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Saturday, October 25, 2014 Vol. 78 No. 6


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Cover Story
A Flair for the Flavorful
| Christina Salwitz
  
>> Published Date: 3/26/2013
 
Welcome to your three-part tour of the most successful and new ideas for courting the edibles customer. To start, we will review what the experts have prescribed for a foundation of success with edibles in general with a main focus on the beginner. Then, we’ll dive into what the intermediate edibles gardener is looking for from the garden center. And we’ll end up with innovative ideas that may surprise and excite you, with flair for the partygoers in all of us! 

Your Edibles Journey Begins Here
Industry experts have been saying garden retailers need to promote edibles for the last 10 years. Have we been listening and acting fast enough to accommodate the young, eager, beginning edible gardener?

Just one example of an excellent opportunity for all gardeners, from beginners to experts, is blueberries like two of the new BrazelBerries branded patio pot plants from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery. In fact, Chris MacLaggan, nursery sales manager at Fall Creek says according to their research, the fastest-growing demographic buying blueberries are those ages 18 to 29. So it could be a “starter plant” for the younger generations.

The values driving purchasers to blueberry plant sales are similar to many edibles: health aspects, versatility, new varieties and the practicality of edible landscaping. Blueberries and other edibles are no longer relegated to a small area on the side of the house, they are the landscaping. Borders of annuals mixed with lettuce and berries rather than impatiens and petunias are the future.


And according to Centerton Nursery in New Jersey, they’re growing triple the amount of Chef Jeff herbs and vegetables after a highly successful pilot program in 2012. The pilot program had 60 varieties, which included tomatoes, peppers, squash, some fruits and a line of common herbs. The program for 2013 is offering nearly 200 varieties and production numbers have increased on all line items.

“We’re projecting Chef Jeff will be even more successful in 2013 than it was in 2012,” says Centerton President Donald Blew. “The response was great. Chef Jeff is something that is catching ground in the industry quick and it shows.”

Grower Lloyd Traven from Peace Tree Farm had this to say about edibles gardeners: “In the last tumultuous years both socially and economically, our safe cocoon was shattered in many ways. Growing our own food gives us back a sense of control over our environment, security, consciousness and emotional drive. Garden centers and growers are uniquely positioned to feed the need to connect with the earth via the knowledge, confidence and ability that we can bestow. We can make it ‘not hard’ and even more important, normal to grow your own food rather than hit the drive-thru on the way home from work. The demographics that support people moving toward urbanization and walking communities foster these ideas. Young gardeners are the ultimate in practicality today. When they look at any plant now, they are asking, ‘What does it DO?’”

Peace Tree Farms grows many edible plants that are also beautiful in the landscape. One example is the Giant Black Japanese Mustard. Beautiful and edible!

Advancing Edibles
The next level of edibles customer has been gardening for a while with some success. They know what they need to do to get the job done each season. Now they want to be impressed with new and different plant selections, and new methods to increase yield and combine edibles and ornamentals. They’re going to be socializing with like-minded gardeners and sharing purchasing information on the latest and greatest that they find in the nursery.

Burpee Home Gardens realized this and introduced its collection of BOOST vegetables, which have improved nutritional values, and Bumper Crop grafted tomatoes with greater yields. For example, its Cherry Punch tomato has 40% more lycopene than the average garden tomato, and Solar Power tomato packs three times the amount of beta-carotene than the average tomato.

The intermediate edibles gardener is more likely interested in perfecting the art of starting seeds in a greenhouse, cold frame or indoors, with more advanced lighting. They’re going to be well versed in what it takes to compost properly, advanced watering methods, soil biology for organic gardening, worm bins and possibly dabbling in livestock.

The intermediate gardener is going to be aware of the social and economic implications of contributing to organizations such as Ample Harvest. They are also keenly aware of what heirloom seeds and GMO plants mean for their seed and plant-starting choices.

The Foodie Revolution
Part three of this tour: foodies! The foodie and Garden to Table Revolution are upon us in full force.

Edible Gardener’s Clubs, Farm to Table events, cooking demonstrations, chef’s gardens on the top of restaurants, television show like PBS’s “Growing A Greener World,” canning and preserving, the White House Victory Garden, and the homesteading movement are just a few of the hottest ideas for the future of edibles.

