How Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro Are Investing in Consumer Success
When two powerhouse brands unite, it tends to get some attention. Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro, two companies that have been instrumental in building the gardening category in the U.S., officially joined forces over the past year. Greenhouse Grower caught up with the folks from both companies to find out what they’ve been working on and how the partnership has progressed.
Bonnie Plants and Scotts Tie the Knot
In 2016, Bonnie Plants, the largest U.S. national grower and supplier of vegetable and herb plants for consumers, and ScottsMiracle-Gro Company, a leading marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products, formalized a strategic partnership. As part of the agreement, ScottsMiracle-Gro secured a minority share in the Bonnie Plants business, while providing exclusive marketing and research and development (R&D) services to the edible gardening initiatives of the company.
With 73 growing stations in 45 states, and a prominent retail presence dominating bench space in the vegetable and herb gardening category, the industry was confused — what additional marketing services could Bonnie Plants possibly need from ScottsMiracle-Gro? A wholly owned subsidiary of the Alabama Farmers Cooperative, based in Union Spring, AL, Bonnie Plants seemed to be doing well enough on its own, with its retail footprint in big box and home improvement stores, large specialty chains like Tractor Supply Co., and grocery chains like Kroger, as well as independent grocery stores and garden centers.
And likewise, why would ScottsMiracle-Gro, traditionally a gardening products company, want to invest in live goods again, after its unsuccessful foray into the category a few years ago? The opportunity to get back into live goods and expand its products by co-branding with an already successful brand was reason enough.
“Our current partnership has brought together the industry’s leading producer of vegetable and herb plants with the industry’s leading plant-care products,” says Randy Bush, COO of Bonnie Plants. “From the beginning, we wanted to enhance our customers’ gardening experience and make the gardening process even easier and more successful for our consumers. And we’re delivering on that today.”
Two years after the companies officially joined forces, ScottsMiracle-Gro and Bonnie Plants are working together smoothly, with clear ideas of each partner’s strengths and what each brings to the table. The two companies meet regularly to develop ideas for how to continue to satisfy consumers to keep the business growing. Research and Development Vice President of Live Goods Bob Harriman of ScottsMiracle-Gro says they are equally excited for a strong future ahead.
“It’s been a phenomenal marriage,” Harriman says. “We’ve combined the best of Bonnie Plants with the best of ScottsMiracle-Gro. Bonnie has an outstanding supply chain that delivers top-notch plants throughout the country in big towns and small towns; big stores, and small stores. And on the ScottsMiracle-Gro side of things — we’ve got extra marketing muscle and consumer insights, plus we’re bringing new innovations to the forefront.”
Developing New Solutions to Grow the Gardening Category
ScottsMiracle-Gro’s role in enhancing the Bonnie Plants business is primarily marketing and R&D, which will ultimately enhance the consumer’s shopping and gardening experience through better communication.
Part of that is understanding what kind of information the consumer is looking for and what excites them about a particular variety, Harriman says. It’s also considerable effort on the R&D side to screen new genetics to find the best-tasting and best-performing varieties, backing up that research with flavor panels and focus groups to ensure the best selections.
Scotts invests deeply in consumer research. The core belief in marketing and understanding what consumers want and need from Miracle-Gro Co-Founder Horace Hagedorn, whose motto was “Find a need and fill it,” is behind much of what ScottsMiracle-Gro’s extensive marketing and research and development departments do, from consumer surveys to focus groups to consumer-
focused websites, and more.
“That phrase drives us every day to understand consumers and what frustrates them, so we can build solutions,” Harriman says. “And just as importantly, we want to build language and messaging so we are resonating with them and they understand what we’ve done so they can better use the product. This has been our process for a long time, and it’s core to our success.”
Through these efforts, the company discovered that most consumers already associated the ScottsMiracle-Gro name with plants, not just products to nurture plants. Since gardening starts and ends with plants, and since consumers are already giving the company credit for what they are growing, it fueled the fire for reinvesting in live goods, starting with Bonnie Plants, Harriman says.
New Initiatives Will Drive More Edible Gardening
Bonnie Plants has been selling via e-commerce for the past couple of years, and is finding this platform to have great growth potential. Bonnie, along with Scotts’ R&D department, developed an improved clamshell package that allows for better shipping and will help grow that area of the business, Harriman says. Further, Scotts is collaborating with Bonnie, as well as its other divisions, on a new subscription service concept. There’s no definitive date yet on when the subscription service will be rolled out officially, Harriman says.
