Pots aren’t just something for a grower to put a plant in anymore. The presentation of the plant for the consumer — the container, sleeves and wraps, tags and signage, even a story — can be almost as important as the plant itself. It’s a trend we saw in full force at OFA Short Course this summer.
The Deco Trend
“As container gardening’s popularity continues to grow, we are seeing an increased focus on growers selecting containers based on the end consumer’s preferences,” says Dave Edenfield, business development manager for McConkey.
It’s a trend driven by many forces outside our industry, he says. Americans are living in smaller spaces, moving more frequently and have less space for a garden. Container gardening is a chance for them to express themselves without making the permanent commitment in the landscape.
“There is more pressure on growers and garden centers to choose growing containers whose appearance appeals to the end consumer,” Edenfield says. “A plant purchased at retail is now more likely to be displayed in the container it’s sold in, rather than removed from the container and planted in the ground. The plant and container need to be considered as a whole package, carefully chosen to meet the target consumer’s needs.”
Stephanie Winslow, president of Flopack, agrees. “If companies are not heading that way, I believe they will become irrelevant to the industry. The end consumer puts money in all of our pockets and helps our businesses grow,” she says. “How can we not be concerned with the end consumers’ like and dislikes? You have to have something that will grab a consumer’s attention, or they will move on and go somewhere else.”
A beautiful plant is what first grabs that consumer’s attention, but a great complementary container can add extra value to it, says Stacey Rumph, key accounts manager for CTI Plastic.
“It will certainly make the purchase an easier decision,” she says. “Given the trend toward a more complete look, it’s important that the container and packaging all lend itself to the sale of a plant. It’s like putting together an outfit. If you wear the right accessories, it’s going to pull everything you’re wearing together.”
The fashion analogy is more than coincidental. Design trends in these new consumer-friendly pots go beyond what’s currently popular in the garden center.
“We research what is going in home décor, clothing and jewelry fashion, color associations, the food industry and consumer spending trend reports, both in North America and globally,” Rumph says. “We try to get involved in as many consumer feedback groups and trial gardens as possible. Preferences vary quite a bit regionally and across the markets and clients we cover.”
All that consumer feedback is critical, Winslow says. “You have to know your target market — almost better than they know themselves. There has to be a blend of functionality, a price that everyone can live with and ultimately design/presentation that will transcend generations of plant buyers.”
Recognizing a potentially profitable color or design trend in another area is important, but sometimes, understanding what drives those trends can be even more valuable. “We often look to other industries that have responded to cultural changes successfully,” Edenfield says. “We see a lot of parallels with food. There’s a growing emphasis on being more connected with food and nature, but people are busier than ever. The food industry has responded with more gourmet-style, “foodie” products that still allow people to do part of the prep work and get the essential experience of cooking without the frustration.
It’s similar to gardening, he says. “Growing in containers allows you to get the experience of natural beauty without the perceived hard work and permanence of growing in the ground. [Growers] who can provide that upscale, quick-ready package are seeing the most success.”
Tell A Story
A relatively new term we’re hearing in garden retail merchandising and displays is “mannequin.“ Rather than build a standard end cap display of plants, smart retailers are pulling together different elements to create an “outfit,” as Rumph described earlier. The container is an important part of the presentation.
“Just like any other retailer, you have to paint a picture for the consumer, and tell them a story, not just have random pieces thrown together,” Winslow says.
It’s also important to understand seasonality, Rumph says.
“Early spring or specific holidays tend to be trending heavily toward color-specific plants and pots to match. That extra ‘pop’ you can get out of a bright-pink flowering plant with a matching pink pot can make a plant truly stand out. We are always playing with different glossy finishes or sparkles as alternatives for these types of special event purchases.”
McConkey helps growers tell a different type of story with its rEarth program, offering pots made from recycled water bottles. “It’s an easily understandable message that fits in perfectly with sustainability initiatives. Everyone ‘gets’ the water bottle; the eco-friendly message isn’t so complex that it distracts from the plants,” Edenfield says. “One of our customers, a grower-retailer, has had great feedback by running radio ads on their new containers made from recycled water bottles, which are also curbside recyclable. This improves the green image of their business and reminds people to recycle.”
Growers: Know Your End Users
How can you take advantage of these trends for your plants? Even if you’re not directly involved in retailing, the first step is to understand who is buying them, or more important, who you want to buy them.
“Start by envisioning your target customer. What does her home look like? What mood or image does she want to convey by choosing your plant?” Edenfield says. “Several of our retail center customers sell mainly to older, more affluent women. This customer selects containers and plants that make her home look tasteful, upscale and comfortable – for example, an old world, antique-style container. Is your target customer a younger apartment-dweller who wants to grow an herb garden on her patio? She might prefer a modern upright planter with clean lines and a trendy accent color.”
Take advantage of the knowledge your container supplier can offer on these decisions, Rumph says.
“Growers know their key clients and work with them closely year round to pick the best plant genetics. Our job is to work with the grower and the client to ensure what they present to their end consumer fits the image of the marketplace they’re representing.”