The latest idea to hit the market, however, takes edibles to a new realm. As we approach growing our food for a number of different reasons—from organics, to non-GMO or just simply for better nutrition—we can’t ignore the new (or old, depending on how you look at it) categories of teas, infusions, medicinals and liquor. Yes, you read that correctly, liquor.

Amy Stewart’s latest book to hit the gardening community is inspired by using plants you grow to create cocktails. After three New York Times Best Sellers (“Wicked Bugs,” “Wicked Plants” and “Flower Confidential”), the cofounder of the popular blog Garden Rant and contributing editor at Fine Gardening writes what might her most popular book yet, “The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks” from Algonquin Books.

Alice Doyle, owner of Log House plants in Portland, Oregon, along with Amy Stewart have created an intoxicating partnership to complement the book. Six collections of “Cocktail Gardening”-themed plants will be available in jumbo 6-packs, 4-in., and 1-gal. sizes, all of which come with specially printed labels based on the artwork from “The Drunken Botanist.”

Log House also has created an impressive collection of 60 grafted tomatoes that are SO popular and a page that they call “Believe it or Not Vegetables” and another page featuring ornamental cucumbers and some specialty kale that is beautiful.

Just imagine packs of plants put together for a particular themed cocktail and not with just any old plants either—these are some plants you won’t see side by side together from anyone else. For example; The “Old Havana Rum Garden” will have Alpine Strawberry Golden Alexandria, Lemongrass, Lemon Verbena and Cuban Mojito mint all together. Or the “Farmer’s Market Vodka Garden” with Tomato Red Current (an unusual small wishbone-clustering tomato that holds on to its fruit to full ripening), a Slow Bolting cilantro, a pepper named Fireball and the ultimate swizzle stick—a red celery!

In addition to the plants themselves, retailers can take advantage of a “social media tool kit” with recipes, growing tips, photographs and videos that Amy filmed in her own cocktail garden to support the collection. Alice says: “We’re giving them a list of resources that retailers can grab and download anytime they want. So we’re not just supplying the plants, we’re supplying the marketing tools, too.” This new idea presents a set of tools for garden centers to springboard from in fun and unique ways. Territorial Seed is even offering up a gift set that includes Amy Stewart’s book with the plants for a cocktail recipe.

The plants are available now via mail order through the Territorial Seed Company, and Log House Plants is offering them to West Coast retailers this spring and will soon be in many gourmet markets, too. This is a fresh new opportunity to display and sell the entire “lifestyle” idea of growing and creating with the food. The plant tags are beautiful and distinctive with lots of recipes to accompany the book.

With books, recipes, taste-testing events, patio displays that include pitchers, glassware, linens, mixers, cocktail tools, party supplies, condiments and container displays of plants, this is an opportunity to take the edibles market to the next level to the customer with an appetite for spending on edibles.


Edibles Success!
Here are the top 5 concepts that lead to success in creating an appetite for sales in the edibles category.
  • Don't underestimate how much the edible customer's purchasing power can affect a WIDE range of product lines and departments–from the obvious soils, seeds, starts, fertilizers and tools to décor and home accessories.
  • Failing to incorporate programs that include kids AND grandparents will mean missing easy edibles success in the future. You’re creating the next generation of customers with edibles and there are ever increasing numbers of grandparents as full-time caregivers. Multi-generational living situations are becoming much more common as well. 
  • The edibles purchaser is thinking about or already has containers, raised beds or vertical space for growing edibles either on the patio or deck and balcony space. It's no longer a simple pot of herbs on the kitchen window sill, though it's smart to have PLENTY of those herb combinations pre-made at a great price point, too.
  • Edibles-focused nursery customers are eager to see high-quality edibles displays planted in the garden center that may also include ornamentals. Just because they want to see veggies growing in real time doesn't mean they don't care if they look nice. These discerning customers look at Pinterest, Tumblr and photos in books and websites like Organic Gardening, Martha Stewart and P. Allen Smith with professionally designed gardens for inspiration.
  • Sales to new edibles customers are about beginning relationships; they need more information early on to get started. They require consistent mid-season support to recognize when it’s time to transition to purchasing the next set of seeds and starts. And finally, they require high-quality harvesting information. GP

Christina Salwitz, a container designer and horticulture industry speaker, runs The Personal Garden Coach in Renton, Washington. She can be reached at personalgardencoach@comcast.net.



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