Which Poinsettias do Consumers Prefer? By Jim Barrett, Rick Schoellhorn and Allen Hammer

There are many new and different poinsettias being introduced; some think too many. Certainly, there are too many for one grower to produce. So how do you decide which cultivars to add to your selection?

In the February issue of GPN, we reviewed the extensivetrial data from Purdue University, North Carolina State University and theUniversity of Florida, recommending regionally specific cultivars and givingadvice about how to grow the latest and the greatest. But there are otherfactors to consider when choosing a new cultivar, for example, what consumerswant.

For years, our industry has debated about consumerpreference. It is common to hear growers indicate they need varieties that looklike 'Freedom Red' because that is what store buyers want. ThoughFreedom has been the dominant variety for several years, the new poinsettiavarieties make us wonder if consumers actually prefer a different look and, ifgiven options, would they select a plant that looks like Freedom Red.

Consumer surveys were conducted at Purdue University and the University of Florida, and the results are presented here. While there are some differences in the details of the results, the general information generated by the two studies provides important information.

Some of the highly rated cultivars are not the easiest onesto produce and will not be used by most growers. However, they offerindependent retailers and smaller growers a significant opportunity to produceproducts that are distinctly different from the poinsettia sold by largechains. For large growers selling to chains, the results indicate thatconsumers do like some of the new varieties, such as 'Prestige',that will become useful in these markets.

These trials would not be possible without support from thebreeders, our technicians, our universities, and all the poinsettia growers.Special thanks to: Dummen USA, Fischer USA, Selecta Klemm/HorticultureMarketing Associates, Oglevee Ltd. and Paul Ecke Ranch. We also extend thanksfor technical support to Terri Kirk, Purdue University; Carolyn Bartuska,University of Florida; Duane Martin, curator, White River Gardens; Ken Breeceand Susan Micks, gardeners, White River Gardens; Mary Welch-Keesey, consumerhorticulture specialist, Purdue University.


Purdue University Trial

A group of 10 red, 10 novelty and 125 different cultivars ofpoinsettias were displayed in the conservatory greenhouse at White RiverGardens, Indianapolis, Ind., from November 28 until December 29, 2001. Visitorsto the gardens were asked to rate the poinsettias as shown on the survey forms,ranking the cultivars in each group as their first, second or third choice. Thegroup of 10 red and 10 novelty plants were labeled with a number from 1 to 10.The 125 cultivars were labeled with cultivar name, breeder and year of consumerintroduction. We had 861, 1073 and 1239 survey forms completed for the 125cultivars, red and novelty groups, respectively.

We have summarized the data in the figures that appearthroughout this article. The results are somewhat surprising; I certainly wouldnot have predicted the consumer responses we received.

While these results are interesting, they should not be usedas the final word in consumer preferences. The most accurate data will comefrom your own trials, at which you can use this information when formulatingyour own questions. In addition to the cultivars consumers selected, wegathered another interesting piece of information from the data: There islittle difference between gender, age and purchase characteristics of theconsumers in the survey. We saw little difference in response between males andfemales in their color preferences and in whether or not they purchased apoinsettia last year. The data show a clear consumer preference in the firstchoice of best cultivar; however, the second and third choices showed much morevariability.


Preference at Purdue

Overall Preference.At our trials, there was a clear preference for novelty cultivars, with onlyone "true" red cultivar making it into the top 10 (See Figure 2, page48). I was amazed that consumers would show such a strong preference for'Sonora White Glitter', 'Monet Twilight' and'Strawberries 'N Cream' when picking from such a large groupand wide range of cultivars. Monet Twilight has always received great commentsin our trial, with the often-asked question of "where can I buyit?" Is there a message here? ç

I certainly found this preference somewhat surprising; onthe other hand, nearly all the cultivars I would pick as outstanding are onthis list, which is somewhat reassuring to all of us.

The consumer ratings for overall preference from the surveyof 125 cultivars is as follows.

Red Preference. Thissurvey was designed simply to ask consumers about their favorite red color. Wepicked a range of red poinsettias to represent the different shading classes.The plants were labeled with numbers from 1 through 10, with no cultivar identification indicated, although they were arranged in alphabetic order by cultivar name.The results would suggest consumers prefer the brighter, truer red bract colors(See Figure 1, page 46). 'Strawberry Punch', 'Bright RedSails' and 'Success Red' all have bright red bracts, and allscored very high in our survey.

