Consumer Guide To Poinsettias By John Dole, Allen Hammer and Jim Barrett

As any retailer or grower will tell you, marketing is as much — or more — an art as it is a science. Certainly growers can keep track of which poinsettia cultivars and colors are sold each year and use that information to help plan for the next year. This assumes, of course, that they know when a cultivar or color ran out. Even with all of that work, however, variations in sales of specific colors and cultivars from year to year can drive a crop scheduler insane. Marketing surveys can make the forecasting a little easier, and we have the results from three universities and one retailer to help you: Purdue University, University of Florida, North Carolina State University and Homewood Nursery and Garden Center.

Collecting The Information

Each site conducts its survey slightly differently, so before we can give you our results, we need to give you the particulars of how the information was collected.

Purdue University. Purdue's poinsettia evaluations were conducted in cooperation with White River Gardens, Indianapolis, Ind. Plants were displayed in a conservatory and arranged in three different groups. In the first group, all of the 109 cultivars in the trial were labeled by name and breeder. Visitors were asked to pick their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorite cultivar from this group. The second grouping contained the most important 16 red cultivars, identified only by number. Visitors were asked to select their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorite red cultivar (which ones they would purchase). The third group contained 10 novelty cultivars also only identified by number. Visitors were asked to select their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorite novelty cultivars (which ones they would purchase). Depending on the group of plants, results were based on 1,204-2,013 responses.

University Of Florida. At the University of Florida evaluations were conducted in the production greenhouses. Selected cultivars were arranged in groups of 10, and participants were asked to select the three cultivars they would purchase. Other cultivars were arranged in groups of four and participants were asked which single plant they would purchase. The plants in all groups were identified only by number. Results were based on 265-280 responses.

Homewood Nursery. At Homewood Nursery and Garden Center, Raleigh, N.C., the public voted for their five favorite poinsettias out of a group of 45, each identified by a number. Customers were asked to select their five favorites without ranking them. The survey was conducted from Nov. 19 to Dec. 10, and 598 people cast votes.

North Carolina State University. NC State University held an open house indoors at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum under artificial lights. All 104 cultivars were presented, with two plants of each cultivar on display. Of the 180 attendees at the Consumer Open House, 127 filled out surveys. It was no easy task for the participants because they had so many cultivars from which to choose. To make the job easier, cultivars were organized into six groups: red, pink, white, jingle bells, marble and novelties. Consumers were asked to select their three favorite cultivars within each group. They were also asked to select their three overall favorite cultivars and their three overall least-favorite cultivars from all of the cultivars on display.

High Scorers

Let's start with the overall favorite cultivars. At Purdue the overall top cultivar was 'Jingle Bells 4.0'. It has a classic jingle bells pattern with medium-red bracts covered with pink flecks. 'Jingle Bells 4.0' has scored well in the marketing surveys many ç times over the last few years. 'Monet Twilight' received the honors at University of Florida. This long-time favorite was also the number five cultivar at NC State and Purdue. 'Shimmer Surprise' received the most votes at Homewood for two years in a row now. This striking cultivar has a bold jingle bells pattern with large white and pink patches and spots on bright-red bracts. The overall favorite at NC State was 'Chianti'. This plant has conspicuously dark-brick-red bracts and bright-yellow cyathia. In addition to scoring high in the overall vote, half of the attendees listed it as one of the top three favorite red cultivars — quite a feat considering that there were so many red cultivars to choose from. 'Chianti' was also ranked in the top 10 in 2003 and scored high in 2004.

Two cultivars were in the top 10 for three of the surveys: 'Winter Rose Early Red' and 'Dulce Rosa'. 'Winter Rose Early Red' has been available for several years now and is well known by many consumers. While growers tell us that sales of curly bract poinsettias are waning, the consumers in these trials are still enjoying them. 'Dulce Rosa' merits a little more explanation. 'Dulce Rosa' grabbed the attention of many of the survey participants — but not always in a positive way. It was ranked number three at Purdue, number five at Homewood and number six overall favorite at NC State, but many placed it among their least favorites. Obviously, opinions were divided on a novel bright-pink cultivar — people either loved it or hated it.

In the all-important red category, 'Orion Red' was the favorite cultivar at Purdue University. This early flowering cultivar with bright-red bracts is a strong grower and makes a classic poinsettia plant. Other top red cultivars at Purdue were 'Gala Red', 'Enduring Red', 'Christmas Star' and 'Early Joy Red'.

'Prestige Red' was voted most likely to be purchased at the University of Florida trial. It has become a favorite of growers because of its strong, uniform growth and even flowering — always nice when consumers also like the same cultivar. Rounding out the top five reds at Florida were 'Christmas Spirit Bright Red', 'Red Velvet', 'Novia' and 'Freedom Red'.

The top red cultivar at Homewood was 'Prestige Maroon'. This very-ç dark-red cultivar was also number six among the 46 red cultivars on display at NC State. Other popular reds at Homewood were 'Coco 2000', 'Early Joy Red' and 'Early Orion'.

Besides the previously listed 'Chianti', other favorite reds at NC State included 1090 (trial entry) from Ecke, 'Christmas Feelings', 'Cortez Electric Fire' and 'Christmas Star'. Interestingly, the number 10 cultivar was 'Nutcracker Red'. This cultivar is one of the older reds in the trials this year and has been available for a number of years, reminding us that new is not always better and the most important thing is to pay attention to what the consumers are buying.

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John Dole, Allen Hammer and Jim Barrett

John Dole is professor of floriculture at North Carolina State University. Allen Hammer is professor of floriculture at Purdue University. Jim Barrett is professor of floriculture at University of Florida. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

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