Connecting With Consumers

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Growers don’t have the direct line of communication with consumers that retailers do. Between spring preparations, last-minute orders to fill and the runaround Mother’s Day and Memorial Day cause, it’s tough to take a good look at how the marketplace is taking shape.

Growers are aware of the products they grow that are and aren’t selling, but time isn’t necessarily ample for them to dissect consumer purchasing decisions and begin making plans for next year.

Fortunately, we did some dissecting for you this spring. In mid-April, we created a short survey and sent it to family and friends to get their takes on their consumer experience and gardening. Nearly 100 people took the survey, and the majority of respondents (90 percent) are under the age of 45. Forty percent of respondents are under age 30, so we received good feedback from the consumers who will shape the marketplace over the next 30 years.

Assuming my family and friends were strapped for time, I didn’t expect the most thorough and enthusiastic responses. Many of them are just out of college and at the start of a career, so I was surprised to read multiple responses that exuded intelligence, thoughtfulness and interest in our industry.

A Little Help, Please!

Some of the most interesting comments respondents made were actually calls for help. Consumer respondents even offered suggestions retailers should consider to reel them into stores. Growers should heed their suggestions, too, because everybody in the supply chain is responsible to the consumer.

One respondent wrote: “Independent garden centers should host free workshops on Saturdays, where they could teach potential gardeners how to start their own herb and vegetable garden. The grocery store would be another good place to get people interested.”

Retailers bear a bulk of the responsibility for consumer interest, but growers should also play a role in attracting new consumers and keeping old consumers interested. Vegetables and herbs, for example were clearly hot this spring, but we shouldn’t assume they’ll generate the same interest in 2010.

To ensure consumers return, growers should work with retailers–or explore options on their own–to develop educational programs or workshops that help consumers succeed in the garden. If 2009 becomes the year consumers took an interest in herbs and vegetables, take the next step with them in 2010 to make herbs and vegetables a greenhouse mainstay for years to come.

If you’re a wholesale grower, offer consumers a chance to tour and talk edibles or ornamentals at your facility. They’re bound to be awestruck by the magnitude of your production, and they’ll be inspired to try new things at home. A great example is Burpee’s Root Camp, a fun, basic training workshop designed to resemble boot camp that gives consumers a chance to ask questions and have fun in the garden.

Another solution is branding (see “You Say Tomato” on page 52). Don’t just sell an edible or ornamental, market a lifestyle or create a promotional campaign that offers consumers all the information needed to succeed. Create tags and point-of-purchase materials to hook consumers, and invest in a website.

Whatever you do, go local. Our survey respondents are asking for it.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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