Fake. Repulsive. Garbage.
They’re among the many harsh words critics have used to describe ‘Blue Mystique,’ the dye-infused orchid Silver Vase unveiled at the 2011 Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE). ‘Blue Mystique’ has undoubtedly been subjected to more criticism in the last year from within the industry than any other variety. The criticisms are mainly focused on how the blue orchid is produced and how it was, at one time, marketed.
The dye-infusion technique, critics argue, is an insult to the breeders who develop more natural varietal differences in orchids and other plants. The main criticism of Silver Vase’s marketing was that consumers initially weren’t aware the blue orchid they were purchasing reblooms white.
Silver Vase has since developed a message for tags, signage and its website that ‘Blue Mystique’ does indeed rebloom white. But, the technique Silver Vase uses to make orchids blue continues to rock a number of horticulturists at their core. Richard Drummond, the owner of Landscape Logistics, a 12-acre landscape supply company and retail nursery, is one horticulturist who’s sounded off on ‘Blue Mystique’ and the dye-infusion technique.
“Anyone can dye a plant blue but I absolutely do not understand how this trickery has come to be legitimized by any respectable nursery, retailer, wholesaler, broker or customer,” Drummond says. “This is an insult to all true botanists – past, present and future – especially those who were intelligent, determined and astute enough to develop true varietal differences in orchids or any other type of real plant.”
Drummond and others are entitled to their opinions. But if consumers truly want ‘Blue Mystique’ and other dye-infused plants – and based on the demand Silver Vase has had for it, consumers do – does it really matter what those in the supply chain think of the orchid?
The Unique Opportunity
The question is one the Silver Vase team considered long before it introduced ‘Blue Mystique’ at TPIE. But considering the industry desperately needs to cultivate new customers and few varieties generate “wows,” Silver Vase wasn’t afraid to take a chance in this instance.
“We knew since the beginning we were going to be facing [criticism], but we were ready to take on the heat,” says Marcella Lucio, Silver Vase’s marketing director. “We wouldn’t have any buzz if we were passé. You have to keep up with the times. There are new techniques coming and we tried this one out. We thought it would generate some opportunity, so we went and ahead and did it.”
‘Blue Mystique’ proved to be the opportunity of the year for Silver Vase. The orchid opened a new door with existing customers and gave non-customers a reason to give the South Florida grower a call. Plus, the new color resonated with consumers despite the retail price ranging between $29.99 and $39.99.
“A lot of the consumers who ventured out don’t have a lot of disposable income,” Lucio says. “But they told themselves they could make this expense because it’s so unique that they’ll enjoy it for the price they’re paying.”
‘Blue Mystique’ isn’t for everyone, of course. Fortunately, Lucio gets that. She has her own product preferences, but her job as a marketer is to keep an open mind to the consumer’s vast preferences and not her own. Marketers who target consumers narrowly are ones bound to serve a limited market, after all.
“There are different tastes out there and we have to open our minds to that,” Lucio says. “Sometimes, I get lost in my own personal opinion and taste, but I can’t do that because not everyone is Marcella and not everyone likes what I like. So we have to think about what the consumer, particularly women, like.”
Silver Vase Isn’t Alone
Silver Vase isn’t the only grower worldwide who’s adopted the dye-infusion technique. Eurocactus is producing echeverias in wild colors, and RijnPlant Breeding is offering its Princess Alexia anthuriums in blue and yellow. Both companies are based in the Netherlands, and RijnPlant saw the same market opportunity Silver Vase did.
“Dying the plants draws the interest of a wider public, and that’s good for the industry,” says Michel van Rijn, director of RijnPlant. “We shouldn’t forget that too many consumers nowadays don’t buy plants at all or judge plants as ‘not exciting enough.’”
RijnPlant, like Silver Vase, spent considerable time trialing the dye-infused Princess Alexias. In RijnPlant’s case, van Rijn says two years were spent trialing the anthuriums before they were taken to market. He also indicates the paint used for dye in Princess Alexias derives from the food industry. So in some ways the process is natural, van Rijn says.
Consumer safety is yet another reason for extensive Mystique trials at Silver Vase.
“We are doing ours in a safe way, ensuring that plants last for the end consumer and that there’s nothing harmful about it for anybody,” Lucio says.
After a year of passionate debate about the dye-infusion technique, Lucio has few, if any, regrets about pushing the Mystiques to market. After all, the opportunities the orchid line created for Silver Vase have been tremendous.
“The biggest opportunity for us was to be heard and put on everyone’s radar,” Lucio says. “Yes, the sales came, but the opportunity to have people contact us is the number one thing we’ve gained with the Mystique line.”
Still, one lesson Silver Vase learned in having such a popular premium line is that sales of other products can suffer. To many of Silver Vase’s newest customers, the operation is the one that grows the blue orchid. But Silver Vase also offers a large assortment of Phalaenopsis orchids and bromeliads, and it doesn’t want customers to lose sight of those lines.
“In the very beginning, some focus did shift away from our assortment because everybody was asking us about blues,” Lucio says. “We got very involved with everything related to the Mystiques that we probably put the assortment in the backseat.
“But the regular [Phalaenopsis] are our bread and butter. We don’t know where these Mystiques are going to go – are they long lasting or a huge trend that in five years no one takes advantage of? So we’ve got to go back to offering what we are all about.”