VIVA!-cious Innovation By Brandi D. Thomas

If you were an herb grower looking to start a marketingprogram, it would probably feel natural to utilize practical use information onyour POP materials because herbs are something common to mostindividuals' everyday lives.They're dashed into foods, their scentsemanate from our showers as we wash our hair, they are hung upside down fromour gardens for later use. There are shelves upon shelves of books available onaromatherapy and holistic herb therapies, and scores of companies producingherbal supplements claiming charlatan-like remedies that don't yet haveFDA approval.

Herbs are much more a part of our lifestyle, in the waytheir many uses and forms — and advertising — saturate ourquotidian lives, than gardening itself is. This lends itself well to theeffectiveness of an herb grower's marketing program. Traditionalgardening, however, is arguably part of the lifestyle of only the segment ofthe population that can either afford it, has the time for it, or both. Forthose growers of annuals and perennials out there, that may just meanyou'll have to be a little more creative. For those who succeed, GPN andMasterTag will be watching you.

If you've been keeping up with our MarketingInnovation Award Series, reading about the progenitor of this year'swinning program after the May issue may make you believe we've got herbfever. But we assure you that's not the case; it just so happens thatsome of the best marketing programs ç out there are targeted towardherbs. While Colorado-based runner-up Welby Gardens categorizes their herb lineby hardiness, embellished with details on usage and historical information (seethe May issue of GPN for complete details), our winner, Altman Plants, hascapitalized on perhaps the most effective campaign any grower can use as aframework for their marketing programs: lifestyle.

The VIVA! Diva and the beginning of an image

Four years ago, Deena Altman saw something that many beforeher had seen, but envisioned it in a new way. She saw herbs planted innondescript pots with small, simple white stick labels. They were uninspiringcommodity, to say the least. Meanwhile, sales were skyrocketing forherb-derived products — from herbal soaps to supplements — whoseglory and high prices were based on the marketing of the very herbs that wentvirtually unnoticed in garden center pots.

"We felt that the herb category had a lot of potentialthat was not being utilized. It seemed natural that the plants, if marketedwell, would also be popular with consumers. People would be willing to pay morefor a well-packaged herb that could be a gift or sit on their windowsill. Anherb with complete instructions both for care and use, as well as beingattractively packaged, would command more attention and have highervalue."

Deena was on to something. She needed a name that wouldeffectively convey the wellness aspect that was rapidly becoming associatedwith herbs, and came up with "VIVA!," the Spanish verb that meanssomething akin to "live!" or "live on!" in English.This name had recognition in the marketplace, but had never been associatedwith herbs, so Altman plants trademarked it. "It's a name thatresonates with the growing Latin market as well as the mainstreammarket," Deena explains.

Next was the image. She divided the herbs intounderstandable, color-coded categories with attractive, upscale icons targetedto the female gardener. "We are definitely trying to convey an upscalelook that is attractive to the female consumer, Deena says. "The colorsare muted, the icons are fun, detailed and whimsical. The palette of colorsfeels like it is from the same family. The terra cotta plastic pot has amatching print in a muted color so the whole package will fit into any kitchenor house dŽcor. We also have banners and bench talkers that repeat thecategory icons and colors."

Striking visuals are precisely the reason this program isbeing honored as most innovative. "The packaging elements of pot andlabel were coordinated to stand out at the retail level," explainsMasterTag's Joe Fox. "The labeling has unique visual appeal, fromthe font style to the graphic representations on the tags. The othersignificant, strong element is the comprehensive retail display, which includesthe display benches and coordinated, complete POP, for an organized, stylishlook that effectively sets these products apart from the 'average'plant offering."

VIVA! Culinary herb tags are terra cotta, Tea herbs aregreen, Health and Beauty are blue, Aromatics are golden, Pet herbs are aqua andScented Geraniums are lavender. The last two categories — Pet and ScentedGeraniums — were integrated in the second and fourth years ç ofthe program, respectively. Each tag icon is cartoon-like and fun and features a1- to 2-sentence description of the herb category or specific type of herb. Thebacks of the tags discuss the herbs' properties at more length, includingthe habits and scents of the plants and their traditional uses. They alsoprovide the care information necessary for the consumer to get the most out oftheir herbs.

