Variety Central: Edibles

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Variety Central: Edibles

Based on the data we collected earlier this year, sales of container perennials, flowering potted plants and ornamental bedding plants were about the same this spring as they were in 2009 for a majority of growers. Yes, a number of growers experienced sales increases in those respective crop categories. But no category offered the tremendous sales growth edibles did for many growers this year.

At the same time, some growers didn’t have enough edibles ready early enough. Others ran out midway through spring, and a few haven’t given edibles consideration despite sudden consumer interest in them. It isn’t, however, too late to consider edibles for 2011, as new varieties, improved merchandising and brand-new concepts should keep edibles like herbs and vegetables steaming ahead in the years to come.

Burpee Getting Bigger

When Burpee Home Gardens launched in 2010, the program was designed around containers that ranged from 3 inches to 1 gallon in size. By spring, growers were already asking about larger container sizes, particularly for patio-ready tomatoes. So, Burpee is delivering for 2011.

New for next spring is a lineup of ready-to-go gardens for color bowls and larger planters that make up Burpee Home Gardens To Go, a program that gives consumers a faster way to harvest homegrown vegetables. The program also gives growers another way to achieve higher-margin sales.

“What we know about consumers is regardless of when they harvest plants, they feel great when they harvest them successfully,” says Jessie Atchison, Burpee brand manager. “Now, we’re putting consumers one step closer to success, and we’ve created a special tag and some POP that conveys the faster-harvest and easier-to-grow notions to reel them in.”

Included in the To Go program are patio-ready veggie planters, colorful mixed salad bowls and creative herb combos. Patio-ready veggie planters are ideal for 12-inch or larger containers, and a cucumber, four peppers and six tomatoes are available for the patio-ready planters.

Burpee’s salad bowls are also designed for patios, and three mixes join the program this year in Alfresco, City Garden and Global Gourmet. Recipe-ready herb collections in a single pot are an option, as well, for growers interested in producing basil, dill and parsley, among other herbs.

Also new from Burpee is the Burpee Garden Coach, a mobile Web tool that helps vegetable gardeners succeed throughout the season. The Garden Coach offers recipes, shares local weather forecasts and provides tips and reminders to improve gardening success.

“The Garden Coach will work on any smart phone,” Atchison says. “You can sign up via text message–text 80998 and send your five-digit zip code to that number–and you’ll get a taste of what it will do. The Garden Coach will launch February 1.”

Building Programs

Most herb and vegetable programs, Burpee included, have new variety introductions planned for 2011. Burpee itself is unveiling more than 30 new varieties, Atchison says, but the 2011 focus for many is enhancing existing programs and making them more user friendly and interesting for growers, retailers and consumers.

Chef Jeff’s is one such example. Werner Sperzel, the chief operating officer at Stein Gardens & Gifts in Wisconsin who developed Chef Jeff’s vegetables, says two programs stood out more than others this past season: the Salsarific collection and Summer Coolers, an herb program for mid-to-late-season sales.

“Salsarific is a color-coded program in which everything appears in red pots–tomatoes, cilantro and different peppers,” Sperzel says. “This was our idea for making salsa.”

The Summer Coolers program is also color coordinated with a few different items. Tags are shaped like beverage glasses, and each tag is customized with a recipe for a non-alcoholic cocktail.

Strawberries are yet another item Chef Jeff’s is exploring for the upcoming year. “There are a lot of possibilities with strawberries because there’s an emotional attachment to them,” Sperzel says.

Another new 2011 program, one from Four Star Greenhouses, is Tasty Treats, which spans 28 vegetable varieties and 11 herbs. Retailers who commit to 74 trays will receive a display cart with point-of-purchase materials that Four Star will pick up at the end of the season.

In addition to 4-inch Tasty Treats pots, finished combination plantings are available in fun themes–spaghetti, salsa, salad, barbecue and taco. Herb combos include Chef’s Delight, Griller’s Delight and Seafood Delight.

A Few New Varieties

New varieties, of course, are important to keep herb and vegetable gardeners interested. For 2011, brands like Floranova’s Vegetalis, Homegrown Gourmet and Bonnie Plants are trying to generate excitement by introducing new eggplant, pepper and tomato varieties.

Vegetalis, for starters, has added a basil (‘Floral Stripes’), an eggplant (‘Pinstripe’), a sweet pepper (‘Pompeii’) and three tomatoes (‘Rambling,’ ‘Tumbling Tiger’ and ‘Peardrops’). One Vegetalis objective in the coming years is to demonstrate how to make combination planters with herbs, vegetables and flowers.

Homegrown Gourmet, like Vegetalis, has three new tomato offerings in ‘Amish Paste,’ ‘Arkansas Traveler’ and ‘Sun Gold.’ While ‘Amish Paste’ and ‘Arkansas Traveler’ are heirloom varieties, ‘Sun Gold’ is a hybrid plant that produces sweet, fruity-tasting tomatoes. A new pepper, ‘Fooled You Jalapeño,’ is another Homegrown Gourmet introduction. It has a jalapeño flavor but no heat–a plus for those who can’t tolerate the burn.

New tomato varieties are part of Bonnie Plants’ 2011 lineup, as well. ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Black Krim,’ both heirloom varieties, are now in the mix. ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes are beefsteak in style with green shoulders across their tops. ‘Black Krim,’ meanwhile, has a deep, dark red color that looks almost black. It’s an early-producing, flavorful heirloom.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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