The Rest of the Trials

June 9, 2005 - 10:05

New varieties aren’t the only draw to Pack Trials. Find out about the industry’s latest trends and newest directions in vegetative plants.

With so many new plant introductions every year it starts to get a little difficult to get excited about another shade of red geranium, an impatiens that is a quarter of an inch shorter or another day length “neutral” petunia. 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 pages 26 and 38 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.

Marketing Trends

After years of marketing, marketing and more marketing, it was nice to see the vegetative companies take a little break this year. That’s not to detract from Proven Winners’ (PW) display of new ways to use their brand at retail or Ball FloraPlant’s reinvented Simply Beautiful, which includes new tags, labels and POP materials to support the new tagline “Expect Success.” But what we saw this year was a switch from everyone generating brands to companies creating programs to help growers.

Both PW and Fischer USA capitalized on this trend by developing marketing programs to extend the traditional spring season. PW’s Spring Magic consists of frost-tolerant plants that are ideal for early season sales. Spring Magic is a limited collection of blooming and colorful plants offered in mixed containers only to Gold Key and select grower/retailers. Despite its great tag, which sits above foliage and carries the tagline “Take me outside I’ll survive” and what will undoubtedly be stellar advertising support, PW is going to have an uphill battle with this program, both in training gardeners to shop this time of year and in convincing them to buy plants with a 4- to 6-week lifespan. Fischer’s Beat the Heat collection is a little more simple. It is composed of heat-tolerant plants that will thrive in the hot and humid conditions of late summer. Sold under the Goldfisch brand, tagging includes a Beat the Heat sign, but the program was designed to help growers identify which plants to grow this time of year, not make consumers buy more plants.

Probably the most innovative new program this year is Selecta First Class’ High Density designation. This is not a marketing/merchandising program and does not even extend through to the consumer. You will find the High Density logo in Selecta’s catalogues, Web site and other grower-marketing materials but not on plant tags. High Density simply means that Selecta has reviewed its offerings and determined those marked with High Density to be suitable for close spacing in production. It’s a way to let growers know they can make more money on those varieties by growing them at close spacing.

Crop Trends

The most notable crop trend with vegetative suppliers continues to be companies filling in their offerings with all the standard vegetative crops in hopes of becoming a one-stop shop. Practically everyone, with the exception of Jackson & Perkins and Oglevee Ltd., now has the “vegetative basics”: osteo, nemesia, diasca, petunia, calibrachoa, etc. Even Fides North America, which had been a potted plant company, has added snapdragons and calibrachoas. This means that the most numerous introductions this year were crops such as petunias, verbenas, geraniums and New Guinea impatiens. We didn’t notice a single company that failed to add at least some of these standards.

In talking with growers at the Pack Trials, we heard mixed reactions about the idea of a one-stop shop. Some hoped that buying more product from one supplier would give deeper discounts; others said the introductions would not sway them from what they already know. One thing is for sure, the genetics are getting substantially better in vegetative crops, and while we have a way to go before we reach the standard set by seed, it’s getting harder and harder to jump into the game with just any old genetics.

As far as specific crops, probably the most numerous was osteos. For the second year in a row, everyone seemed to be introducing osteos. Fischer introduced the Tradewinds series, Cohen Propagation Nurseries introduced the Serenity series and Selecta introduced the Kenai series, not to mention that PW, Ball and Selecta all added varieties to existing series. There were at least 25 new osteo varieties introduced just this year, with an emphasis on the interspecific Symphony type. This is a great crop that often brings high margins, and the breeding emphasis is welcome, as many of the older series are variable and vigorous (see page 32 for more information).

There were a few notable crop oddities in this year’s exhibits. Everyone was talking about Bodger Botanical’s Giant Spinner gerbera series. The flowers on these very vigorous plants are as big as 6 inches across. And while the flowers certainly grabbed attention, we couldn’t help wondering about shipping and season-long interest. This is definitely one for grower/retailers and might even be best in mixed containers, as there is little interest to the plant when not in bloom. The other unexpected introduction came from EuroAmerican Propagators through the Proven Selections brand: foliage plants. Yes, you read correctly, Euro introduced two: banana plants and dieffenbachia. They are nice plants, but you could get practically the same thing on any street corner in Florida, so we couldn’t resist asking why. You know Euro; they asked why not. With all the emphasis on tropicals it seemed to them like a natural extension to fill out their product line…here comes that one-stop shop again.

Other popular crops this year were diascia, with two new series and eight color additions; lobelia, with one new series and five new color additions; lantana, with two new series and four new color additions; and lots of perennials.
And if all this sounds like a lot of new introductions, there were. While the number was down from last year, our best estimate is approximately 750 new varieties (both vegetative and seed)…and that’s just from the companies exhibiting at the California Pack Trials. When you figure in international and non-exhibiting companies, the total will go well over 1,000.

Alliances

Instead of company alliances, this year we saw companies staying more to themselves. No major alliances were announced, and two companies Á were conspicuously marketing their own material instead of a competitor’s. Ball introduced a line of calibrachoas from its own breeding instead of Kirin’s, which is now marketed exclusively by its offspring Fides. Ecke Ranch has also replaced Goldsmith Seeds’ vegetative verbenas, which are now marketed exclusively by Fischer under the Goldfisch brand, with newly acquired lines from multiple international sources.

The one possible exception might be Ecke and Sakata Seed America forming a closer relationship. As in the past, Ecke continues to market a large part of Sakata’s vegetative material, and with Sakata recently hiring former Ecke employee Ron Cramer, Pack Trials was abuzz with speculation about a possible merger. The two companies stress that the personnel exchange is just coincidence and that the companies are just good friends, no merger in sight.

The other interesting development announced at Pack Trials involved a clearer distinction between Twyford International and Fides. In the past, the two sister companies had divided genetics from parent company Kirin, with Twyford offering some of the products from tissue culture and Fides offering the others from cuttings. Now, the two companies are being divided along product lines, with Twyford offering foliage products and Fides offering color products. It’s a much clearer distinction and will make marketing efforts and grower relations much easier.

That’s about it for the vegetative varieties. As you can see, Pack Trials was pretty quiet this year — no major announcements, no really good gossip. Next month’s coverage will focus on some very interesting programs and developments on the seed side, where after several years of taking a back stage to vegetative, the companies are really starting to step up.

About The Author

Carrie Burns is managing editor, Catherine Evans is associate editor and Bridget White is editorial director of GPN. They can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1019 or E-mail at cburns@sgcmail.com.

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