The container gardening craze is part of another exciting new initiative for Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro to offer vegetable and herb combination planters at retail. Containers are preassembled to cater to do-it-for-me consumers, but there’s also been a noticeable lift in sales of the 4½-inch containers of herbs and vegetables, likely inspired by consumers seeing combinations on the retail shelf, Harriman says.
Bonnie Plants also introduced an Organics line that’s now live throughout the country, to feed consumers’ demand and interest in knowing more about their food.
“We’re finding the need and filling it,” Harriman says. “In this day and age, with there not being enough time, consumers want ‘do it for me.’ We’ve put the combos together — some oregano, thyme, and rosemary — and there are some pretty cool ornamental herbs that we’re taking a look at. We really want to drive the functional and aesthetics aspects in one package, to excite the eye and the palate.”
Creating New and More Confident Customers
One solution to counter the fear of failure trend among consumers paralyzed by doubt and uncertainty is to take some of that risk out of the equation with the Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro 3x Harvest Guarantee that debuted at retail this season. It’s a recommendation based on data that consumers combine plants from Bonnie with ScottsMiracle-Gro soil and fertilizer, to help ensure gardening success, Harriman says.
“We’ve got a range of data that will show that you will get a much better outcome, with at least three times the harvest,” he says. “And like every claim that we make in our products, we back that up with a guarantee.”
But not all consumers have the opportunity to grow plants outdoors. Scotts’ research has found that a third of U.S. consumers don’t have a backyard or even a patio at their homes. That’s a significant share of households — 40 million to be specific — missing out on the gardening experience.
To address this, Scotts is making some significant investments in Indoor Gardening, including innovative new hydroponic systems. Scotts is also teaming up with Back to the Roots, a company founded on the concept of growing fresh gourmet mushrooms in coffee grounds. Today, it has expanded beyond mushrooms to make growing fresh food simple with a line of indoor gardening kits, including Kitchen Herb Gardens, Mushroom Grow Kits, Self-Watering Tomato and Pepper Planters, and the Water Garden, a home aquaponics kit.
“We’re introducing new gardeners to the category with younger consumers, and reintroducing older folks who may have downsized or need to feed their gardening fix during the winter, and we’re going to satisfy these captive people with the ability to grow plants indoors,” Harriman says. “Building up that platform will open up new sales for the industry, and it’s going to be big. We’re excited to help identify the growing conditions and varieties that will get us there.”
Bonnie and Scotts: A Bountiful Bond
This year is special for Bonnie Plants and ScottsMiracle-Gro, as both are celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2018 — Bonnie Plants with 100 years and ScottsMiracle-Gro with 150 years. As standalone milestones, those are both reasons to celebrate, but the combined legacy of 250 years of gardening leadership is hard to top.
Both companies are rooted in family tradition and values. Their shared purpose to make consumers successful in gardening, so they’ll be repeat customers year after year, makes them not only work well together, but also strengthens their probability for success.
The ScottsMiracle-Gro Company was founded in 1868 by O.M. Scott as a premium seed company for the U.S. agricultural industry. In the early 1900s, the company began a lawngrass seed business for homeowners. It grew from a leading lawncare business to an international marketer of industry-leading brands with a 1995 merger with Miracle-Gro.
ScottsMiracle-Gro CEO Jim Hagedorn is the son of Horace Hagedorn, who co-founded Miracle-Gro with Otto Stern in 1951, and was the marketing mind responsible for naming the brand (then called Stern’s Miracle-Gro) that’s become one of the strongest household names in gardening products today.
President of Bonnie Plants Stan Cope is the grandson of Bonnie Plants founders Livingston and Bonnie Paulk, for whom the company is named. The Paulks founded the company in 1918, when they were looking for a way to make a living on the land. On a hunch, they planted two pounds of cabbage seeds, then hauled the plants to town in a buggy to sell them. The company was born and by the early 1920s had diversified into several other vegetable crops.
It’s from their start with cabbage that Bonnie Plants’ popular 3rd Grade Cabbage Program originated. As one of the first national kids’ gardening initiatives, the program has delivered more than 14 million cabbage plants and impacted one in four third graders across the country. In addition, Bonnie awards a $1,000 scholarship each year to one winning 3rd grader, from each of the contiguous states.
ScottsMiracle-Gro also has philanthropy in common with Bonnie Plants. It recently wrapped up its GRO 1000 initiative, in which the company has helped establish 1,000 community gardens across the U.S.