– Brandi D. Thomas
Reprinted from Greenhouse Product News, June 2002
The winner of the GPN/MasterTag Marketing Innovation Award shows us that plants sold in chain stores don’t have to become commodities when the brand is geared to not only sell itself, but differentiate both grower and retailer.
If you’ve been keeping up with our Marketing Innovation Award Series, reading about the progenitor of this year’s winning program after the May issue may make you believe we’ve got herb fever. It just so happens that some of the best marketing programs out there are targeted toward herbs. Our winner, Altman Plants, has capitalized on perhaps the most effective campaign any grower can use as a framework for their marketing programs: lifestyle.
– Brandi D. Thomas
If you were an herb grower looking to start a marketing program, it would probably feel natural to utilize practical use information on your POP materials because herbs are something common to most individuals’ everyday lives.They’re dashed into foods, their scents emanate from our showers as we wash our hair, they are hung upside down from our gardens for later use. There are shelves upon shelves of books available on aromatherapy and holistic herb therapies, and scores of companies producing herbal supplements claiming charlatan-like remedies that don’t yet have FDA approval.
Herbs are much more a part of our lifestyle, in the way their many uses and forms — and advertising — saturate our quotidian lives, than gardening itself is. This lends itself well to the effectiveness of an herb grower’s marketing program. Traditional gardening, however, is arguably part of the lifestyle of only the segment of the population that can either afford it, has the time for it, or both. For those growers of annuals and perennials out there, that may just mean you’ll have to be a little more creative. For those who succeed, GPN and MasterTag will be watching you.
If you’ve been keeping up with our Marketing Innovation Award Series, reading about the progenitor of this year’s winning program after the May issue may make you believe we’ve got herb fever. But we assure you that’s not the case; it just so happens that some of the best marketing programs Á out there are targeted toward herbs. While Colorado-based runner-up Welby Gardens categorizes their herb line by hardiness, embellished with details on usage and historical information (see the May issue of GPN for complete details), our winner, Altman Plants, has capitalized on perhaps the most effective campaign any grower can use as a framework for their marketing programs: lifestyle.
The VIVA! Diva and the beginning of an image
Four years ago, Deena Altman saw something that many before her had seen, but envisioned it in a new way. She saw herbs planted in nondescript pots with small, simple white stick labels. They were uninspiring commodity, to say the least. Meanwhile, sales were skyrocketing for herb-derived products — from herbal soaps to supplements — whose glory and high prices were based on the marketing of the very herbs that went virtually unnoticed in garden center pots.
“We felt that the herb category had a lot of potential that was not being utilized. It seemed natural that the plants, if marketed well, would also be popular with consumers. People would be willing to pay more for a well-packaged herb that could be a gift or sit on their windowsill. An herb with complete instructions both for care and use, as well as being attractively packaged, would command more attention and have higher value.”
Deena was on to something. She needed a name that would effectively convey the wellness aspect that was rapidly becoming associated with herbs, and came up with “VIVA!,” the Spanish verb that means something akin to “live!” or “live on!” in English. This name had recognition in the marketplace, but had never been associated with herbs, so Altman plants trademarked it. “It’s a name that resonates with the growing Latin market as well as the mainstream market,” Deena explains.
Next was the image. She divided the herbs into understandable, color-coded categories with attractive, upscale icons targeted to the female gardener. “We are definitely trying to convey an upscale look that is attractive to the female consumer, Deena says. “The colors are muted, the icons are fun, detailed and whimsical. The palette of colors feels like it is from the same family. The terra cotta plastic pot has a matching print in a muted color so the whole package will fit into any kitchen or house décor. We also have banners and bench talkers that repeat the category icons and colors.”
Striking visuals are precisely the reason this program is being honored as most innovative. “The packaging elements of pot and label were coordinated to stand out at the retail level,” explains MasterTag’s Joe Fox. “The labeling has unique visual appeal, from the font style to the graphic representations on the tags. The other significant, strong element is the comprehensive retail display, which includes the display benches and coordinated, complete POP, for an organized, stylish look that effectively sets these products apart from the ‘average’ plant offering.”
