Frits Kneppers, vice president of Dutch-based Zabo Plant, visits California on occasion and wonders about the potential potted lilies have in the United States every time he sees those Hollywood-style homes.
Kneppers won’t find that unique Hollywood consumer in The Netherlandsâ€“and he’d be pressed to find more than a few consumers like the celebrities who own those gargantuan homes elsewhere in the U.S.â€“but he makes an interesting statement about potted lily potential: There is a market at the U.S. grower’s fingertips, and higher-quality, higher-priced lilies can drive it.
“You need to target supermarkets and push them to expand their sales windows for potted lilies,” Kneppers says. “The U.S. needs more programs.”
In Europe, potted lilies are sold mostly through supermarkets and sales are at their peak in September and October. In the U.S., of course, the sales window for potted liliesâ€“like most of our industry’s productsâ€“is April and May.
Spring is a great start for potted lilies, Kneppers says, but he sees anytime potential and even bigger potential around Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Ko Klaver, marketing manager of Zabo Plant USA, agrees about the potential of expanded sales windows and supermarket potential.
“The higher-end supermarket here has tremendous potential,” Klaver says. “It’s really interesting how Europe and the U.S. have different approaches. We (the U.S.) could learn from Europe to pick up more supermarket business, and Europe could pick up more ideas from the U.S. to see there is interest in the material in the spring for the garden.”
Convincing supermarket buyers and retailers they can sell potted lilies year-round is a challenge, but lily bulb suppliers like Zabo Plant intend to convince them next spring when Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens hosts a showcase May 21-31 for the newest lily varieties Dutch hybridizers have developed.
“We’re inviting all people,” Kneppers says. “We want the buyers to come and see what’s available. We want them to see the tremendous quality that’s available, because many simply don’t know what’s available.”
Five years ago, Kneppers says the potted lily landscape in the U.S. was vastly different. When Zabo Plant approached the box stores about a potted lily program five years ago, the box stores were on the verge of venturing out of the potted lily business altogether. The quality of lilies was in question, he says, and it was difficult for potted lily growers to provide enough lilies at the times box stores needed them most. Oriental potted lilies, after all, are 95-to 100-day crops.
But around the time the box stores considered dropping potted lilies altogether, Kneppers says Zabo Plant convinced growers to try its potted lily program after university trials with its lilies proved successful.
Box stores later bought into programs like Zabo Plant’s, and Kneppers says growers are now providing enough for their targeted spring sales windows. Zabo’s Lilylooks lilies, for example, are genetic short hybridized potted lilies that offer added value.
There is, however, always room for improvement at the grower level, and Kneppers has one major recommendation for growers looking to improve potted lily quality: Give lilies more space to grow.
Some growers may try to squeeze as many bulbs as they can into tight production spaces, and Kneppers understands this approach because meeting high retail demands is important. But he says the more growers invest in each pot, the better their quality will be. And a higher-quality potted lily means growers can demand a higher price.
Kneppers is impressed with the marketing programs in the U.S., too, and he believes the combination of quality product and strategic marketing can improve the potted lily landscape even further. Hooking the supermarkets and expanding sales windows are the keys, though.
“We’ve had potted lilies in the marketplace that do really well in the spring,” Klaver says. “Until recently, we never had varieties we were able to produce in the winter to hit time frames like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. People are buying poinsettias, mums and Easter lilies, and there’s room for something exciting and new in the marketplace during those seasons.”