Food Forum: Business is blooming!

Properly managed, bedding plants can provide a boost to the bottom line.

By P. Allen Smith

pallensmithWant to jump start seasonal sales this spring? Add a nice mix of bedding plants, flowering annuals and vegetable starts to the front of the store. When displayed well and properly cared for, they present an impulse purchase opportunity that few customers can resist taking home.

In the supermarket channel there are three opportunities in which to sell bedding plants. The largest market by far is the spring season. Sales peaks are driven by weather and commence on the first warm days with most sales occurring within the first four to six weeks of spring. We have found that “what’s in bloom’” sells—not “what’s almost in bloom.” Customers are drawn to the beauty of the bloom and bold color.

Summer is becoming a larger market share because consumers want instant color and larger, more fully-grown plants. Larger, fuller containers are also more desirable in summer. An added bonus is that they are easier to care for and display by the retailer. This market change is promoted by landscape firms for commercial or institutional customers—and the late gardener.

Unfortunately, the supermarket is usually not the ideal place to sell bedding plants. Most sales will be impulse buys, and the merchandise has to look good. That is why daily attention to care is important to maintain the best looking plants. Lack of watering or drought stress is a huge cause of plant decline and most under-watered plants will not recover and look good enough to be sellable. Know where to display them and provide easy access to water and some protection from wind and sun. Designate employees to monitor the plants several times a day. If handled properly the profit margins can be good for retailers.

Fall ahead
Development of cold tolerant bedding plants has fueled fall sales especially for the Southeast region of the country. Some producers of annual color or edibles, such as Proven Winners or Berry Family of Nurseries, have a fall program for retailers. With greater interest among consumers for growing their own vegetables and herbs, a well-stocked supply will be appealing to consumers. Look into sourcing from a strong grower, like Bonnie Plants, which makes regular deliveries.

Find suppliers in the area, such as local nurseries or greenhouse and garden centers that sell wholesale. Find one that can deal with high volume quickly and can offer the special requirements supermarkets need. Perhaps if they are close enough they will help with monitoring, pruning and removing dead plants on a daily basis when you purchase from them. Purchasing locally will also help alleviate problems with scheduling shipments in and the changeable weather. It is easier to deal with early or late seasonal weather changes and it helps to become a weatherman of sorts and try to anticipate the arrival of spring.
When choosing plants to buy or when checking them upon shipment arrival make sure that they have a good root system, neither pot bound or just barely a root system. They should have healthy foliage with no yellow leaves, the soil should be damp not dry or soaked and they should have no sign of pests or diseases.

Choose value over bargain rates. Most gardeners are pretty self-sufficient when preparing the vegetable garden, but they are attracted by adding color with bedding plants or adding herbs that are not in their usual garden prep routine. Keep it simple and focus on the high season. Avoid anything that is unusual or novel. Keep a range of the most common, easily grown annuals in a range of colors—less is more. Consider perhaps some mixed hanging baskets that can be easily displayed, or some potted bulbs. Keep them cool, but not freezing.

If you have some extra room consider a minor amount of ‘go withs’ that the customer may need or like—perhaps some bags of soil, or some options for fertilizer. Maybe some hand garden tools that can be merchandised close to some ribbon and tissue, or gifts bags and cards to help consumers make an easy last-minute colorful gift.

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