We had not heard of Monterey Peninsula Horticulture (MPH) until last July, when the behind-the-scenes parent company of Rocket Farms purchased another prominent California blooming potted plant grower, Nurserymen’s Exchange. We were pleased to see Nurserymen’s land in capable hands because the company has such a vibrant history producing high-quality plants under the BloomRite brand.
But what intrigued us even more was CEO Charles Kosmont announcing MPH will collaborate with influential thought leaders from inside and outside the industry to create a global consortium called the Institute for Floriculture Innovation. Kosmont’s vision is to bring the best minds together from horticulture, food, fashion and design to drive innovation throughout the indoor blooming potted plant arena.
GG: What sparked the idea of launching an Institute for Floriculture Innovation?
CK: It was around the time of the Nurseryman’s purchase. It had been on my mind–how can we make the industry grow and bring innovation back? Nurseryman’s founder, Carl Pearlstein, was clearly an innovator. When I started out running a growing operation 25 years ago, I said one day I want to be like them. Somehow along the way, the spirit of innovation has been lost. We need to do something for the industry, bring groups together and get Americans to purchase more indoor plants. That was the genesis of the idea.
We’re going to start it off here and get folks going, but the institute could move someplace else. We want it to be inclusive, not exclusive, and bring international thought leaders to the table to get excited about indoor plants. We’re going to reach out and get a dialogue going within the next nine months.
In the blooming potted plant segment, there’s plenty of supply. The issue is the demand side. Why don’t we buy more indoor plants? It’s less difficult than buying a couch or a coffee table to change the look and feel of a home. Why isn’t it something we pick up regularly?
GG: As an industry, do we need to do a better job of communicating what the consumer can expect from a blooming potted plant?
CK: The No. 1 reason consumers won’t buy a blooming potted plant is they’re afraid of killing it. You’d be surprised at how many people say, “I kill plants.” With cut flowers, there are lower expectations. We need consumers to be comfortable with the fact they may need to get another plant and communicate that it’s okay. That’s how it works. We need innovative, beautiful products and make them simple to care for.
The industry needs new leadership to communicate with consumers through advertising, like a “Got Milk?” campaign. Let’s start with indoor flowering plants. I’d love to see people buy a potted plant every week. It’s an indulgence that’s not expensive. Just like the Starbucks idea. We were ready for it–expensive coffee in multiple locations. It’s like an iPad–a great blast of happiness.
GG: Let’s talk about doing more to position indoor plants as home décor instead of as a gift to give someone. It seems orchids are the ideal plants because of the bloom longevity.
CK: When we got involved in orchids, it was clear to us they were the new plant. Orchids are interesting and exotic. They captivate you and there are so many varieties. There is a hero in every industry and the orchid is that.
GG: Indoor plants should be more accessible to anyone who has a table, desk or window. Why don’t more retailers carry them? And conversely, why don’t growers pursue more types of retailers?
CK: Consolidation at retail has happened. Yes, traditional retailers, like supermarkets and garden centers, will continue to be the main places to buy plants. There’s work we can do to help the retailer and partner with them on merchandising and promotions. It’s up to us to create the excitement, communicate the message and partner to lift demand.
I agree other retail channels should be in and we shouldn’t dictate where flowering plants should be sold. In the situation we have now, with the consolidation of retail and excess supply, creativity gets squeezed because you’re in survival mode. What about the next 10 years? The next 30 years? You don’t want to be in the industry short term. You’re in the industry long term because you love it. If you’re looking for a rapid profit, that’s not going to happen.
GG: Why is it important to you the entire industry grows versus just the companies you own?
CK: All of us will do better if the industry does. A rising tide lifts all boats. There’s plenty of room for everybody who is committed. The great growers are there. I’d love to bring the thought leaders together and see what good thinking can do. I’d love to retire and hear people say consumption really went up.
The initiative I’ve proposed should be done as a collaborative effort for the entire industry. While we’ll begin with blooming potted plants, the Institute for Floriculture Innovation could move into different niches with concentric circles to focus on cut flowers and outdoor plants. We have an opportunity to do something for the industry that needs to be done. Let’s do it and invite people to join us and do it together.
We’re going to spend time and money doing it because we think it’s important. We’re looking for good minds and people who think broadly. I’ve always admired Ecke Ranch for putting poinsettias on “The Tonight Show” to build a market for them. It can be done. How can we make America decide plants should be part of our everyday lives as home décor? By placing them on the television shows we watch and seeing the actors and actresses give plants as gifts.
To drive demand, we need to do it together. We’ve got to drive change. The industry will change and we want to be in front of it. It’s a big undertaking and we invite others to do it with us.