – in some cases, asking for barcodes identifying the genus of the plant in the container.

“Genus-specific labeling is challenging for us, and I think it’s even more challenging for the grower,” says Cal Diller, president of East Jordan Plastics.

“It’s going to impact us,” agrees Norman Belliveau, CEO and president of Summit Plastics. “Up until now we’ve been putting on the more generic ‘4 inch annual’ label and didn’t have to make it color specific, but now it’s changing. Somebody’s going to have to take on the responsibility to make sure that information is correct.”

Consolidation Continues

 
New customer expectations, new materials, and new recycling efforts are all important trends in the container industry. But one of the biggest trends impacting suppliers and growers alike is consolidation. And it’s a trend that’s not likely to end soon, say representatives from some of the industry’s leading container suppliers.
 
“I think it’s going to continue at all levels,” says Terry Robinson, distributor sales manager with Myers Lawn and Garden Group, a company which has been a major player in supplier consolidation in recent years. “It’s going to happen at retail, it’s going to happen among growers, among distributors, among manufacturers. You see it happening at the seed companies and the young plant companies, too. Whoever’s most efficient is going to be the last man standing.”
 
Growers are feeling the impact of changes in their buyers, says Norman Belliveau, CEO and president of Summit Plastics. “There’s more supply than demand for plant material. Walmart’s trying to deal with a lot fewer growers. It’s the same with Lowe’s and Home Depot. They want to be big with fewer growers and that forces the growers to either become part of somebody else’s network or try to find some other way of selling your products,” he says.
 
“This is what tends to happen with mature or maturing industries. As you get down the road, the big get bigger and sometimes the small get smaller,” says Cal Diller, president of East Jordan Plastics. But how big is too big?
 
“Is there an optimum size for things? The seasonality, the complexities of running efficient growing operations may, from my perspective, limit the ability of some of the consolidation,” he says.
 
“I just think it’s going to continue,” Belliveau says. “Some of the recent changes may help put supply a little more in line with demand. But, we’re over capacity from a pot and tray manufacturer perspective. No question about it.”

The best solution at this point may be handling labeling at the grower level, Belliveau says. “The grower may need to get their own print-and-apply equipment. They might be running a couple thousand of one item, followed by another 500 of a different color, followed by 5000 of something else. If they ask the container manufacturer to custom label all these different designs, they have an inventory nightmare, trying to find the right pots and the right timing and the right sequence.

“I think they’re going to have to be more specific with a tag at the last moment, or some kind of label on the container,” he says.

Trends In Materials

Another challenge facing growers and container manufacturers alike is the pressure from retailers and consumers for “greener,” more sustainable materials. In a quest for pots and trays that have a lower fossil fuel footprint and don’t pile high in landfills, suppliers are leaving no stone unturned to find the container Holy Grail: an affordable and effective alternative to plastic.

Summit, for example, is experimenting with the PLA container, a synthetic polymer made from corn sugars, and another made from wheat starch. Myers Lawn and Garden Group is working with ANLA and USDA on a material made from keratin extracted from chicken feathers. Myers distributor sales manager Terry Robinson says he’s also seen a lot of interest in the company’s new line of containers made from coir.
To date, however, most of the sustainable products have minuses that go along with their pluses.

“If we could provide the same predictable result with an affordable material that can be readily recycled or decompose on schedule, certainly we’d be very interested,” says Wayne Hinton, president/owner of Rootmaker Products Co.

“Unfortunately, the market hasn’t shown it’s ready to pay the higher price for these materials, and until we address that I think these materials are going to be a small portion of what’s used in the greenhouse industry,” Robinson adds. “But the more we do with these materials, the lower the prices are going to become and they’ll get closer to plastic.”

Recycling & The Future Of Plastic

Despite all the talk about sustainable materials efficacy and economics dictate that plastic will continue to be the driving force in greenhouse pots and trays for the foreseeable future. Current plastics are generally more durable, work better with existing production machinery and processes, and are by some estimates two-to-three times less expensive than many of the sustainable materials.

“We have experimented with some of those other materials, but as of today we don’t feel like they have come to the point of being economically feasible, nor do they perform as well as the current plastic materials we’re dealing with,” Diller says.