A couple of notable conclusions can be drawn from oursurvey. First, orange-colored bracts did not attract consumer attention in thissurvey; and second, the low placement of Freedom Red as a consumer'sfirst choice in this survey should cause concern for those of us stillproducing the bulk of our red crop in Freedom.

Novelty Preference.Some will probably disagree with our choice of only 10 novelty cultivars, butwe tried to choose 10 "distinctive" types and chose arepresentative of each. We were testing to see what type of novelty consumersprefer. The composite of first-, second- and third-choice votes can be seen inFigure 3, below.

The strong preference for Sonora White Glitter reflects itsnumber one ranking in the 125-cultivar survey. And the strong showings of'Carousel', 'Plum Pudding' and 'HollyPoint' certainly agree with consumer comments in previous years. Onenovelty that did not show very well this year is Winter Rose. We might need toask ourselves if we've overdone 'Winter Rose Dark Red' amongconsumers. Has it lost some of its unique appeal, and where did it get thisappeal in the first place?

With so many new cultivars coming onto the market everyyear, many are wondering if we are creating the "shortened lifespansyndrome." Should we be careful to avoid overselling a novelty? It may bea combination of uniqueness and "hard-to-find-ness."

As with the overall preference rating, there is littlevariation between the scores of cultivars chosen as a third choice. Thissuggests to me that consumers were particularly drawn to some novelties andmarked those as their first choice, but that they had no clear preference aboutthe remaining types. Also remember, these plants were only labeled withnumbers; therefore, the consumer was not affected by name in their choice.


University of Florida Trial

For the fourth year, we invited the public to the Universityof Florida poinsettia trials the day after the industry field day. This year,there were 316 participants that completed the surveys. Of this group, 63percent females; and 40 percent were less than 36 years old, 27 percent werebetween the ages of 36 and 55, and 32 percent were over 55 years old. We askedrespondents where they purchased poinsettias: 27 percent said they did so atgrocery stores, 41 percent at local nurseries, 8 percent at florists, 36percent at home improvement stores, 32 percent at discount chains and 12percent from charities.

All plants were displayed in the greenhouse. Lighting doesaffect the appearance of poinsettias, so this is a factor that should be partof your selection process. For the studies depicted in Figures 4-10, the plantswere set up on separate benches and were not named. It is a little surprising,but the results showed very few differences based on gender, age or wherepoinsettias were purchased.


Preference at University of Florida

Overall Preference.Participants were asked to pick their top 10 cultivars from the 115 in thestudy (See Figure 7, page 51). These plants were labeled by name. In a studylike this, there are many factors that can affect the results, and by picking10, the participants can include ones that they would not include in otherstudies that allow them to pick fewer.

With about half of the cultivars being red, you would expectthe numbers to be widely spread across the reds, but this is not the case. Ourstudy shows a definite preference toward novelty varieties. With all of theinterest in the new cultivars, it is interesting to see 'MonetTwilight' at the top of this list. Year after year, it is always one ofthe highest-rated cultivars, and it was the second cultivar in the Purduestudy. Sonora White Glitter is also rated very high in both the Florida and Purduestudies, which indicates the potential strength of that new cultivar. In fouryears of doing this survey, this is the first Jingle Bells-type to beat out'Sonora Jingle'. The other Jingle Bells that did well was'Jingle Bells 4.0'. Plum Pudding and 'Cortez Burgundy'did well in both the Florida and Purdue trials. Note that Winter Rose Dark Redwas rated fourth in this part of the survey where the participants picked 10cultivars but was much lower where they only picked 3 plants (See Figures 1 and3, pages 46 and 48). 'Marblestar' is normally in the top 10 of thisstudy, but this year 'Santa Claus Marble' was the first marble-typeto be ranked higher. The highest-ranking reds were 'Max Red' and'V-07B'; two cultivars with a much nicer red color than traditionalreds.

The ranking for overall preference in a mixed trial of 115cultivars is as follows. Please note the difference in evaluation methodsbetween the Purdue and University of Florida surveys, which means that theresults from the two studies are not comparable.

