New and Profitable Container Sizes By Joseph B. Hanson

There's the 4-inch, 1-gal., basket, etc. -- but how do some of the newer sizes compare in margin and usability?

Although it’s definitely the plant that counts in the end,you can’t deny the effects of container size. It can control your plant’sgrowth in order to meet a specific consumer demand, capitalize on space inorder to ameliorate shipping cost, and dictate price for buyers who are moreconcerned with size than the actual quality of the plant. For better or worse,container size matters in this industry, so it’s important to be aware ofdifferent dimensions as they become available.

Most growers use 4-inch, 1-gal., and standard basketcontainers; however, there are some irregular sizes out there that might bemore effective. The 5-inch (or 1-liter), 18-pack landscaping tray and 306premium pack have all proven to be compelling options for a handful of growers.But why should growers use these odd sizes?

The 5-inch

Jim Pugh, co-owner of American Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., usesa 5-inch container for New Guinea impatiens, kalanchoe, gerbera daisies,lisianthas, geraniums, exacum, ornamental peppers and, occasionally, doubleimpatiens.

By using the 5-inch, American Farms is able to cater to anew market. “There are certain items, [such as] 1-gal. kalanchoes, thatjust don’t have the same market appeal as they do in a 5-inch,” Pugh says.”The 5-inch can be used as a stand-alone house plant, a patio accessory ordecorative plant. The gallons have more of a landscape mentality.” Forconsumers who might shy away from a cumbersome, 1-gal., yet crave somethingmore spacious than a 4-inch, the 5-inch is perfect.

The pricing is also important, as it helps growers takeadvantage of their buyer’s emphasis on size. “Too often, [buyers] equatesize with price,” Pugh says. “If [the plants] are in a 41/2-inch,they only have a 70-cent value because that’s where you price your impatiensand begonias. So if I grow a geranium there, they keep the 70-cent mentality.With these pots, I can upscale one-half inch and get an extra 75 cents perdollar.” By upgrading in container size, the grower can avoid thestereotyping of particular plants to particular pots and, in doing so, enjoy agreater profit.

Downgrading in container size has a similar effect:”For a 5-inch and a 1-gallon,” Pugh says, “there’s a substantialsize difference and perceived difference, but there isn’t much difference inthe price point. If I’m getting roughly $1.50-$1.70 on one item, I might begetting $1.70-$1.90 on the other item…even though [the gallon] looks twice asbig!” These small price increments allow the grower to sell asignificantly smaller plant for an insignificantly smaller price. Whetherupgrading from a 4-inch or downgrading from a 1-gal., the plant in the 5-inchmay experience a slight margin increase, which allows you to include someextras, such as improved genetics.

The 5-inch’s biggest advantage, however, might also be itsbiggest disadvantage. While sales for the 1-gal. and 4-inch generally reachhigh numbers, sales for the 5-inch Á remain small. “It’s just alittle bit more unique,” Pugh says. “Many growers are doing billionsof gallons and billions of 41/2-inch, and the price point has just been poundedinto the ground. But the 5-inch is kind of in between and keeps thingsbalanced.” Instead of shooting up and down in demand, the 5-inch is ableto find its niche and stay there. That fact alone might be enough for somegrowers. “We’ve been able to hold that margin,” Pugh remarks.”It’s one of the shining spots in the dismal pricing structure in ourindustry.”

The Landscaper Tray

“The 18-pack is a shuttle tray that normally holds 184-inch pots, except that we put the soil directly into the tray,” saysPaul Gehrke, head grower at Hines Horticulture, Miami, Fla. Like most growers,Hines uses a variety of container sizes, but finds the 18-pack landscaper trayespecially suitable for impatiens, begonias, pansies, marigolds, salvia andpetunias. “Whatever the key landscape plant is for that month, we’ll growit,” Gehrke says.

