Consumers Tell Which Poinsettias They Like

March 18, 2003 - 13:23

Find out if the poinsettias you are growing or plan to grow will be popular with consumers in this annual consumer preference report.

There is always considerable discussion over what poinsettia
cultivars growers should produce and about which cultivars consumers prefer.
The new cultivars and their success at retail have changed the industry's
mindset of what a poinsettia should look like. Remember when 'Winter Rose Dark
Red' was introduced and few industry folks liked it, but within a couple of
years, almost everyone was growing it. The situation has changed so much that
when looking at potential new introductions, sometimes someone will say,
"That looks so strange consumers are sure to like it." But how can we
really know?

The Trials

Just like production variety trials, a single consumer
survey does not tell everything. It is best to look at the results of multiple
surveys and to look at trends as they change from year to year. With this in
mind, we are providing the results of the consumer surveys conducted at Purdue
University, University of Florida and Homewood Nursery in Raleigh, N.C.

These surveys are conducted in conjunction with the National
Poinsettia Cultivar Trials and are supported by the major poinsettia breeder
companies: Dummen USA, Paul Ecke Ranch, Fischer USA, Oglevee Ltd. and Selecta
First Class. At Homewood, 40 individual plants are placed at the entrance of
the retail greenhouse during Thanksgiving weekend. Customers were invited to
vote for their favorites through the Christmas shopping season. At the
University of Florida, two days after the industry Open House, consumers were
invited to view the commercial trials, and some additional survey plants were
set up. For the Purdue study, plants were moved to the conservatory greenhouse
at White River Gardens in Indianapolis, Ind., from November 28 until December
29.

Overall Favorites

Figures 1-4, pages 44 and 46, show the results from Florida,
Purdue and Homewood where consumers picked their favorites from a large group
of cultivars. These types of evaluations are interesting because they allow the
participants to express many different feelings. They can include cultivars
they really like, plus ones that may be a little different but interesting to
them.

Across the three surveys, there are six cultivars in the top
15 on at least two of the lists. Those are 'Sonora White Glitter', 'Jingle
Bells 4.0', 'Monet Twilight', 'Cortez Burgundy', 'Carousel Red' and 'White
Christmas'; none of which are traditional red plants. This does not mean
everyone should grow these cultivars Á

because the participants in these studies are more typical
of the consumer who shops at independent garden centers. These results, along
with results from previous years, do show that this consumer is attracted to
the new and different. Also, notice there are traditional red cultivars in the
top selections of each study.

Often, some of the more interesting cultivars are among the
more difficult to produce. There should be no question that Sonora White
Glitter is very appealing to a large number of consumers; however, it finishes
late and, like all Jingle Bells types, has a significant amount of sporting.
Cortez Burgundy and Carousel Red also finish late in the sales period for most
growers, but both are very popular. Cortez Burgundy has been the hottest
cultivar with consumers over the past two years. Carousel has been one of the
strongest cultivars in consumer surveys for 4-5 years, and most of the growers
who are successful with it use black cloth to bring it in early. Because of the
special requirements of these three cultivars, growers who can black cloth for
early flowering can use these varieties to differentiate themselves in the
poinsettia market.

White Christmas often has the best white bract color in
consumer trials. While it finishes before the three late cultivars above, White
Christmas is still the latest of the white cultivars. It also has smaller
bracts than most other cultivars.

Jingle Bells 4.0 is a newer cultivar that many growers have
not seen. Important characteristics of this cultivar is that it naturally
finishes with 'Freedom Red', and it has much better bract appearance than
'Freedom Jingle Bells'. Jingle Bells 4.0 does not have the real strong branch
strength of most of the newer introductions, but it has been received well by
the consumers.

Monet Twilight is a perennial favorite with consumers, but
it is very vigorous and requires more exacting fertilization management. Many
mass-market growers are actually going away from Monet Twilight and using 'Da
Vinci' instead because it is so much easier to grow. These results again
illustrate that there are ways for independent retailers and Á smaller
growers to produce a product distinctly different from the poinsettia sold by
large chains.

