View: A Look Back On Poinsettia Season

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View: A Look Back On Poinsettia Season

Marketing consultant Jerry Montgomery made his rounds to retailers. Now he’s ready to offer his assessment of the 2008 poinsettia season.

Introduction

The 2008 season was not the best I’ve seen with earlier discounting and lower consumer demand based of our observations of 40 retail locations in Florida and Colorado. It is certainly possible other areas of the country experienced stronger sales, but my sources tell me many other areas are down in demand and sell-through. We have heard stories of retailers canceling orders and rejecting the agreed-upon quantities.

A Few Observations

- Painted poinsettias are not as widely available as they have been in the past three years, with the most availability at independent garden centers (IGCs).

- Glittered poinsettias were prominent with all national retailers and independents offering them in various sizes.

- IGCs command a $4 to $6 price premium for glittered while the big boxes get on average a $2 premium on 6.0 inch or 6.5 inch.

- There is very little use of upscale containers at both the IGCs and big boxes. IGCs do, however, often offer some upscale pot covers with bows and pictures.

- Over 50 percent of poinsettias are displayed in sleeves at the big boxes while all are unsleeved at the IGCs.

- At the big boxes, 80 to 90 percent are red with some white, pink and marble, but hardly any other novelty varieties like Cinnamon Star, Strawberries and Cream, Carousel, and Picasso that are said to sell well as young plants are available.

- IGCs typically merchandise poinsettias spaced while most big boxes provide no space between plants. You rarely see broken plants from consumer handling at the IGCs.

- A large portion of poinsettias are merchandised on grow carts at the big boxes while IGCs use tables and risers.

- At the big boxes, sell-through appears to increase for those stores that spread their displays around the store, especially when they are placed in proximity to the checkout counters.

- In the Deep South, many poinsettias are sold outside on the aprons. In my observations, sell-through seems greater when plants are located in high-traffic areas. The plants also take a beating as the temperatures move from hot to cold during the selling season.

–None of retailers we visited told a product story about poinsettias. They only had price signs.  You would think messages about decorating or gift giving would be a part of the messaging.

Pricing

It is interesting to see the retail price points of the national retailers in multiple regions. A 6.0- or 6.5-inch is offered at totally different prices by all three national retailers in Florida versus Colorado. Here are some examples:

Size Home Depot (Florida) Home Depot (Colorado) Lowe’s (Florida) Lowe’s (Colorado) Walmart (Florida) Walmart (Colorado)
6 inch         3.00 4.00
6.5 inch 4.97 7.97 4.98 7.98    
8 inch 9.99   12.98 12.98 10.00 10.00
10 inch 14.99 15.97 19.98 21.98 17.00 17.00
6.5 inch (glitter)   9.97 8.98 8.98 7.00 7.00

The larger sizes are fairly consistent among all three, but there is a huge difference in the retails at the highest volume sizes (6.0- and 6.5-inch). Why? Is it because the Florida growers produce outside in shade houses, or is it because the Colorado growers are better at selling?

In Florida, you frequently hear the comment that “prices have to be cheaper” because there are so many retired people and they won’t or can’t pay the same prices as other regions. The population of Florida is 18,014,927 with 3,066,771 residents 65 and older. They represent 16.9 percent of the population.

In Colorado, only 10 percent of the population is 65 and older. Eighty-three percent of the population of Florida is under 65 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So much for the myth on pricing!

Assortments

Offering a limited number of SKUs like Walmart makes a lot of sense. Walmart is clearly is in sync with its customer base. Other big box retailers have different customers with varying levels of income, so their assortment can be larger and more upscale. No matter what price points a retailer offers, it seems a range of colors and varieties within those assortments would make the offer more compelling. On the other hand, there seems to be a trend of “back to basics. Perhaps this is driving the sales of more red. One buyer for a national retailer reported large increases in demand for fresh-cut Christmas trees, which may support this theory.

Packaging

Several years ago, the Garden Writers of America did a consumer survey that indicated 50 percent of all poinsettias purchased are for gifting. There may be some potential for products positioning with incremental packaging upgrades.

Summary

The 2008 poinsettia season was not a good one with a decline in demand and sell-through at retail. In my estimation, the market was down 10-12 percent on top of a 10 percent decline in 2007. Retailers are focusing more than ever on reducing discard rates and increasing gross profit to make this a profitable category.

We will certainly see many more Black Friday promotions, but it is clear that overloading the shelves and sell-through rates below 85 percent will not be acceptable to the retailers and growers.

Arguably, painted poinsettias have fallen from prominence with very few at the national retailers but with independents that, in some cases, have used this concept to separate themselves from their lower-priced competitors. There were a large number of glittered plants offered by the big boxes, but unfortunately in a number of cases, the amount of glitter applied was not enough to make the plant that much different from the standard offerings.

In my conversations with various growers around the country, it seems as though the West and Southwest was the strongest with good sell-through rates and growers selling out. Areas in the Midwest and Northeast seem to have more challenges with some possible weather-related issues impacting sell-through.

Growers told me the smaller sizes like the Home Depot 5.5 inch and the Walmart 6.0 inch at $3 in Florida, along with the Black Friday promotional price points, had better sell-through rates than larger sizes. It appears the 10 inch was disappointing at just about every retailer.

What’s Next?

With our economy in turmoil and the results of the Christmas season, Spring 2009 may be one of the most challenging in recent time because consumers are shopping for value and some will only buy what is offered on a sales promotion.

I think basic annuals, small potted premium annuals and basic hanging baskets will be more important than in the past five years. Vegetables should take a huge jump in demand because many consumers will be attempting to reduce their food costs. Perennials will be important, but we believe quarts will increase in popularity along with the basic 1 gallon. (Less is more.)

Jerry Montgomery (mrplug@cfl.rr.com) is a veteran of the floriculture industry who has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, Montgomery works for large growers, distributors and breeder/producers. His focus is to understand the market dynamics from breeder to consumer through intense retail travel, visiting about 2,700 stores since 2008.

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