The categories that Altman chose seemed to be the mostlogical for defining herbs according to their use. This year, 72 differentherbs make up the entire VIVA! line; this number varies as Altman adds newvarieties and subtracts others that either don't sell well or arereplaced by improved breeding. In order of profitability, the Culinary herbssell the most, followed by Tea, Aromatic, Heath and Beauty, and Pet. ScentedGeraniums were just introduced this year. Altman sells about $2 million of theVIVA! Herbs line annually, with retail price points ranging from $1.47-1.99 fora 4 1/4-inch pot, and up to $2.57 for a 1-quart pot.

Branding for the boxes

If you had to guess who Altman's customers were basedon the image they convey, you might guess independent garden centers. But thisis where Welby Gardens, whose customers are exclusively independents, andAltman Plants part ways: Altman's primary customers are discountmerchandisers and home improvement stores. When they started the business 25years ago, their wholesale business was with independent garden centers. Thebusiness environment soon changed, however, and growth came from the largechain stores that rapidly moved into California. "We made a consciousdecision early on to partner with these large companies and grow with them. Atfirst, and for many years, the discount marketplace concentrated on price andvalue in the garden center to grow and establish their business. But in thelast five years or so the garden center business has been so well-establishedby these retailers that they are now looking for more margin anddifferentiation. It is this opportunity to create more value, and develop moreof a destination environment and excitement at the garden center, where acompany like ours can make a difference," Deena says.

Making a difference, according to Altman, consists ofproviding its customers with original and exciting programs that improve theirofferings to gardeners. It means they want their customers to look to them forsolutions and complete, effective marketing ideas as well as quality,merchandising and fulfillment. It means establishing a good customerrelationship. Some growers might feel like their plants won't be caredfor once they reach a big-box customer, but Altman Plants works with theretailer by using their own merchandisers to help keep displays fresh.

Investing in their own marketing program has given Altmanboth control and confidence. Deena believes that grower-level marketingprograms afford great advantages: "The grower can select the bestproducts for their region from all breeders and seed/plant distributors; thegrower is intimately involved in what it takes to set up bench space or racksand the configuration of the trays for both growing and display in the retailsetting; the grower weighs what POP is cost-effective and realistic in theretail environment and understands the constraints on cost to have volumeretails — products with real value for the price."

Countering challenges

On the flipside, there are challenges, which Deena freelyadmits. "It requires substantial resources to be allocated to developthese programs," she says. "From tagging, POP materials and potdesign, to researching plant variety lists, trialing plants, sourcing plantinputs and establishing protocols for the programs." Market penetration,as a grower with a brand, can also be an issue. To develop a program that canbe distributed nationwide, it is best to grow it regionally. This is becausestrong, regional growers understand their market, the appropriateness andtiming of the plants offered, and they also have fresh product that can bedelivered daily.

Knowing that regional growing would be the key to asuccessful national retail program, Deena and her husband, Ken, as well asfriends in the industry, have developed a solution to the market penetrationproblem. Their brainchild? Floragem, a network of growers that shares theAltman Plants marketing program so member growers don't have to developtheir own programs from scratch. "If you can distribute your costs overmore growers, then the costs of your plastics, promotional materials anddevelopment are less because there's more volume," Deena explains.

Growers cannot produce VIVA! Herbs unless they belong to theFloragem group; Altman is hoping to share ownership of this association withother growers in the future. "The vision of Floragem is to have anational network of growers. Right now, we are well-represented in the WesternUnited States with Seville Farms, Rocky Mountain Growers and Altman Plants.This network will ultimately enable a national merchant to have programs theycan advertise nationally because the program will be available to themnationally," she added.

Any grower interested in becoming a part of Floragem andgrowing VIVA! Herbs or one of the other programs (VIVA! Veggies, Garden Musicand Garden Discoveries) would most likely need to already be doing businesswith large retail stores and would need to be able to merchandise the stores towhich they were providing product. For more information, contact Deena Altmanvia the altmanplants.com Web site or call her direct at (760) 744-8191 ext.140.

Brandi D. Thomas

Brandi D. Thomas is associate editor for GPN.



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