Metrolina Greenhouses is asking consumers what they want in a plant, rather than just trying to guess. In its first-ever Plant of the Year competition, 15 plant breeders were asked to submit their best plants, which were then evaluated by a panel of 56 average garden consumers across the United States. The plants were subject to a range of growing conditions and environments.
The 2013 Plant of the Year winner isÂ Petunia â€˜Supertunia Vista Bubblegumâ€™ from Proven Winners.
Learning And Confirming Industry Suspicions
Since August 2011, Metrolina has been surveying a group of home garden panelists. This group is comprised of average gardeners representing the most significant plant consumer demographics. From this home garden panel, Metrolina has collected a wide array of consumer market data, including seasonal color preference, shopping habits and more. In 2012, the Metrolina marketing team determined that the yearâ€™s survey questions would be focused on â€œlearn and confirm,â€� so they could challenge the assumptions made about the consumer and gather data to confirm or refute any industry myths about the consumer.
After the decision to learn and confirm, the Metrolina marketing team sent theirÂ their panelists a selection of plants and asked them to pick their favorite after two months. In order to get the ball rolling, Metrolina approached their investors, a group of plant breeders who have access to Metrolinaâ€™s survey data for a set fee, and requested plant submissions for the trial.
â€œInstead of us judging plants, we decided to let America judge them,â€� says Holly Gernatt, a member of the Metrolina marketing team. â€œWe felt we had a good selection in our panel of what America is and wants.â€�
Consumers, Industry Pick The Same Winners
Metrolina surveyed their panel and determined which panelists would like to participate in a home trial. Of the respondents who indicated their interest, Metrolina chose 56 of the panelists representing all regions of the United States to grow and select a 2013 Plant of the Year. Fifteen plant breeders submitted plants for the trial, and these plants were started and shipped in 1-pint containers to the panelists, who were told to grow the plants as they would any other. After two months, they were to choose their favorite, take a picture and submit their results with comments by July 1, 2012.
No stipulations for judging were given because from past survey data Metrolina knew that simply knowing the consumersâ€™ favorite spoke loudly enough.
â€œTo horticulturists, a successful flower means thriving, floriferous and hardy,â€� Gernatt says. â€œBut the consumer wants something that just looks good.â€�
At the same time, Metrolina planted the 15 submissions in its own trial garden for industry evaluation. The company also held an industry open house in June at its Huntersville, N.C., trial garden. All industry and trade attendees were given one flag in order to mark their favorites from the 15 submissions. As panelist results rolled in, 50 percent of the industry votes were combined with 50 percent of the panelistsâ€™ votes, resulting in first, second, and third place winners.
â€œInterestingly enough, if we weighted the panelists votes 100 percent or the industry votes 100 percent, we got the same results, validating our findings and surprising us that we were all on the same page,â€� Gernatt says.
The Results Are In
The first-place winner was Petunia â€˜Supertunia Vista Bubblegumâ€™ from Proven Winners. In second place was Rudbeckia â€˜Tiger Eye Goldâ€™ from Syngenta-Goldsmith, and Zinnia â€˜Profusion Yellowâ€™ from Sakata took third place. The most compelling facet of Metrolinaâ€™s Plant of the Year competition, however, was that it gave gardeners and average consumers from across the country the opportunity to provide feedback to breeders, who submitted what they thought would be their most successful garden plant.
â€œWe wanted to know what America thought was the best plant, not what the industry thought was the best plant,â€� Gernatt says. â€œNow that we have this powerful information, I think weâ€™re beginning to realize how much impact the consumerâ€™s insight should have on how we market plants. We definitely think the industry sees the value in this because retailers are asking for data behind plant choices, and this is one avenue to get that data,â€� Gernatt says.
Metrolina now sees this event as an opportunitiy to get new feedback on plants each year.
â€œWe are definitely doing this again, and weâ€™re hoping it goes national,â€� Gernatt says. â€œWe figure if we promote plants that were chosen by everyday consumers that could be your neighbor or friend, the likelihood that youâ€™ll be able to grow it successfully, and like it too, is huge.”
The Importance Of Data And Marketing
Metrolina is already working on promoting its new program. For the 2013 winner, Metrolina has created a Plant of the Year logo to be included on all Petunia â€˜Supertunia Vista Bubblegumâ€™ plant tags. Only the first place winner will have this special logo.
As Metrolina moves forward with determining a new survey focus for the 2013 year, Gernatt says the operation is pleased with how much value its market data created. GG