Plants are pretty, but they’re good for you, too. That’s the message that foliage and tropical plant growers like Costa Farms, Delray Plants and a number of other industry members say we need to collaboratively communicate to consumers, as an industry. They’re already doing it at their own operations, in some cases for many years — and it’s working.
Through efforts like National Indoor Plant Week and organizations like Green Plants For Green Buildings, houseplants are gaining a whole new identity as air scrubbers, mood lifters, focus fixers and essential elements of home and office décor. And thanks to a tremendous list of resources available online— from our industry and beyond — the mainstream media has increasingly been talking to consumers about plant benefits.
In Canada, the very new Plants Love You campaign was developed solely to communicate plant benefits on an industry-wide level. Its website offers a repository of articles and information that growers and retailers can use to spread the message (see Plants Love You).
Recently, members of the U.S. horticulture industry have been looking into how an industry-wide campaign promoting the benefits of plants could work. Costa Farms’ Director of Marketing Marta Maria Garcia says the way the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council highlighted the health and anti-aging properties and benefits of “Blueberries — Little Blue Dynamos,” is a prime example for the green industry.
“Who knew what antioxidants were before blueberries?” Garcia says. “As health research started getting deeper and deeper, they found that these amazing fruits are powerful and they carry all of this goodness. So the blueberry council, a group of growers, felt they needed to communicate this to consumers and boom, there it is. Before, blueberries were nothing, and from one day to the next, people were buying boxes and boxes of blueberries because they want to be healthier.”
As industry members who can only benefit from promoting the health and well-being aspects that plants provide, it is within our responsibilities to work together to teach consumers what plants offer, says Delray Plants’ Director of Trade Marketing Natalie Disciascio.
“Consumers are looking for us to provide that information,” she says. “If we could provide that simple messaging, to call out the benefits of a plant, and take it a step further and tell them how to use it, it would help reduce their fear of failure in introducing plants into their homes.”
Delray Will Seek Out A National Audience With Its New Program
In 2013, Delray Plants trademarked its Plants With Benefits program, a line of 4-inch foliage plants decorated with pot covers that highlight the benefits of the plants, like “Reduces Stress” and “Boosts Creativity,” and the easy care maintenance they require. Each year, Delray adds to the line and reintroduces it at national retailers during National Indoor Plant Week and Earth Day. The line will soon expand with a 6-inch collection and a 10-inch collection.
Disciascio says ideally, the operation would like to put forth a national Plants With Benefits campaign within the coming year, to talk about the benefits of plants.
“The important thing is to make sure that it’s done correctly, with the right signage in place, telling the right message, that the full collection is available and in place, that our field reps are trained and educated in the right terminology as they’re talking to customers and that it all comes back to that same theme.”
Delray Plants supports its programs with a website that conveys plant benefits and care maintenance tips in simple, uncomplicated ways that consumers will understand and relate with. For the past three years, Delray has posted how-to videos on plant use ideas and care tips in its online Garden Toolbox. A new blog, “Tales From A 20-Something Gardener” is written by Taylor Fuller, Delray’s resident millennial blogger, who aims to show that using plants doesn’t have to be intimidating, and it’s okay to fail.
“It puts a personal spin on what we’re doing, to reach out to that millennial audience, who wants to incorporate plants into their lives but doesn’t know how, Disciascio says. “We want to make it relatable, and show that gardening is trial and error — that’s just how it goes.”
Disciascio says it’s an exciting time for Delray Plants, where several new ideas are in the works.
“We recognize the importance of being innovative in our industry, and even though everyone is selling plants, it’s really how you sell them that makes a difference,” she says. “We’re really focused on making a difference — on how we can help our customers reach that end consumer.”
Costa’s Commitment To Communicating Plant Benefits
Costa Farms has been promoting the benefits of plants since the 80s, when the first NASA study came out, based on research by Dr. Bill Wolverton. Garcia says Tony Costa, a second-generation owner of the family business, picked up on that research and began avidly promoting it.
“From lobbying to make indoor houseplants a credit for any LEED certification, to making a lot of investment behind public relations, to seed the message, we feel like we have been very successful,” Garcia says.
Today, Costa Farms sells its O2 For You brand of foliage plants, which draws attention to houseplants’ air-cleaning benefits. Its Plants Of Steel program promotes easy-care, low-maintenance plants in 6-inch containers. And now, through last year’s acquisition of Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses, Costa Farms will relaunch the Exotic Angels brand in 2015.
Costa Farms has seen tangible benefits in promoting plant benefits to consumers, Garcia says.
“The year we launched the Plants Of Steel, we waited for a full year of sales so we could compare the sales of that year under the Plants Of Steel branding to the previous year, and we saw double digit growth, showing us the message resonated and a lot of people picked it up.”
The O2 For You program has shown year-over-year growth at retail, with high sell-throughs and retailers’ continued interest and investment in the brand.
Qualitatively, Garcia says Costa Farms talks to consumers all the time, with an average of 20,000 unique visitors every month on its website, which will be relaunched this month with a fresh design and more substantial information on all of its brands.
“It’s an open platform. People ask us questions all the time about plants and they come and leave comments and write to us,” Garcia says. “I still haven’t heard anything negative from those brands.”
This past year, Costa Farms took aim at millennials with a plant giveaway on college campuses during National Indoor Plant Week and a separate, stop-motion video centered on dorm room plants.
“When we post a video, consumers are always surprised about all the things plants offer,” Garcia says. “We empower them with this information — and consumers love to brag, so now we’ve equipped them to go and communicate this forward to other people.”
Social Media Is The Ideal Platform For Telling Our Story
With or without a national campaign to market plant benefits, social media makes grower-level marketing a more even playing field than it was even 10 years ago, when advertising on television and radio was cost-prohibitive for some. Today, social media is the fastest, most effective and least expensive way to reach consumers, especially millennials, Garcia says.
“The digital world is a fantastic stage and platform for anyone who has a story, to tell it,” she says. “Social media is a very effective tool and inexpensive. You don’t need to have a big budget — you can start small.”
And while it may seem intimidating, it’s not rocket science, with the tools available today. But you do need to invest in people who can tell a story, either visually or with writing talent, Garcia says.
“It’s not like you need to hire an Academy Award director — I hire interns,” she says. “There are a lot of talented people out there looking for work, and it’s as easy as going to the local university. Especially now, with all the tools that exist, anybody can edit a video. And we grow the content — our beautiful, health-enhancing plants.”