Which Poinsettias do Consumers Prefer?

April 2, 2002 - 13:20

Looking for a few new poinsettia cultivars to try? Along with determining which are best for your climate or market, you should also consider what the consumers crave.

There are many new and different poinsettias being introduced; some think too many. Certainly, there are too many for one grower to produce. So how do you decide which cultivars to add to your selection?

In the February issue of GPN, we reviewed the extensive
trial data from Purdue University, North Carolina State University and the
University of Florida, recommending regionally specific cultivars and giving
advice about how to grow the latest and the greatest. But there are other
factors to consider when choosing a new cultivar, for example, what consumers

For years, our industry has debated about consumer
preference. It is common to hear growers indicate they need varieties that look
like ‘Freedom Red’ because that is what store buyers want. Though
Freedom has been the dominant variety for several years, the new poinsettia
varieties make us wonder if consumers actually prefer a different look and, if
given options, would they select a plant that looks like Freedom Red.

Consumer surveys were conducted at Purdue University and the University of Florida, and the results are presented here. While there are some differences in the details of the results, the general information generated by the two studies provides important information.

Some of the highly rated cultivars are not the easiest ones
to produce and will not be used by most growers. However, they offer
independent retailers and smaller growers a significant opportunity to produce
products that are distinctly different from the poinsettia sold by large
chains. For large growers selling to chains, the results indicate that
consumers do like some of the new varieties, such as ‘Prestige’,
that will become useful in these markets.

These trials would not be possible without support from the
breeders, our technicians, our universities, and all the poinsettia growers.
Special thanks to: Dummen USA, Fischer USA, Selecta Klemm/Horticulture
Marketing Associates, Oglevee Ltd. and Paul Ecke Ranch. We also extend thanks
for technical support to Terri Kirk, Purdue University; Carolyn Bartuska,
University of Florida; Duane Martin, curator, White River Gardens; Ken Breece
and Susan Micks, gardeners, White River Gardens; Mary Welch-Keesey, consumer
horticulture specialist, Purdue University.


Purdue University Trial

A group of 10 red, 10 novelty and 125 different cultivars of
poinsettias were displayed in the conservatory greenhouse at White River
Gardens, Indianapolis, Ind., from November 28 until December 29, 2001. Visitors
to the gardens were asked to rate the poinsettias as shown on the survey forms,
ranking the cultivars in each group as their first, second or third choice. The
group of 10 red and 10 novelty plants were labeled with a number from 1 to 10.
The 125 cultivars were labeled with cultivar name, breeder and year of consumer
introduction. We had 861, 1073 and 1239 survey forms completed for the 125
cultivars, red and novelty groups, respectively.

We have summarized the data in the figures that appear
throughout this article. The results are somewhat surprising; I certainly would
not have predicted the consumer responses we received.

While these results are interesting, they should not be used
as the final word in consumer preferences. The most accurate data will come
from your own trials, at which you can use this information when formulating
your own questions. In addition to the cultivars consumers selected, we
gathered another interesting piece of information from the data: There is
little difference between gender, age and purchase characteristics of the
consumers in the survey. We saw little difference in response between males and
females in their color preferences and in whether or not they purchased a
poinsettia last year. The data show a clear consumer preference in the first
choice of best cultivar; however, the second and third choices showed much more


Preference at Purdue

Overall Preference.
At our trials, there was a clear preference for novelty cultivars, with only
one “true” red cultivar making it into the top 10 (See Figure 2, page
48). I was amazed that consumers would show such a strong preference for
‘Sonora White Glitter’, ‘Monet Twilight’ and
‘Strawberries ‘N Cream’ when picking from such a large group
and wide range of cultivars. Monet Twilight has always received great comments
in our trial, with the often-asked question of “where can I buy
it?” Is there a message here? Á

I certainly found this preference somewhat surprising; on
the other hand, nearly all the cultivars I would pick as outstanding are on
this list, which is somewhat reassuring to all of us.

The consumer ratings for overall preference from the survey
of 125 cultivars is as follows.

Red Preference. This
survey was designed simply to ask consumers about their favorite red color. We
picked a range of red poinsettias to represent the different shading classes.
The plants were labeled with numbers from 1 through 10, with no cultivar identification indicated, although they were arranged in alphabetic order by cultivar name.
The results would suggest consumers prefer the brighter, truer red bract colors
(See Figure 1, page 46). ‘Strawberry Punch’, ‘Bright Red
Sails’ and ‘Success Red’ all have bright red bracts, and all
scored very high in our survey.

