Brands and Programs and Ideas… Oh My! By Bridget White, Tim Hodson and Catherine Evans

Marketing, merchandising and branding — the California Pack Trials has been the primary launching pad for such programs the past few years. There have been so many brands and so much POP that most exhibiting companies have renamed their sites as open houses instead of trials.

All of this branding has been good for the industry: It helps us compete with other branded industries and differentiates one product line from the next.

This year, exhibitors took a slightly different approach. Instead of developing pots and posters to attract consumers, everyone seemed to be focused on the growers. We did see a few new marketing programs, but at almost every turn, attendees were given literature, shown varieties or explained an idea that would help growers perform their jobs better — everything from liners programmed to bloom in four weeks to new shipping methods to new ways to use product.

We have selected some of the more unusual new programs for the magazine. If you are looking for something we did not cover or want more information about something we did, contact the breeder/marketer for more information.

Reaching New Markets

With many growers coming off a bad 2005 season and everyone worrying about rising gas prices, the idea of opening up new markets could not have come at a better time. If our costs are rising, we have to create more customers.

At this year's Pack Trials we noticed a number of programs that explored new markets or new ways to present product. Though not the largest of the program trends this year, there were a number of companies trying this idea out.

Indoor DŽcor (Goldsmith Seeds). Recognizing that many garden plants can be grown indoors, Goldsmith selected a number of its varieties that growers can market as home decorative accessories. A great new trend in decorating, flowers are now featured on all the home improvement shows. This program not only brings the trend to life but also helps growers succeed with the trend by identifying crops for this market.

Consumer Marketing (Proven Winners). Proven Winners (PW) has become the standard for marketing and branding programs, but the company focus at this year's Pack Trials was all about new markets. In addition to the gardening magazines PW has used for several years, it has also begun advertising in lifestyle magazines such as Martha Stewart Living and Everyday with Rachael Ray. By focusing on lifestyle in addition to gardening, PW hopes to introduce its product to a new market. The partnership with garden guru P. Allen Smith should also help reinforce PW's message.

Plant Passport (PanAmerican Seed). PanAmerican's Plant Passport program is based on the belief that a simple tag will not capture the attention of a busy non-gardener. Instead, PanAmerican has selected a group of plants with a story to tell and created a "passport" for each. This booklet has the look of a real passport and includes such information as name, point of origin, place of residence (light requirements) along with a story about what the plant has to offer. PanAmerican believes writing descriptive information and culture requirements in this narrative format will engage consumers on a deeper level, appeal to those that want more than just a plant and result in increased sales.

Busy Lifestyle (Ball FloraPlant). Appealing to another possible customer base, Ball FloraPlant has developed a program for want-to-be gardeners with limited time. The Busy Lifestyle program includes varieties that require little upkeep; they do not need deadheading, pruning or heavy feeding and will still perform in the landscape. The idea is to select plants that customers can plant, ignore and enjoy.

Helping Growers Succeed

In a large sense, any program is meant to help growers succeed — whether through increased brand awareness, better plant performance or something else — so why are these programs so special? Simple. They address the number one question we hear from growers: How do I grow this product well? These new programs seem to go beyond just providing a culture sheet and either engage the grower personally or attempt to eliminate problems before they occur. In short, they take some of the guesswork out of production.

Ultra Paradise New Guinea Impatiens (Ecke Ranch). This program, developed in conjunction with Dr. Jim Faust at Clemson University, identifies plants that will consistently finish in 12 weeks from an unrooted cutting. Plants have been divided by recommended pot size and help narrow Ecke's New Guinea offerings. More importantly, though, Ultra Paradise can make production a lot easier by promising a consistent finish time, which would save bench space and money.

Solutions-based programs (Fischer USA). With an entire collection of ideas to help growers succeed, Fischer's Solutions program was the most encompassing of the programs we saw at Pack Trials. Its eight parts — genetic, innovative, profitability, packaging, high density, market timing, support and service — cover almost any problem growers could have from choosing pest-resistant varieties to making sure cuttings arrive on time.

BenchMark (Goldsmith Seeds). Developed with the help of Dr. David Koranski, the BenchMark program is a selection of varieties that when combined with precise cultural practices result in programmable plants whose ship dates can be exactly predicted. Xtreme impatiens are the first BenchMark series, but Goldsmith promises more to come.

Narrow & Deep (Sakata Seed America). Following a very common theme this year, Sakata has selected varieties from its extensive Festival gerbera and pansy series to offer as a separate package. These plants were selected because they have a tight flowering window, good uniformity and a high flower count. Each Narrow & Deep group offers the most popular colors and promises to increase efficiency.

Saving Money

While some of the previously mentioned programs have money savings as a secondary benefit, there were a few programs introduced that focus on dollars and cents. These are obviously very attractive programs, but be sure to run the numbers before starting any new program to make sure it makes good financial sense for you.

Energy Efficient Annuals and Fast Crops (Ecke Ranch). Two programs that sound the same, these two new offers from Ecke are actually quite ç different. Energy Efficient Annuals are plants that require and/or tolerate cold production temperatures. This would allow growers to save on early season heating bills and get in a turn before peak starts. Fast Crops are those varieties that finish quickly, allowing for another quick turn after peak.

Quick Turn (Ecke Ranch). Probably the biggest offering from Ecke this year, the new Quick Turn program should appeal to growers looking to move a lot of product in a short window. These programmed liners, available in 72-cell trays, are pinched, vernalized, lighted — whatever it takes to ensure the plant blooms four weeks after transplant. The QT-72 program includes most of Ecke's important varieties.

Energy Production Index (PanAmerican Seed). Probably our favorite program this year, PanAmerican's Energy Production Index (EPI) is one of those ideas that makes so much sense you wonder why it has never been done before. EPI is an indicator of how much cumulative heating energy a crop requires. It allows growers to select their production regions and crops. The EPI equation then factors in such things as time on the bench and space used to give a rating and shows which production temperature results in the least amount of energy used. The program also includes a chart listing companion plants that can be economically grown at the same temperature.

Marketing Programs

In the year where consumer-oriented marketing programs were hard to find, there were a few notable exceptions. For the second year in a row, S&G Flowers made an impressive show with two new marketing ideas, and both Oglevee and Sakata debuted new programs for some of their best old crops. But unlike the other programs shown this year, the true consumer marketing programs had no consistent themesÉjust trying to help make the sale.

Garden Secret (S&G Flowers). As in years past, S&G had a small display of the company's newest marketing ideas. Most innovative of the new offerings was the secret program. It features printed pots with standard culture information and such on one side and a "secret" to success on the other. These secrets are surprisingly common ideas, but the draw to pick up the pot to read the extra information is irresistible.

Solenia program (Oglevee Ltd.). How long have Solenia begonias been on the market? A while. But this year the series took a step forward. Oglevee developed a step-up program for the crop to help growers finish plants earlier, and the new POP program — complete with bench tape, pots, etc. — really complements the series.

Premium Festival (Sakata Seed America). Sakata showed several new marketing programs, including a new tag for Kong coleus, but the one we were more interested in was an upscale pot and matching tag from The John Henry Company. A color scheme of black, white and tan stripes invokes a black-tie look that begs for premium pricing.

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Bridget White, Tim Hodson and Catherine Evans

Bridget White is editorial director, Tim Hodson is managing editor and Catherine Evans is associate editor of GPN. Hodson can be reached at [email protected] or (847) 391-1019.

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