The Rest of the Trials
In last month’s coverage of the vegetative varieties introduced at Pack Trials, we made the comment that after a few years it starts to get a little difficult to get excited about another shade of red geranium or an impatiens that is a quarter of an inch shorter. And if that comment is true of vegetative crops, where so much innovation takes place, it’s certainly true of seed crops, where the differences between varieties is sometimes hard to see.
So for many of us the best part of Pack Trials has become identifying emerging trends in the industry. Of course, that’s not saying we didn’t find lots of plants to get excited about (see page 28 for some of our favorites). Just that there are other things going on at Pack Trials besides the plants, and if you are like us and you want to see what’s up in the industry before you get down to the real work of selecting which new varieties to trial, then we’ve got all you need.
Unlike the vegetative companies, the seed companies really focused on marketing this year, with some great new branded lines being introduced. The following are just a few of our favorites.
Living Décor is a new program from PanAmerican Seed that aims to turn standard seed items such as sunflowers, coleus and marigolds into impulse gift items. The idea is to sell cute, miniature plants usually in multiples such as six celosia with small cones in decorative containers. All crops for the program have a 21-day lifespan, even under interior low-light conditions, and make very eye-catching, unusual gifts. And in true PanAmerican style, all of the details have been worked out. Our Pack Trials book contained schedules for all the recommended crops, when to start seeds for peak selling periods, as well as culture tips for some of the crops. This information should soon be available on the Web site. Living Décor is a great program that turns commodity crops into high-value gifts. It has low input costs, could bring a high margin and had everyone at Pack Trials talking. A great idea!
Probably the most unusual new marketing program this year was Gardening For Dummies. Yes, this is the same brand as the popular books and has been licensed by broker H.F. Michelle’s for application to plants. Pots, bench tape and tags will carry the recognizable Dummy logo, and a booklet explaining how to be successful with the newly purchased plants will be given to customers at purchase. The line will include only easy-to-grow, tough plants such as seed geraniums, vincas and petunias. We were excited to see a floriculture company looking outside of our universe for ideas but remain a little skeptical about whether or not the brand will actually extend to plants. After all, the promise of the Dummy brand is that it takes a complicated subject and makes it easy; we’re not sure a booklet will do that, but kudos for trying. Given the cost of the license and the target customer, this program will probably go to a box store, but the specific one had not yet been determined at Pack Trials. Michelle’s did, however, say that trials were already underway at Kmart.
In terms of marketing, S&G Flowers wins the award for the most programs introduced. Having not really focused on branding in the past, S&G made up for it this year by introducing eight new brands focusing on specific uses and positioning. Some of the more interesting ones are: Bulbs & Blooms, which are upscale combo pots with bulbs and violas for spring blooms and sedum and guara for summer blooms; and Autumn Hues, combination planters that contain seed and vegetative items that tolerate cold fall temperatures.
One last note about marketing if their displays are any indication, the seed companies really seem to understand that our industry is about more than just plants. At company after company, we saw not only display gardens but lifestyle vignettes. In fact this was one of the most consistent trends on the seed side this year. We saw everything from a cottage garden at PanAmerican Seed to a desert garden complete with snakes at Floranova. Sakata Seed America showed a typical patio with furniture and blooming containers; American Takii even went so far as to put images of people in their garden. Yes, in terms of tying it all together with hardscaping, outdoor furniture and plants, the seed companies outdid themselves.
On the seed side, we saw the companies break out of a several-year slump and offer a wide array of interesting crops. The biggest trend we can point to this year is the absence of trends. Introductions were all over the board; we saw everything from pansies and impatiens to aquilegia and grasses and many companies that offered just two or three new varieties last year showed 10-20 this year. True, there were some two-day quicker petunias and 3-mm-shorter violas, but for the most part, this year’s seed crops were real improvements.
The one popular crop this year seemed to be vinca. We’ve been watching more companies jumping on the vinca bandwagon, and this year might be the high point, with at least three companies introducing new crops. Floranova introduced two new series, Sun Devil Extreme and Viper, aimed at the bedding and landscape markets, respectively. S&G Flowers was showing a little improvement on last year’s big hit from them: the Sunstorm series. Lastly, between its three series, PanAmerican showed nine new colors. That’s a lot of vinca!
And even though it’s not a trend, we couldn’t discuss crop developments without covering the knock-out introductions from PanAmerican Seed. The first-ever seed introductions of angelonia, diascia and nemesia were the most interesting introductions we saw all week, especially the angelonia. These are great crops that have come to be industry staples, and when you add to that the economy of producing from seed well, let’s just say that we hope PanAmerican has lots of seed. The specific descriptions start on page 28.
In a time of shifting alliances throughout the industry, the seed companies were noticeably quiet this year. No new alliances to announce, no rumors to pass along. The only thing that even came close this year was another broker jumping onto the Pack Trials scene, with H.F. Michelle’s co-habitating with GGG and Northern Innovators at Speedling. We’ll be curious to see if more of the brokers throw their proverbial hats into this ring next year.
The Name Game
Unlike names in new vegetative cultivars, which often evoke an emotion or sensation, the series names for seed crops are most often descriptive. Just like seed crops themselves, their names go for a quick, direct hit. This year, not surprisingly, the three most popular references were to size, finish time and performance.
Size. When flower size is the only thing that matters, a descriptive name is a good first step and the focus is not always on biggest, as we can see from this year’s names: Microla viola from Kieft Seeds, Midori cyclamen from Goldsmith Seeds and Maximus mimulus from Floranova.
Finish time. Not as many names focused on finish time this year, but there were a few: Stopwatch portulaca from Bodger Seeds and Go-Go begonia from Goldsmith Seeds.
Performance. These names covered everything from intensity to staying power in their quest to describe the perfect performance: Encore impatiens from Bodger Seeds, Lotto begonia from Ernst Benary of America and Ideal dianthus from PanAmerican Seed.