Red Preference.These plants in this group represented 12 different plant forms and shades ofred. Participants were asked to select the plants they would purchase if buyingthree poinsettias. The highest-rated plant, 'V-07B', (See Figure 4,page 50 has bright red bracts with large, bright yellow centers, which isdistinctly different from other commercial cultivars. The second most popularplant was 'Chianti'. This is a novelty with a much deeper red colorthan other cultivars and deeply lobed bracts and leaves. Additionally, theunusual cyathia are large with prominent bright orange edges and do not developpollen. Chianti was number 32-2000 in the 2001 trials. The plants that had a"standard" poinsettia appearance were Prestige, 'Red Velvet'and Freedom. It is good to see the favorable position of Prestige, since itsç use is expanding rapidly. The position of Freedom as one of thelower-ranked plants is similar to the 2000 survey, when the consumers selectedplants with brighter red color over Freedom. Red Velvet and Prestige receivedtheir highest rating from the individuals who purchased plants at florists.

Appearance Preference.Participants were asked to select three plants they would purchase from these12 representing several of the different appearances and styles of poinsettias.Freedom Red represents the standard red plant in this group, V-07B is the plantwith brighter red color, and 'Christmas Cookie' is the plant withorange red bracts. Note that Winter Rose Dark Red is near the bottom of thelist here (See Figure 5, page 50), and it was the fifth plant among the reds inFigure 4. In previous years, Winter Rose Dark Red was one of thehighest-selected plants. This may indicate that it is reaching the peak of itsproduct life cycle and that consumers are starting to look for something newerin novelty reds. It is interesting that even the lowest-rated plant wasselected by 10 percent of the participants, which shows the diversity in whatconsumers like. In this group, females rated 'Marblestar' and'Christmas Candy' higher than did the males, and males rated'White Christmas' and Christmas Cookie higher than did the females.Participants that shopped at florists rated Christmas Candy and Marblestarhigher than did the other groups.

Peppermint Preference.Participants were asked to pick out the plant they like the most from theserelatively new peppermint type poinsettias. Christmas Candy was the clearfavorite here with 'Da Vinci' second (See Figure 6, page 50). DaVinci flowers early, and Candy is late midseason timing.

Dark Red Preference.This is a direct comparison of a typical red plant in Freedom Red and a novelç red in Chianti. Participants were asked to pick the one theypreferred. In talking to participants, the majority preferred standard redpoinsettias (See Figure 8, page 53). Some of them described themselves astraditionalist; these are the one-third of respondents that picked Freedom. Thepreference for Chianti was greater for females than for males.

Red vs. Orange. Itis common in the industry to hear that "Americans do not like orangepoinsettias; Europeans prefer orange." This is a comparison of threeshades of red. Christmas cookie is the most orange-red poinsettia on themarket. While it is true that many consumers will look at an orange-red plantand say they do not like it, these results show that a significant number ofthese participants preferred the brighter orange color (See Figure 9, page 53).The fact that 'Peterstar Red' and 'Success Red' are important cultivars should indicate that not all American consumers dislike orange-red cultivars.

Cortez Burgundy vs. Plum Pudding. These are two new colors, both having createdconsiderable interest in a side-by-side comparison. That two-thirds of theparticipants preferred Cortez Burgundy shows how striking this cultivar is (SeeFigure 10, page 53). This study was in a greenhouse where the Burgundy looksbest; Plum Pudding displays better under interior lighting. Growers shouldprobably treat these as two separate colors and decide independently whether touse one, both or neither. Cultural requirements for Plum Pudding are a littledifferent from most other poinsettia cultivars.


What does it mean?

The abundance of novelty cultivars at the top of bothstudies indicates that "traditional" values did not take over thepoinsettia market this year and that growers who are not producing some of themore interesting new cultivars are probably missing sales. Small growers willstill want to be selective about their variety and choose only a few cultivarsto tackle, but growers with more space should begin experimenting with some ofthe new novelties.

Our studies indicate that there are clear opportunities forthose growers who want to differentiate their product and take advantage of theconsumer's demand for unique poinsettias. Beware, though; many of thesenew cultivars are challenging to grow, and successful production requiresattention to the needs of each cultivar.

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Jim Barrett, Rick Schoellhorn and Allen Hammer

Jim Barrett is a professor and Rick Schoellhorn is an associate professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla; Allen Hammer is a professor at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. They may be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 or E-mail at [email protected]

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