Growers looking for alternative sources of income may want to consider growing potted indoor plants. According to recent figures from the USDA, there continues to be a steady market for the traditional potted plants that vie for our attention in retail outlets, including grocery stores. Growers may also consider doing what one company in Florida has done and offer more trendy, longer-lasting potted plants that appeal to millennials and boomers.
Many of the potted plants our parents and grandparents bought — the hyacinths, tulips, poinsettias and kalanchoes — are still popular with consumers. These plants are basically an impulse item for people who walk through the doors of grocery stores and other retail outlets. In most cases, the plant does the marketing, according to Megan Stone, the floral buyer/merchandiser with Heinen’s, a grocery store chain headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.
“As long as a plant is quality and has a ‘wow’ factor it sells,” says Stone. “The bestselling plant is always the colorful, quality product with perceived value.” Jerry Goldsmith, Produce & Floral Procurer with SpartanNash, seeks out quality plants and keeps an eye out for unique potted plants to offer shoppers, such as a pineapple plant or potted marigolds. Goldsmith also pays close attention to cost.
“We like to find that unique uncommon item when possible, but when we do have common everyday items we want the best cost available in the market so we can pass that savings along to our customers,” he says.
Sourcing local plants
Sourcing local potted plants can be a challenge for grocery stores and other large retailers. It depends largely on the season and a store’s location to a nursery or distributor. Goldsmith and Heinen’s say they do their best to source locally, adding that it’s something consumers care about. “Sourcing from local suppliers can be a challenge in some markets,” Goldsmith says. “We are fortunate that Michigan is one of the most agriculturally diverse states and has a strong offering of nurseries and floral growers to source from locally.”
Stone says they source potted plants locally when the plants are available. Many of them come from Canada — less than a four-hour drive from Heinen’s. Both grocers say they communicate via social media when they have locally sourced potted plants. Heinen’s use signage to highlight local product, while Goldsmith says his company includes that information on the label.
Making it “POP”
Providing point of purchase (POP) materials varies with growers and suppliers. Stone says most of their suppliers are small operations and supply the POP. SpartanNash tries to bring attention to their potted plants with posters and pictures. Goldsmith does some of this, but admits he’d like to do more in this area of marketing and advertising.
A New Spin on Potted Plants
Tired of seeing potted plants being tossed in the garbage, Bisser Georgiev, CEO of LiveTrends Design Group out of Apopka, Fla. is redefining the potted plant for his customer base, which includes people young and old who shop at the 12,000 stores they service.
LiveTrends acquires indoor plants from growers and creates designs that appeal to customers looking to garden in small spaces and who want to keep their potted plants for the long term. Georgiev says they use air plants, succulents, cacti and other plants with a long shelf life and arrange them in designer-type containers. They find out what consumers want before creating the designs.
“We do a lot of trend research, 18 months out, to preference consumer behavior,” says Georgiev. “What is going on out there is quite obvious. Plants are becoming more of a mass market thing. [They] used to be [a] niche category. Now everyone and their brother is carrying plants.”
Georgiev’s marketers seek out what they think people are going to want in a design, including the colors of the plants and containers, so their creations will appeal especially to the Millennial crowd.
“Millennials know what’s cool and not in fashion,” Georgiev says. “If we do a wrong design or color scheme they won’t buy it, so you have to do your homework ahead of time. That’s why we have a big team of designers and marketers.” He says they do their designs in-house so as not to copy what others might be doing.
Georgiev says 2017-18 is going to be the year for indoor plants, possibly because people are moving to smaller spaces.
“Homes are getting smaller,” he says. “People are moving from suburbia to downtown, even the boomers are giving up the McMansion for condos, but they still want a garden, so they do it indoors with small plants.” He says they cater to Millennials with their “funky” designs, but also to those boomers who don’t garden anymore, but still want plants.
Like those retailers who sell the traditional potted plants, LiveTrends sees a spike in business around the holidays, particularly the stretch of year from before Valentine’s Day right up to Mother’s Day.
“My goal is to even out the curve so we’re busy all times of the year,” Georgiev says. He thinks there is potential to do this given the type of product they’re offering.
Georgiev says all of the plants they ship to stores come with their own POP display rack and labels.
“We never just sell a box of plants and tell the retailer to find a space for them,” he says. “We do the homework for them, organize the plants nicely to tell a story with the POP.”
The biggest challenge for LiveTrends with its retailer customers is the technology involved in terms of shipping and receiving, which he says is a bit too much for smaller businesses entering the market. In terms of negotiating price with the stores they sell to, he says they pick and choose their customers, which helps when it comes to negotiating price.
The last few years has been a “rollercoaster” for Georgiev and his crew of 80 employees, but he says he is enjoying the ride.
“We’re having a lot of fun,” says Georgiev. “We’re trying to do things no one has done. We want to make things that last in the home and are very trendy, fashionable, unusual… and with a bit of a surprise.”