The Town Hall forum is typically one of the most interesting and compelling discussions that takes place at Cultivate each year. This year’s panel, with a focus on how consumable products (i.e., plants that you can eat, put on your body, smoke, or perhaps even turn into pet food) could potentially revolutionize the industry, was no exception.
The panelists involved in this year’s Town Hall, which was moderated by Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm, were Alex Traven of Peace Tree Farm, Scott Endres of Tangletown Gardens, Valerie Nalls of Nalls Produce, and Brie Arthur of Brie Arthur Communications. As is the case with each year’s Town Hall, no panelist can be directly quoted. Nevertheless, there were some great ideas about the future of consumable products and how they can be used to tap into the next generation of consumers.
Here are 10 insights into edibles and consumables that were shared by the panel of speakers.
1. Edibles and consumables may be a great way to reach beginning gardeners. “An ornamental plant is nice, but what does it really do?” noted one panelist. In the case of edibles, there is a tangible benefit that can help build a connection between a new grower and the sometimes intimidating experience they may have when planting something for the first time.
2. Edibles can be exciting. “A new petunia doesn’t always excite people, but a consumable plant can do just that,” said one panelist. As the locally grown and farm-to-table movement continues to grow, more and more consumers want to know where their food comes from. When you give people the ability to grow their own food and know that it is fresher than anything else they can buy, that creates a new level of excitement.
3. Are consumables just another industry fad the industry is chasing? No way, said one panelist. “Flowers don’t matter when you can’t afford to buy groceries or pay the electric bill,” the panelist said. “It’s definitely not a fad, and in fact, we should be putting all our efforts into growing this part of the market.”
4. Connecting words like “organic” and “sustainable” can easily lead to consumer confusion when it comes to edibles. For growers getting into edibles, one panelist said it’s important to know your market and what’s important to them. “Perhaps the simplest message you can provide to your customers is, ‘Do I feel good about buying this?’” one panelist noted.
5. In order to solidify edibles and consumables as an important part of the market, the industry must cultivate the art of gardening, which means growers and retailers must be willing to follow up after the sale. “We need to make gardening, especially food gardening, important enough for people to make time for it,” said one panelist. How important? Think Netflix. “People will spend an entire day binge-watching a TV show,” argued one panelist. “We need to make them have that same passion for gardening.”
6. It’s also important to avoid breeding “unsuccessful gardening,” which again means following up after the sale. “We can be the liaison between a starter plant and the end success of producing that plant,” one panelist said. “To do that, we need to build trust with that consumer and help them along the way.”
7. The new generation of Millennials represents a great opportunity because, unlike their parents, they appear to be interested in growing food. “Thanks to Betty Crocker, the interest in growing food skipped a generation and made people forget what real food is,” one panelist said. “But now, young people are showing the same interest in food that their grandparents did.”
8. The world of social media can make it easier for growers marketing edibles to tap into a new market. “On the Web, the little guy can have just as big of an impact as the big guy,” said one panelist. “Everyone in this industry can be an online spokesperson, and with tools such as ready-to-go social media posts, it’s a very easy thing to do.”
9. One challenge the consumables market faces is that the horticulture industry has trained people too much to view plants and gardening as a seasonal hobby. “Consumables can be a year-round business, as long as we educate our customers and give them a reason, once they visit us in the spring or summer, to come back later in the year,” one panelist said.
10. In the end, it comes down to creating solutions for your customers, and edibles can provide that. “I want to work in an industry that is seen as 100% necessary by people, and edibles and consumables may be the way to make that happen,” said one panelist.