Another Year with Poinsettias By Jim Barrett

Last year my Big Grower poinsettia article was titled "Where Are We Going with Poinsettias?" That is still a very open question. The poinsettia market is overproduced, and they are definitely a commodity item. It is such a major crop, and there are so few alternatives that growers at all levels are struggling with decisions about what to do with it.

The fall 2007 poinsettia market was generally soft, and strong situations were spotty and widely scattered. In big box stores, shrink numbers seemed to range between 30 and 70 percent and varied over different geographical regions. Losses at this level hurt everyone, no matter who carried the risk.

There are different reasons for the significant shrink in the big box stores. The general economic situation and less traffic in some stores was a significant issue. Then two major issues are magnified in slower years: poor retail displays and poor plant maintenance.

A row of carts jammed with plants is not very exciting. Especially if the sleeves are left on and the plants are in a shuttle tray that makes them difficult to pull out. Then there are the commonly seen displays where the plants are massed together pot to pot. Customers shopping these displays often tear up the plants. Where plants are massed together, it is often better to leave the sleeves on.

The overall appearance of poinsettia plants will decrease after the plants leave the greenhouse because of low light, age and other stresses. When the plants sit at a big box retailer for a week or more, where they may not be watered and the displays are not cleaned up, their appearance suffers. Then, the plants are much less likely to sell. It is analogous to trying to sell wilted lettuce or yellowing broccoli in the produce department.

The combination of poor displays, struggling plants and low retail prices is a vicious circle that is difficult to break. Unfortunately, this situation creates an image in the mind of consumers of a product that does not have a high value.

Diminishing Demand

In the past few years there has been a steady increase in demand for 8-inch pots in big box stores as well as independents, and many growers have been increasing production of larger pot sizes. In many markets, this demand at the big box level reversed itself in 2007. This may have been a result of the generally softer poinsettia consumer we saw this year. Or it could have been the start of the cycle swinging back toward smaller sizes.

In the past couple of years, there have been notable attempts by several individual growers to produce a differentiated product using decorative containers or combinations with other plants. These products certainly have looked good, but successes have been varied. In a couple of cases, these higher-value items have been displayed just as poorly as everything else. Also, the grower needs to be careful and not overproduce this type of product, which is easy for a large grower to do.

The number of painted poinsettias produced continued to go up in 2007, but I sure saw a lot of them sitting around at big box and grocery stores late in the season. How much of this was general soft demand and how much was due to a new product reaching its plateau stage is difficult to know. The demand for good painted/glittered poinsettias will continue, but growers will again need to be careful and match production numbers with demand. The evolving trend of painting spring items will tend to make a painted poinsettia less novel. At our consumer open house at the University of Florida, where we talk to consumers and do surveys, a common comment we hear is that they like new, different and bright poinsettias, but they prefer a natural plant.

Big Box Exclusive

'Ice Punch' is an interesting situation, and I strongly support the effort to add value in the big box poinsettia market. It is an exclusive in Home Depot and was sold at a premium price with upgraded packaging. Demand varied from soft to strong in different markets and generally seems to have done better in the West than in the East. The response we receive in the surveys show that this is a very appealing plant for consumers. It is the type of variety, similar to 'Winter Rose Dark Red', that will become an important novelty variety even after the "new" phase is past. At the IPM show last month in Germany, DŸmmen was displaying a new variety, 'Ice Crystal', that has an appearance similar to 'Ice Punch'. 'Ice Crystal' is not available in the United States this year, but it will be in some U.S. trials. Depending on how 'Ice Crystal' performs and how it is marketed, it could have a significant effect on the market situation in 2009.

Jim Barrett

Jim Barrett is professor of floriculture at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., and consulting engineer of GPN. He can be reached at [email protected]

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