Editor's note: The following pages originally appeared in column format in sister publication Nursery Management.
One of the best parts of my job is to track trends, and one of the best shows for trends is the annual IPM Essen show in Germany. Each January, 1,600 exhibitors from 50 nations get together to show off the latest in horticultural everything. It is truly the best horticultural trade show on the planet.
For the first time, I saw packaging geared toward people who know nothing about plants, and products that were completely consumer proof. I’ve been attending this show since 2006, and I have not seen so many innovative ways to sell plants — ever. I’ve been preaching for years that Gen X (my generation), as well as Gen Y and younger — the folks who theoretically have money to buy plants right now — know very little to nothing about gardening. In fact, it has been proven time and time again that they don’t even like the word ‘gardening’ or the term ‘garden center’ because they conjure up images of getting dirty and sweating hard. Gardening is hard work. If most people don’t know how to garden, and many are not wanting to get dirty and sweaty, how the heck will we ever sell them plants? We must approach it in a different way.
Two of the most innovative products I saw were more about packaging than anything. One was an amaryllis bulb dipped in a special wax that holds in moisture. It holds in moisture so much that whoever buys it never has to water it. Never. Really. It takes all of the guess work out of growing them. It’s foolproof. Grab one, place it on your dining room table and watch it grow.
Another really innovative package was for herb and veggie gardening (pictured). The bareroot plants or seeds were sold in a cardboard package with a picture of a delicious dish on the front, a recipe on the back, and the plants needed for that dish inside. Want to make homemade lasagna? Here’s your tomato, basil, oregano, rosemary and garlic starts; grow them in your garden, follow this recipe and voilá — homemade lasagna. It’s brilliant, and it makes so much sense for people who know nothing about plants. It also ties growing plants to cooking food, and we need to do more of that.
I saw some clever gift plant packaging at the show as well, including bulbs packaged in a way that resembles Lindt Truffle bags. Each one had a special, ruffled, pink tulip inside. One gift plant I found was incredibly clever and targeted perfectly to Gen Y shoppers. Cyclamen were died in pastel shades to match a palette of pastel-colored eye shadow. I know what you’re thinking — no gardener would ever! But these were not for gardeners. They were for people who like makeup and maybe have never put a finger in the soil. They don’t know it’s fake. To them, it’s beautiful. When it dies, they can go buy a new one. The marketing that went along with these was fabulous. They are called Make-Upz cyclamen (pictured), and they sell them in color-coordinated pots and gift bags. I know my friend, who owns a salon, would be all over these for her spa.
We must focus on new ways to sell plants to people who know nothing about plants. The Europeans finally get it. Will we ever get it?
The most interesting trend
I saw this summer while traveling in Europe to visit trade shows and breeders was the annualizing of perennials. What does that mean? It basically means breeders are selecting perennials that can be planted as a tiny input late in December or at least before the beginning of March, and then sold as a pot full of blooms that same year.
That’s nuts, right? What about plants that need to be vernalized? Apparently, vernalizing perennials takes too long, costs too much money and just isn’t cool anymore. And you guessed it, it absolutely means perennials that need to have a cold winter to bloom are no longer showing up in mass quantities in the marketplace.
Beloved plants like Lobelia cardinalis, some echinaceas, dicentra and others are falling out of favor with growers because they can’t be planted and brought into bloom in a few months.
What’s the good news? The cost of perennials has gone down and the new “annualized” perennials make the greatest displays in retail garden centers. In some cases, perennials like campanulas and anemones (top right) and some succulents are being sold as gift plants.
There were two cool marketing ideas that caught my eye. One was full of emotion and one showed use. I’m learning so much about how little today’s consumers know about plants, and the more I think about it, the more I realize we need to tell people how to use them.
These two ideas could help. The More Lips campaign is an overarching POP idea to put emotion into buying common gift plants. More Lips = more love, and more kisses for the person who gave the gift. The campaign was all about love, and the black and white posters had photos of people kissing, children kissing their parents, and even new moms kissing their babies. It was very powerful. There were bench wraps, plastic sleeves and tags to match.
This kind of point-of-purchase marketing grabs the attention of a shopper looking for something to take to their sweetie or maybe someone who just had a new baby. It was well done and I think it would work in grocery stores and in the gift plant section of any garden center or home store. I would buy them. It was like Anthropologie or J. Crew meets Hallmark.
Check out the tags for hedge plants called Privacy Makers (top left). It’s not really showcasing new plants, but new ideas for their use. This booth had everything from beech trees grown to perfection for making a proper hedge, to hydrangeas and common evergreens used to make a hedge around your patio or property. The tags and signage showed couples and families behind the hedges enjoying meals, glasses of wine and play time. It was such a wonderful way to portray how hedges can be used in any garden space.
The last thing I saw that blew my mind were the fully fruited, probably 20-year-old espaliered pear and apple trees in several displays. For $400 to $500, someone could take one home and plant it without all the hard work of training it for the first five to 10 years. This is a great way to carry on a very specialized gardening skill without having to teach someone how.
Marketers keep talking about the do-it-for-me generation — well, here you go. We do it for them and the art of espaliering a fruit tree is not lost forever. Seems like a win-win situation to me.