With that in mind, along with the pressure to be greener, it’s no surprise recycling has gotten a bigger push in recent months. In fact, East Jordan Plastics has made it a part of its business. The company is working with some of its growers and their retailer customers like The Home Depot and the Meijer’s grocery chain to collect used pots from consumers and return them to be recycled in East Jordan’s own recycling facility. “We’re getting good buy in from a number of our current customers and new potential customers have come to us because we’re recycling,” Diller says.

Myers is looking more closely at recycling as well. “We were involved in a fairly extensive recycling effort in Canada, where we collected and recycled about 750,000 pounds of plastic” Robinson says.  “And we’re in the formative stages of a pilot program at several locations in the Northeastern U.S. in spring of 2010.”

While container collection from consumers is picking up steam, working recycled plastic into the material stream for producing containers is, as always, a cost issue. When the price of oil – and thus the price of virgin resin – rises, recycled plastic becomes much more attractive. When prices fall, recycling becomes less so.

“There’s a price you have to adhere to to make it competitive so your customers will buy it,” Hinton says. “Recycling is good until it costs you money.”

“I think the cost of resin is going to continue up a little more and then stabilize,” Belliveau says. “I don’t think it will peak where it did a year ago, but I don’t think it is going to come down shortly, either.”

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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    8 comments on “Tomorrow’s Containers

    1. Anonymous

      It would be very interesting to have a chart of the pros, cons, features, benefits and cost of the different pots featured within the “greener” programs

    2. Anonymous

      Do you interested eco flowerpots and nursry pots?

      We are factory which professional in producing Plant Fibre serial products. All our products are made from nature plant materials, using bamboo, rice hull, and so on,
      Which can be degraded back to nature, biodegrade naturally, no harm and pollulion to environment and human life. Our main products is Such as Flower pots series, nursery tray series,Tableware Series, and so on .

      We want to as you vendor,Could pls kindly forwared this informaiton to your garden purchase department with many thanks!

    3. Anonymous

      Do you interested eco flowerpots and nursry pots?

      We are factory which professional in producing Plant Fibre serial products. All our products are made from nature plant materials, using bamboo, rice hull, and so on,
      Which can be degraded back to nature, biodegrade naturally, no harm and pollulion to environment and human life. Our main products is Such as Flower pots series, nursery tray series,Tableware Series, and so on .

      We want to as you vendor,Could pls kindly forwared this informaiton to your garden purchase department with many thanks!

    4. Anonymous

      I’d be wary of “eco flowerpots” being produced in China. The same oversight that allowed contaminated drywall, tainted baby formula, leaded candy, defective truck tires, etc etc would be applied to their “eco flowerpots”. American and European manufacturers are held to high standards and have an interest in maintaining their integrity and producing products that are what they say they are.

    5. Anonymous

      It would be very interesting to have a chart of the pros, cons, features, benefits and cost of the different pots featured within the “greener” programs

    6. Anonymous

      Do you interested eco flowerpots and nursry pots?

      We are factory which professional in producing Plant Fibre serial products. All our products are made from nature plant materials, using bamboo, rice hull, and so on,
      Which can be degraded back to nature, biodegrade naturally, no harm and pollulion to environment and human life. Our main products is Such as Flower pots series, nursery tray series,Tableware Series, and so on .

      We want to as you vendor,Could pls kindly forwared this informaiton to your garden purchase department with many thanks!

    7. Anonymous

      Do you interested eco flowerpots and nursry pots?

      We are factory which professional in producing Plant Fibre serial products. All our products are made from nature plant materials, using bamboo, rice hull, and so on,
      Which can be degraded back to nature, biodegrade naturally, no harm and pollulion to environment and human life. Our main products is Such as Flower pots series, nursery tray series,Tableware Series, and so on .

      We want to as you vendor,Could pls kindly forwared this informaiton to your garden purchase department with many thanks!

    8. Anonymous

      I’d be wary of “eco flowerpots” being produced in China. The same oversight that allowed contaminated drywall, tainted baby formula, leaded candy, defective truck tires, etc etc would be applied to their “eco flowerpots”. American and European manufacturers are held to high standards and have an interest in maintaining their integrity and producing products that are what they say they are.