A couple of notable conclusions can be drawn from our
survey. First, orange-colored bracts did not attract consumer attention in this
survey; and second, the low placement of Freedom Red as a consumer’s
first choice in this survey should cause concern for those of us still
producing the bulk of our red crop in Freedom.

Novelty Preference.
Some will probably disagree with our choice of only 10 novelty cultivars, but
we tried to choose 10 “distinctive” types and chose a
representative of each. We were testing to see what type of novelty consumers
prefer. The composite of first-, second- and third-choice votes can be seen in
Figure 3, below.

The strong preference for Sonora White Glitter reflects its
number one ranking in the 125-cultivar survey. And the strong showings of
‘Carousel’, ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Holly
Point‘ certainly agree with consumer comments in previous years. One
novelty that did not show very well this year is Winter Rose. We might need to
ask ourselves if we’ve overdone ‘Winter Rose Dark Red’ among
consumers. Has it lost some of its unique appeal, and where did it get this
appeal in the first place?

With so many new cultivars coming onto the market every
year, many are wondering if we are creating the “shortened lifespan
syndrome.” Should we be careful to avoid overselling a novelty? It may be
a combination of uniqueness and “hard-to-find-ness.”

As with the overall preference rating, there is little
variation between the scores of cultivars chosen as a third choice. This
suggests to me that consumers were particularly drawn to some novelties and
marked those as their first choice, but that they had no clear preference about
the remaining types. Also remember, these plants were only labeled with
numbers; therefore, the consumer was not affected by name in their choice.


University of Florida Trial

For the fourth year, we invited the public to the University
of Florida poinsettia trials the day after the industry field day. This year,
there were 316 participants that completed the surveys. Of this group, 63
percent females; and 40 percent were less than 36 years old, 27 percent were
between the ages of 36 and 55, and 32 percent were over 55 years old. We asked
respondents where they purchased poinsettias: 27 percent said they did so at
grocery stores, 41 percent at local nurseries, 8 percent at florists, 36
percent at home improvement stores, 32 percent at discount chains and 12
percent from charities.

All plants were displayed in the greenhouse. Lighting does
affect the appearance of poinsettias, so this is a factor that should be part
of your selection process. For the studies depicted in Figures 4-10, the plants
were set up on separate benches and were not named. It is a little surprising,
but the results showed very few differences based on gender, age or where
poinsettias were purchased.


Preference at University of Florida

Overall Preference.
Participants were asked to pick their top 10 cultivars from the 115 in the
study (See Figure 7, page 51). These plants were labeled by name. In a study
like this, there are many factors that can affect the results, and by picking
10, the participants can include ones that they would not include in other
studies that allow them to pick fewer.

With about half of the cultivars being red, you would expect
the numbers to be widely spread across the reds, but this is not the case. Our
study shows a definite preference toward novelty varieties. With all of the
interest in the new cultivars, it is interesting to see ‘Monet
Twilight’ at the top of this list. Year after year, it is always one of
the highest-rated cultivars, and it was the second cultivar in the Purdue
study. Sonora White Glitter is also rated very high in both the Florida and Purdue
studies, which indicates the potential strength of that new cultivar. In four
years of doing this survey, this is the first Jingle Bells-type to beat out
‘Sonora Jingle’. The other Jingle Bells that did well was
‘Jingle Bells 4.0’. Plum Pudding and ‘Cortez Burgundy’
did well in both the Florida and Purdue trials. Note that Winter Rose Dark Red
was rated fourth in this part of the survey where the participants picked 10
cultivars but was much lower where they only picked 3 plants (See Figures 1 and
3, pages 46 and 48). ‘Marblestar’ is normally in the top 10 of this
study, but this year ‘Santa Claus Marble’ was the first marble-type
to be ranked higher. The highest-ranking reds were ‘Max Red’ and
‘V-07B’; two cultivars with a much nicer red color than traditional

The ranking for overall preference in a mixed trial of 115
cultivars is as follows. Please note the difference in evaluation methods
between the Purdue and University of Florida surveys, which means that the
results from the two studies are not comparable.