Favorite Reds

In the Purdue and Florida studies, more focused tests where
participants were shown only a few cultivars were conducted. As presented in
Figures 5 and 6, above, consumers were shown a small group of red cultivars and
asked to pick their favorite three plants. Freedom Red, the dominate cultivar
in the market, was in the bottom half of the selections in both studies. In the
Purdue study, 'Orion Red' and 'Christmas Cookie' were the top two cultivars,
which illustrates the diversity in the preferences of consumers. Orion is one
of the industry's top cultivars and has the common blueish-red tint, while
Christmas Cookie has the brightest orange-red color of any commercial cultivar.

Among the top cultivars in the Florida study were 'Merlot'
and 'Chianti Red'. Both of these new cultivars have a deep, wine-red color and
have lower vigor than most cultivars. They do look different, as Chianti has
distinctive cyathia with multiple nectaries and deeply lobed leaves and bracts.
Unlike Winter Rose Dark Red, these two cultivars are probably not distinctive
enough from other red plants to warrant a premium price. The UF students sold
standard, single-plant, pinched, 61?2-inch red poinsettias for $7.50 and
other colors and specialty varieties for $10-$20. They could not get $10 for
Chianti. 'Olympus', the second-place finisher, is a new, interesting cultivar
with the bract color of Orion but slightly smaller leaves and bracts. The
bracts are held up in a horizontal plane.

Other Favorites

Figure 7, page 50, shows the results when Florida consumers
were asked to pick their top three from a group of different cultivars that
represented various types of poinsettias. The two top choices were very
distinctive. Ecke 54-99 is a new cultivar that is available in 2003 in only
limited quantities in a trial pack. It should be widely available in 2004. Ecke
54-99 has Á bright red bracts with white markings. While we might be
tempted to call this a Jingle Bell type, it is so distinctive is should be
classified as a novelty separate from Jingle Bells. Another version of this is
Ecke 6401, which has a bright pink background with white markings. Both will be
very popular with high-end consumers. The runner up, 'Holly Point', has very
low vigor. In the past two years, we grew Holly Point as a typical single-pinch
plant in a 6-inch pot, and this small plant did not attract much attention.
This year, the UF students put four cuttings in an 8-inch bulb pan, and those
were the plants shown to the consumers. Notice that Holly Point was the
number-four choice in Figure 1, page 44. The UF students sold plants that were
about 12 inches tall for $20-$25. Note the key to a successful Holly Point is
to pinch high and avoid a hard pinch.

In the Purdue study, shown in Figure 8, page 51, the
participants picked their favorites from a group of novelty cultivars. Their
choices reemphasize the appeal of Sonora White Glitter and Monet Twilight. The
third pick, 'Marblestar', has long been the best marble and ranks very high in
surveys when the plants look good.

The comparison shown in Figure 9, page 51, is the consumers'
preferences for a selection of pink cultivars. 'Freedom Pink' is an important
cultivar because it is in the Freedom family, and 'Maren' is the most widely
grown pink in the South. 'Santa Claus Pink' is a newer cultivar that has more
vigor than the others and produces larger bracts. 'Enduring Pink', which has
the same timing as Freedom Red, was the consumers' first choice and will likely
become an important variety in warmer climates.

The authors would like to thank the poinsettia breeders, technicians,
universities and all the poinsettia growers for their support. Special thanks
to technical support: Terri Kirk, Purdue University and Carolyn Bartuska,
University of Florida. Also thanks to White River Gardens, Indianapolis, Ind.:
Duane Martin, curator; Ken Breece and Susan Micks, gardeners; and Mary
Welch-Keesey, consumer horticulture specialist, Purdue University.

About The Author

Jim Barrett is a professor of floriculture and Rick Schoellhorn is an extension specialist at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.; Allen Hammer is a professor of floriculture at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.; and Joe Stoffregen is manager of Homewood Nursery, Raleigh, N.C.

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