VIVA! Culinary herb tags are terra cotta, Tea herbs are green, Health and Beauty are blue, Aromatics are golden, Pet herbs are aqua and Scented Geraniums are lavender. The last two categories — Pet and Scented Geraniums — were integrated in the second and fourth years Á of the program, respectively. Each tag icon is cartoon-like and fun and features a 1- to 2-sentence description of the herb category or specific type of herb. The backs of the tags discuss the herbs’ properties at more length, including the habits and scents of the plants and their traditional uses. They also provide the care information necessary for the consumer to get the most out of their herbs.
The categories that Altman chose seemed to be the most logical for defining herbs according to their use. This year, 72 different herbs make up the entire VIVA! line; this number varies as Altman adds new varieties and subtracts others that either don’t sell well or are replaced by improved breeding. In order of profitability, the Culinary herbs sell the most, followed by Tea, Aromatic, Heath and Beauty, and Pet. Scented Geraniums were just introduced this year. Altman sells about $2 million of the VIVA! Herbs line annually, with retail price points ranging from $1.47-1.99 for a 4 1/4-inch pot, and up to $2.57 for a 1-quart pot.
Branding for the boxes
If you had to guess who Altman’s customers were based on the image they convey, you might guess independent garden centers. But this is where Welby Gardens, whose customers are exclusively independents, and Altman Plants part ways: Altman’s primary customers are discount merchandisers and home improvement stores. When they started the business 25 years ago, their wholesale business was with independent garden centers. The business environment soon changed, however, and growth came from the large chain stores that rapidly moved into California. “We made a conscious decision early on to partner with these large companies and grow with them. At first, and for many years, the discount marketplace concentrated on price and value in the garden center to grow and establish their business. But in the last five years or so the garden center business has been so well-established by these retailers that they are now looking for more margin and differentiation. It is this opportunity to create more value, and develop more of a destination environment and excitement at the garden center, where a company like ours can make a difference,” Deena says.
Making a difference, according to Altman, consists of providing its customers with original and exciting programs that improve their offerings to gardeners. It means they want their customers to look to them for solutions and complete, effective marketing ideas as well as quality, merchandising and fulfillment. It means establishing a good customer relationship. Some growers might feel like their plants won’t be cared for once they reach a big-box customer, but Altman Plants works with the retailer by using their own merchandisers to help keep displays fresh.
Investing in their own marketing program has given Altman both control and confidence. Deena believes that grower-level marketing programs afford great advantages: “The grower can select the best products for their region from all breeders and seed/plant distributors; the grower is intimately involved in what it takes to set up bench space or racks and the configuration of the trays for both growing and display in the retail setting; the grower weighs what POP is cost-effective and realistic in the retail environment and understands the constraints on cost to have volume retails — products with real value for the price.”
On the flipside, there are challenges, which Deena freely admits. “It requires substantial resources to be allocated to develop these programs,” she says. “From tagging, POP materials and pot design, to researching plant variety lists, trialing plants, sourcing plant inputs and establishing protocols for the programs.” Market penetration, as a grower with a brand, can also be an issue. To develop a program that can be distributed nationwide, it is best to grow it regionally. This is because strong, regional growers understand their market, the appropriateness and timing of the plants offered, and they also have fresh product that can be delivered daily.
Knowing that regional growing would be the key to a successful national retail program, Deena and her husband, Ken, as well as friends in the industry, have developed a solution to the market penetration problem. Their brainchild? Floragem, a network of growers that shares the Altman Plants marketing program so member growers don’t have to develop their own programs from scratch. “If you can distribute your costs over more growers, then the costs of your plastics, promotional materials and development are less because there’s more volume,” Deena explains.
Growers cannot produce VIVA! Herbs unless they belong to the Floragem group; Altman is hoping to share ownership of this association with other growers in the future. “The vision of Floragem is to have a national network of growers. Right now, we are well-represented in the Western United States with Seville Farms, Rocky Mountain Growers and Altman Plants. This network will ultimately enable a national merchant to have programs they can advertise nationally because the program will be available to them nationally,” she added.
Any grower interested in becoming a part of Floragem and growing VIVA! Herbs or one of the other programs (VIVA! Veggies, Garden Music and Garden Discoveries) would most likely need to already be doing business with large retail stores and would need to be able to merchandise the stores to which they were providing product. For more information, contact Deena Altman via the altmanplants.com Web site or call her direct at (760) 744-8191 ext. 140.
Brandi D. Thomas is associate editor for GPN.
Source: Greenhouse Product News June 2002 Vol: 12 Num: 6
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