2012 California Spring Trials Takeaways

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The California Spring Trials are a stimulating way to start the season. Every breeder’s displays are overflowing with new varieties – new cultivars, improved genetics, stunning colors. But growers don’t attend just to see a bunch of pretty, new plants. It’s a business trip, one of the most important you may make all year. You’re there to uncover ideas and solutions that are going to help grow your business.

We’re just back from a week traveling up the West Coast, examining and discussing 2012 plant introductions with close to 40 companies. You’ll read a lot about what we discovered in this issue. But here are three overall trends we saw during those stops that you ought to be taking advantage of, or at least taking a long look at, as you begin making your plans for 2013:

Vegetables. Edible crops were just about everywhere this year. This category has been gaining traction for the last three or four years, but we saw some excellent new offerings from the breeders who’ve been in vegetables for a while – and some new entrants in the market, too.

As much buzz as the edibles category has gotten over the last couple of seasons it is important to keep things in perspective. This is still a relatively small part of the overall market and may not be the right category for every grower. But as you’re searching for new products to offer your customers, this one is definitely worth a look.

More focus on local and regional success. “Local” is a hot topic with consumers and, increasingly we noticed it was getting the attention of breeders. Rather than focusing just on “what’s new,” a number of the stops displayed specific product mixes that work well for growers in different regions of the country. Understanding who and where your customers are and offering them product their own customers can be successful with should be a priority for every grower. The breeders seem anxious to help.

New ways to reach customers – existing gardeners and new ones, too. Without fail, Spring Trials stops are now focused on ways to help you sell their new variety introductions. Whether it’s interesting packaging, display suggestions you can take to your customers or even new technology – mobile apps, QR codes, much-improved POP that tells a story and sells product – these breeders are offering ideas.

Don’t just take my word for all of this. We also got the opinions of some industry experts for our Spring Trials coverage this year. Metrolina Greenhouses’ Mariah Holland shares the merchandising and packaging ideas that caught her eye during the Trials. The Perennial Farm’s Ed Kiley talks about sorting through hundreds of new varieties to find the ones that will help you produce a quality product. And Joel Goldsmith, the former President and CEO of Goldsmith Seeds – which was instrumental in starting the Trials 45 years ago – rode a bus with growers this spring. He shares what he learned seeing Trials from the grower’s point of view and offers tips to help you get more from the event.

As you read through this issue and see some of the new varieties you’ll have available for 2013, make note of other opportunities to drive consumer success with your plants, cultivate new customers and manage your business a little bit better this year.

Look around you at how fast this market is changing and how your suppliers, your customers and your peers are adapting. What are you doing to make a difference for your business?

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.

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