Red Preference.
These plants in this group represented 12 different plant forms and shades of
red. Participants were asked to select the plants they would purchase if buying
three poinsettias. The highest-rated plant, ‘V-07B’, (See Figure 4,
page 50 has bright red bracts with large, bright yellow centers, which is
distinctly different from other commercial cultivars. The second most popular
plant was ‘Chianti’. This is a novelty with a much deeper red color
than other cultivars and deeply lobed bracts and leaves. Additionally, the
unusual cyathia are large with prominent bright orange edges and do not develop
pollen. Chianti was number 32-2000 in the 2001 trials. The plants that had a
“standard” poinsettia appearance were Prestige, ‘Red Velvet’
and Freedom. It is good to see the favorable position of Prestige, since its
Á use is expanding rapidly. The position of Freedom as one of the
lower-ranked plants is similar to the 2000 survey, when the consumers selected
plants with brighter red color over Freedom. Red Velvet and Prestige received
their highest rating from the individuals who purchased plants at florists.

Appearance Preference.
Participants were asked to select three plants they would purchase from these
12 representing several of the different appearances and styles of poinsettias.
Freedom Red represents the standard red plant in this group, V-07B is the plant
with brighter red color, and ‘Christmas Cookie’ is the plant with
orange red bracts. Note that Winter Rose Dark Red is near the bottom of the
list here (See Figure 5, page 50), and it was the fifth plant among the reds in
Figure 4. In previous years, Winter Rose Dark Red was one of the
highest-selected plants. This may indicate that it is reaching the peak of its
product life cycle and that consumers are starting to look for something newer
in novelty reds. It is interesting that even the lowest-rated plant was
selected by 10 percent of the participants, which shows the diversity in what
consumers like. In this group, females rated ‘Marblestar’ and
‘Christmas Candy’ higher than did the males, and males rated
‘White Christmas’ and Christmas Cookie higher than did the females.
Participants that shopped at florists rated Christmas Candy and Marblestar
higher than did the other groups.

Peppermint Preference.
Participants were asked to pick out the plant they like the most from these
relatively new peppermint type poinsettias. Christmas Candy was the clear
favorite here with ‘Da Vinci’ second (See Figure 6, page 50). Da
Vinci flowers early, and Candy is late midseason timing.

Dark Red Preference.
This is a direct comparison of a typical red plant in Freedom Red and a novel
Á red in Chianti. Participants were asked to pick the one they
preferred. In talking to participants, the majority preferred standard red
poinsettias (See Figure 8, page 53). Some of them described themselves as
traditionalist; these are the one-third of respondents that picked Freedom. The
preference for Chianti was greater for females than for males.

Red vs. Orange. It
is common in the industry to hear that “Americans do not like orange
poinsettias; Europeans prefer orange.” This is a comparison of three
shades of red. Christmas cookie is the most orange-red poinsettia on the
market. While it is true that many consumers will look at an orange-red plant
and say they do not like it, these results show that a significant number of
these participants preferred the brighter orange color (See Figure 9, page 53).
The fact that ‘Peterstar Red’ and ‘Success Red’ are important cultivars should indicate that not all American consumers dislike orange-red cultivars.

Cortez Burgundy vs. Plum Pudding style='font-weight:normal'>. These are two new colors, both having created
considerable interest in a side-by-side comparison. That two-thirds of the
participants preferred Cortez Burgundy shows how striking this cultivar is (See
Figure 10, page 53). This study was in a greenhouse where the Burgundy looks
best; Plum Pudding displays better under interior lighting. Growers should
probably treat these as two separate colors and decide independently whether to
use one, both or neither. Cultural requirements for Plum Pudding are a little
different from most other poinsettia cultivars.


What does it mean?

The abundance of novelty cultivars at the top of both
studies indicates that “traditional” values did not take over the
poinsettia market this year and that growers who are not producing some of the
more interesting new cultivars are probably missing sales. Small growers will
still want to be selective about their variety and choose only a few cultivars
to tackle, but growers with more space should begin experimenting with some of
the new novelties.

Our studies indicate that there are clear opportunities for
those growers who want to differentiate their product and take advantage of the
consumer’s demand for unique poinsettias. Beware, though; many of these
new cultivars are challenging to grow, and successful production requires
attention to the needs of each cultivar.

About The Author

Jim Barrett is a professor and Rick Schoellhorn is an associate professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla; Allen Hammer is a professor at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. They may be reached by phone at (352) 392-1831 or E-mail at rksch@mail.ifas.ufl.edu.

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