By eliminating 4-inch pots and planting directly into thetray, the 18-pack capitalizes on space. “It gives value to theconsumer,” Gehrke says. “They get a 4-inch plant at a flat price ofabout 50 cents per plant at retail.” The grower also profits by making moremoney per square foot, and even the employees reap the Á benefits of thesaved space. “Instead of filling 18 individual little pots, we just pushthe tray through the flat filler,” says Gehrke. “So it really doeshelp with our efficiency.”

However, growing plants in such close proximity to oneanother can be a little tricky. “It’s a balancing act,” Gehrke says.”You’re always fighting, getting the plant big enough to be full and looklike a 4-inch and not like an undersized six-pack. It’s easy to make littletiny balls, but they may never grow or perform for the consumer. You’re alwayswalking the line between too much growth regulator, meaning the plant doesn’tgrow, or not enough [growth regulator] and [the plant] falls apart.”Adjusting to the different growth habits imposed by a new container can bedifficult and time-consuming. Therefore, growers will need to consider thesechallenges before committing a new container size.

However, growers should know beforehand about theramifications of producing in bulk. “The plant has to work,” Gehrkesays, “so we just do the basic bread and butter items…You obviouslywouldn’t put sunflowers in there, or a really tall plant. You have to be veryselective about what goes in there.”

The Premium Pack

Two years ago, PanAmerican Seed’s Easy Wave Petunias wereintroduced with the Premium Pack in mind, and now the container is being pushedfor other plants as well. Its dimensions are similar to that of an 1801;however, its layout is in the form of a 306, allowing for cells 23/4 inchesdeep. Jerry Gorchels, technical product representative for PanAmerican SeedCo., West Chicago, Ill., recommends them for vincas, impatiens, marigolds,abutilon, coleus, petunias, New Guinea impatiens and many of the new foliageplants. “When you want to get the maximum value out of a seed item, youput it in a larger container,” Gorchels says.

This value is evident to the customer in both theperformance and the variety. The larger cell size allows for improved systemsand bigger, stronger plants that may ultimately be more attractive.”[Consumers] can plant premium pack plants and have full color flowerbedsright away, [instead of] waiting for the smaller pack sizes to grow,” saysGorshels. Moreover, garden centers carrying the premium pack present additionaloptions to consumers who are looking for something new and different.”Garden centers will increase the value for their customers by havingsomething that gives them a bigger cell, but differentiates them from everyoneelse,” says Gorshels.

Differentiation is one of the best strategies on the marketbecause it allows both retailers and growers to stand out from the norm.”I’m a firm believer in greenhouses trialing different culture regimesbefore growing the whole crop a certain way,” Gorshels says. “Do somesmall numbers to see how it performs…[then decide] how you’re going to haveto change your culture for this larger container.” The premium pack iscertainly unique compared to other containers on the market, and growers shouldeducate themselves about it beforehand in order to give it a good shot. Forexample, plants that like drier conditions — such as portulaca and vinca –might grow better in smaller, more individualized containers.

But with the right plants, there are many advantages togrowing in premium packs — differentiation attracts new customers, the largesoil volume securely anchors the plants to prevent tippage, and profitsincrease by having fewer material investments per square foot. “Thebiggest thing, though, is the value,” Gorshels says. “It’s a win-winsituation both for the grower and the consumer.”

Final Thoughts

The 5-inch, the 18-pack tray and the premium cell pack allhighlight important aspects of the growing process. The 5-inch caters to a new clienteleand exploits the buyer’s emphasis on size, the 18-pack shows both the pros andthe cons of capitalizing on space, and the premium pack illustrates theimportance of differentiation in the market.

Using new or differently sized containers can not only savea few bucks but make a few, by standing out both because of their uniquenessand the needs they satisfy.

When there’s more than one good plant on the shelf,extraneous factors such as size, price and brand come into account. And fromthe grower to the retailer to the consumer, there’s one thing that’s clear –container size matters.



Joseph B. Hanson

Joseph B. Hanson is editorial assistant for GPN. He may be reached by E-mail at jhanson@uchicago.edu.



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