The End For Edibles?

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All the evidence is pointing toward a successful 2010 for herbs and vegetables. Assuming that’s true, our next question should be what’s in store for edibles in 2011 and beyond.

Nobody has a set-in-stone answer yet because next year’s outcome hinges on how consumers fare right now. Growers everywhere intensified their 2010 edibles efforts over the winter to meet the anticipated increase in consumer demand. Growers explored and invested in vegetable and herb programs, developed or enhanced their own brands and increased their 2010 production over 2009. Many growers even increased edibles production by 10 percent or more.

No other crop category offered more promise entering spring than edibles. When we presented growers a list of 10 different crop categories in our State Of The Industry survey earlier this year, the majority (28 percent) reported they were most optimistic about herbs and vegetables. Likewise, when we asked which crop growers were least optimistic about, just five of 242 people listed herbs and vegetables.

A February consumer report the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) produced is another reason for optimism. GWAF reported more than one-third of households it surveyed plan to increase the number of plants in their edible gardens this year. An additional 29 percent said they would at least plant the same number of herbs and veggies as they did a year ago. And only 1 percent of consumers told GWAF they’d decrease the number of edibles they plant this year.

The Next Step

All those numbers bode well for the growers who invested in edibles in 2010. Growers expect consumers to buy, consumers say they’ll buy and more herbs and veggies will make their way into gardens this year.

The White House is helping with edibles’ progression, too. Putting politics aside, Michelle Obama is as good a pitchwoman as our industry has with her second-year vegetable garden and the recent launch of her Let’s Move program designed to solve the challenge of childhood obesity. As long as the White House is publicly promoting healthy lifestyles, our industry might as well do the same and try to capitalize on it.

Unfortunately, like any government initiative and the leaders who drive them, edibles could rise, fall and be forgotten a few years from now if we don’t go overboard to make sure consumers make edible gardens a regular part of their lives. The 1 percent of consumers who told GWAF they planned to decrease the number of edibles they plant this year cited a lack of success in 2009, cost, a loss of interest and the time involved as factors in their decision.

The fact that 33 percent of consumers plan to grow more edibles and 29 percent plan to grow the same number this year signals the industry did something right. Those consumers’ edible gardens must have been a success, cost effective, fun and well worth their time. Now, the industry is tasked with doing more to show consumers they can actually grow a plant, save money and simplify life with healthy herbs and vegetables in a home garden.

We can’t expect the demand for edibles to be this intense forever. Fortunately, now is not the end for edibles. But before the demand cools down, let’s work ahead to show new consumers edibles are worth a try. Give them quality, better information and yourself as a resource. That way when the trend fades, you’ll have a steady stream of herb and vegetable production each year and yet another crop on which you can profit.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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