Bringing Style To Supermarkets

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When I attended the Super Floral Show in Columbus, Ohio, this summer, I was really impressed by the growers who specialize in blooming potted plants and serving supermarkets. I just drove down for the day and wish I would have spent two days at the show. Each grower exhibitor I visited had great news and was excited about new products and programs. It was a really upbeat event.

The growers who lead in blooming potted plants are stronger than ever. They’ve survived dramatic consolidation of their retail base as regional chains became conglomerates and winnowed out lesser players. They are continuously reinvesting in their businesses, distribution capabilities, innovative products and supply chain relationships.

East Coast giant Kurt Weiss Greenhouses rolled out a new program called Elements, matching plants with home décor in concepts inspired by furniture retailer Ikea. Each of the four outer corners of its booth had a color-scheme vignette of a living room fireplace. To think more like a designer, Kurt Weiss hired a floral and design industry veteran to develop the program.

Dave Foltz, vice president of sales, says buyers like the color-theme promotions, especially in between holidays. This concept has been a way to raise the value of the plants at an affordable cost to the grower and retailer and provide affordable style to consumers.

Canadian giant, Westbrook Greenhouses, has been sourcing upscale pottery and wooden and metal containers from China to provide added value at an affordable pricepoint. In addition to price, more growers have been saying the designs are more attractive than domestically-produced pottery and more in line with home décor. Westbrook’s Rej Picard told me, "We are bringing in container loads from China. Everyone has got African violets and kalanchoes. This is why we needed to get into value added."

Grower Norm White in Virginia, who built his reputation on mums, continues to bring new varieties into the blooming potted plant mix. He is pleased with sales of potted celosia from cuttings matched with a jazzy purple pot cover. He sold 40,000 6-inch plants this year. His painted poinsettias also are still going strong.

But what I was really impressed with was Norm’s participation in a new marketing consortium called Senses Merchandising and Promotion, headed up by former Stop & Shop buyer Sandra Hering. The idea is to bring breeders, growers and retailers together to provide lifestyle décor concepts consumers want in plants.

Growing operations so far include Aldershot of New Mexico, Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses, Loops Nursery and Greenhouses, White’s Nursery and Greenhouses and Yoder Canada. The retail brands are Living Décor for gift-ready/home décor-ready plants in upscale containers and Living Quality, for when consumers want a new plant but don’t necessarily need a new pot. A new palette of colors will roll out every season, just like in the fashion and interior design worlds.

"We’ll be shortening the supply chain," Hering says. "Breeders can bring new products to market faster and get feedback fast. Retailers will see new products. Growers will get preferential treatment and be part of testing and trialing. This will be built on quality and documentation. We’ve got to test and know how long things will really last. We will have impactful displays, not just products and price, and not the cheapest."

I’ve always believed more could and should be done to promote blooming potted plants and am glad to see it happening.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com
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