New and Profitable Container Sizes

October 3, 2003 - 06:38

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's
growth in order to meet a specific consumer demand, capitalize on space in
order to ameliorate shipping cost, and dictate price for buyers who are more
concerned 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 of
different dimensions as they become available.

Most growers use 4-inch, 1-gal., and standard basket
containers; however, there are some irregular sizes out there that might be
more effective. The 5-inch (or 1-liter), 18-pack landscaping tray and 306
premium 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., uses
a 5-inch container for New Guinea impatiens, kalanchoe, gerbera daisies,
lisianthas, geraniums, exacum, ornamental peppers and, occasionally, double

By using the 5-inch, American Farms is able to cater to a
new market. "There are certain items, [such as] 1-gal. kalanchoes, that
just 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 or
decorative plant. The gallons have more of a landscape mentality." For
consumers who might shy away from a cumbersome, 1-gal., yet crave something
more spacious than a 4-inch, the 5-inch is perfect.

The pricing is also important, as it helps growers take
advantage of their buyer's emphasis on size. "Too often, [buyers] equate
size 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 impatiens
and 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 per
dollar." By upgrading in container size, the grower can avoid the
stereotyping of particular plants to particular pots and, in doing so, enjoy a
greater profit.

Downgrading in container size has a similar effect:
"For a 5-inch and a 1-gallon," Pugh says, "there's a substantial
size difference and perceived difference, but there isn't much difference in
the price point. If I'm getting roughly $1.50-$1.70 on one item, I might be
getting $1.70-$1.90 on the other item...even though [the gallon] looks twice as
big!" These small price increments allow the grower to sell a
significantly smaller plant for an insignificantly smaller price. Whether
upgrading from a 4-inch or downgrading from a 1-gal., the plant in the 5-inch
may experience a slight margin increase, which allows you to include some
extras, such as improved genetics.

The 5-inch's biggest advantage, however, might also be its
biggest disadvantage. While sales for the 1-gal. and 4-inch generally reach
high numbers, sales for the 5-inch Á remain small. "It's just a
little bit more unique," Pugh says. "Many growers are doing billions
of gallons and billions of 41/2-inch, and the price point has just been pounded
into the ground. But the 5-inch is kind of in between and keeps things
balanced." Instead of shooting up and down in demand, the 5-inch is able
to find its niche and stay there. That fact alone might be enough for some
growers. "We've been able to hold that margin," Pugh remarks.
"It's one of the shining spots in the dismal pricing structure in our

The Landscaper Tray

"The 18-pack is a shuttle tray that normally holds 18
4-inch pots, except that we put the soil directly into the tray," says
Paul Gehrke, head grower at Hines Horticulture, Miami, Fla. Like most growers,
Hines uses a variety of container sizes, but finds the 18-pack landscaper tray
especially suitable for impatiens, begonias, pansies, marigolds, salvia and
petunias. "Whatever the key landscape plant is for that month, we'll grow
it," Gehrke says.

By eliminating 4-inch pots and planting directly into the
tray, the 18-pack capitalizes on space. "It gives value to the
consumer," Gehrke says. "They get a 4-inch plant at a flat price of
about 50 cents per plant at retail." The grower also profits by making more
money per square foot, and even the employees reap the Á benefits of the
saved space. "Instead of filling 18 individual little pots, we just push
the tray through the flat filler," says Gehrke. "So it really does
help with our efficiency."

However, growing plants in such close proximity to one
another 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 look
like a 4-inch and not like an undersized six-pack. It's easy to make little
tiny balls, but they may never grow or perform for the consumer. You're always
walking the line between too much growth regulator, meaning the plant doesn't
grow, or not enough [growth regulator] and [the plant] falls apart."
Adjusting to the different growth habits imposed by a new container can be
difficult and time-consuming. Therefore, growers will need to consider these
challenges before committing a new container size.

However, growers should know beforehand about the
ramifications of producing in bulk. "The plant has to work," Gehrke
says, "so we just do the basic bread and butter items...You obviously
wouldn't put sunflowers in there, or a really tall plant. You have to be very
selective about what goes in there."

The Premium Pack

Two years ago, PanAmerican Seed's Easy Wave Petunias were
introduced with the Premium Pack in mind, and now the container is being pushed
for 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 inches
deep. Jerry Gorchels, technical product representative for PanAmerican Seed
Co., West Chicago, Ill., recommends them for vincas, impatiens, marigolds,
abutilon, coleus, petunias, New Guinea impatiens and many of the new foliage
plants. "When you want to get the maximum value out of a seed item, you
put it in a larger container," Gorchels says.

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

Differentiation is one of the best strategies on the market
because it allows both retailers and growers to stand out from the norm.
"I'm a firm believer in greenhouses trialing different culture regimes
before growing the whole crop a certain way," Gorshels says. "Do some
small numbers to see how it performs...[then decide] how you're going to have
to change your culture for this larger container." The premium pack is
certainly unique compared to other containers on the market, and growers should
educate themselves about it beforehand in order to give it a good shot. For
example, 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 to
growing in premium packs -- differentiation attracts new customers, the large
soil volume securely anchors the plants to prevent tippage, and profits
increase by having fewer material investments per square foot. "The
biggest thing, though, is the value," Gorshels says. "It's a win-win
situation both for the grower and the consumer."

Final Thoughts

The 5-inch, the 18-pack tray and the premium cell pack all
highlight important aspects of the growing process. The 5-inch caters to a new clientele
and exploits the buyer's emphasis on size, the 18-pack shows both the pros and
the cons of capitalizing on space, and the premium pack illustrates the
importance of differentiation in the market.

Using new or differently sized containers can not only save
a few bucks but make a few, by standing out both because of their uniqueness
and 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 from
the grower to the retailer to the consumer, there's one thing that's clear --
container size matters.

About The Author

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

Leave A Comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.