Kudos For Creativity

We’re happy to see the growing presence of merchandising companies at the California Pack Trials. Packaging has becoming increasingly important as plants compete for attention and discretionary dollars against other consumer goods. It also helps growers and retailers differentiate programs from each other instead of all carrying the same merchandise. Programs that engage consumers offer a competitive edge and help them stand out.

The two companies leading this effort are MasterTag and The John Henry Co. They’ve become so much more than tag companies, designing complete point-of-purchase programs coordinating tags, pots and signage to dress up benches and carts at retail. Some campaigns are linked to consumer-focused Web sites with more information and interaction.

MasterTag became an exhibitor at Pack Trials in 2005 with broker Henry F. Michell at Speedling’s facility in San Juan Bautista. That was the year the Gardening For Dummies branded program debuted and was immediately picked up by Wal-Mart for several seasons. The next year, a program tying in with the Weather Channel also was picked up by a major retailer.

The one that caught attention this year was Patio Pronto, which helps consumers piece together easy patio planters with a preplanted pot insert that fits into urns and planters. Other concepts were Mini-Scapes for small spaces, Colors of the Garden to organize varieties by color, Heat Loving Annuals to promote varieties that perform in heat and full sun, and Enchanted Night to promote an evening look with blue and white flowers. Best In Class promotes varieties that performed well in university trials.The snake-shaped tag for the Serpentine vinca was especially clever.

John Henry has had a strong presence at many Pack Trials locations but this was the first year it became an exhibitor at Greenheart Farms in Arroyo Grande, along with ITML, which produces the special Potcha pots. I had forgotten about the decades of experience John Henry has connecting with women through retail florists in the floral market. If a grower or retailer is interested in upscale containers, a division of the company, John Henry West, contracts production of metal, ceramic, glass and wooden containers in China. The floral merchandising strategies we saw with garden plants at the trials were really effective and would command a premium for a low input cost.

Exciting non-floral programs for garden plants included Renewal, a serene concept for early spring; Party To Patio, which provides easy entertaining tips on plant tags; the Savor Life program for herbs and vegetables with recipes; and Let Me Do It, which helps consumers put combinations together for sun or shade. Cart concepts for Kieft’s Revolution gerberas, Benary’s rudbeckias and Goldsmith’s EZ Combos also were well received.

At Greenheart, I congratulated Lisa Oliver from John Henry on a successful debut, and we talked about their great concepts and, regrettably, how they won’t go anywhere if growers and retailers aren’t interested in them. At the same time, she feels a sense of urgency to keep developing new programs and presenting them to growers and retailers at Pack Trials. “We have to do it, or they (consumers) are going to spend their money on nonplants,” she says.

We’re fortunate to be in an industry with products that are beautiful and can be creatively positioned to capture feelings and interests, make a fashion statement or simply provide solutions. Discretionary products, like ours, need to strike chords with consumers.

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