Greenhouse Grower talked with Mary O’Connor, Global Product Manager for PanAmerican Seed™, about how she chooses those luscious Plug & Play combinations, why she has to be tough on testing them, and what she sees as the future for the combo craze.
Q. What do you see as the future for combos? Is it an area you feel will become increasingly popular?
O’Connor: Combinations are a very popular item at retail, and sales are still growing. Although colors and styles will change over time, combinations will definitely continue to be a popular category. Most consumers have less time to create their own and can sometimes feel less confident that they will make the right choices and be successful. Shoppers want to spend their money in a wise way, with confidence that what they choose will perform well and bring them joy! It is so helpful to have a beautiful combination ready to purchase that can be taken home and dropped into a lovely container. Instant garden, instant decorating!
Q. How do you decide which varieties will work well together, both for the grower and the consumer? What is the process?
O’Connor: Let me give you an example of making color choices by describing the creation of the Plug & Play™ combo Razzle Dazzle. I love the perfection of the Easy Wave® Pink Passion with its great habit, perfect clear pink and ruby throat. I added the Kabloom™ Deep Blue Calibrachoa to the pink. This gave me a light tint of the primary color red with a deeper value of the primary color blue. Visual balance could be achieved by adding purple – a version of those two colors mixed together. While Verbena Quartz XP Burgundy would highlight the ruby color of the petunia flower – changing that choice to Burgundy with Eye gave the combo the extra punch – sparkles of the multitudinous white eyes! Color choice done, but now it was on to testing performance…
Combinations that work is our goal. My extensive background in horticulture and in design helps inform my decisions on components. But putting the right colors together is only the first move. Then, I use a multi-step process that includes our own greenhouse trials, followed by in-season outdoor consumer performance trials. The combination must grow and flower together for the grower, and all components must play well together for the consumer. If a combination passes that stage it moves on to commercial grower trials and retailability assessments. Once a combination has proven itself by clearing all of these hurdles, it is then chosen for introduction. We want to inspire Plug & Play purchasers to be confident in their purchase – the homework has been done.
Q. What advantages are you trying to provide to growers with the Plug & Play program? What are your goals for the program?
O’Connor: The Plug & Play assortment brings them trialed and tested combinations, in whatever form they are looking for – multi-plant, multi-species, and Fuseables® Precision Multi-pellets. They can follow our planning recipe and cultural details, and program their crop for a successful finish. Growers will achieve a premium look from the best of our high impact seed genetics.
Q. What other new products are coming down the pike from PanAmerican Seed that you are excited about?
O’Connor: My personal goal is also to stretch the boundaries of the combination concept – both in the design and execution. New color combinations, new textures, new combination-specific genetics, and easier execution ideas for the grower. An exciting challenge!
Q. What are key areas of focus regarding breeding for PanAmerican Seed?
O’Connor: Genetics for combination performance need to meet very critical specifications. It has been so inspiring for me to work closely with our breeders to redefine those parameters and develop new products that really perform for this use.
Q. What new trends do you see in the marketplace and how will you incorporate those into your breeding program?
O’Connor: For the grower, the choice of products available to them is wide and deep. From that ‘warehouse of choice,’ they must select the right ones for their product assortment. How do we define and communicate Plug & Play’s value proposition? It can sometimes have less to do with the bottom line price and more with the value the product can bring: quality of input, ease of execution, less waste, less bench time, less PGR, greater durability at retail, better sell-through, and known consumer performance.
How does this affect my work? I believe combination development must innovate. We will continue to develop answers for our growers, adding value to our products. Secondly, the combo product must be relevant to the consumer’s interests and tastes. Attractive and easy to grow product means value for their money. We can bring our consumer success and pleasure in the incomparable experience of growing flowers!