Ornamental plant nurseries can and should also take advantage of the vegetable mega-trend: for example, by incorporating vegetable plants into their range and perhaps also by selling grow-your-own vegetables. It’s an approach strongly advocated by Raimund Schnecking, a marketing expert at the long-established vegetable- and flower-growing company Volmary in Münster, Germany.
by Mayer's specialist editor Heike Hoppe
Raimund Schnecking at the Fruit Logistica in Berlin.
Growing demand for regional diversity: an opportunity for nurseries
Schnecking emphasises that all trend forecasters are focusing on vegetables. People – and an ever-increasing number of young people too – love old vegetable varieties, outdoor kitchens, herb gardens and grow-your-own vegetables. Vegetables and herbs now account for 35 per cent of garden plant sales and it’s a share that continues to grow. It is not just hobby gardeners who love fresh vegetables and want to buy regional products from a grower who they trust.
But at the same time the number of growers producing vegetables is falling drastically. Schnecking says that there are a number of reasons for this decline including a fall in farm succession, alternative and “easier” income sources and the general structural change in the food trade. Vegetable growers are forced to produce in ever larger quantities, and in the process they become ever more remote from the market and “unregional”. This structural change, says Schecking, is a fantastic opportunity for retail nurseries, which can take advantage of the demand for regional diversity and unusual varieties.
Taking advantage of the vegetable megatrend
Nurseries would have two opportunities to benefit from the vegetable mega-trend, Schnecking explained. The first is from the production of vegetables in pots for the hobby gardener, essentially another form of ornamental plants. And the second is that there would be an increasing number of retail nurseries again producing vegetables for sale themselves. The conditions for these developments have become better and better recently, for example as result of a notable professionalisation of the seed market.
Nevertheless, as Schnecking concedes, the switch to vegetable production is no easy task: “Growing vegetables is tough, we can’t simply say hey, let’s put some vegetables between the geraniums.” The very personal sale process and close customer relationship create very high requirements for healthy and edible crops. Use of beneficial insects, organic plant protection and perhaps organic production must be taken into consideration.
So this is the theory, but which types of vegetable fit well into the ornamental plant and retail nursery range? Here Schnecking presents a bright bouquet of flowers or rather of vegetables with useful tips for really unique horticultural features.
The fruiting vegetable is the classic among superfoods
The first step, says Schnecking, is for most ornamental plant nurseries considering vegetable production to focus on grafted fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. “If I had an ornamental plant nursery I would produce tomatoes.” The vegetable specialist presents both new varieties and new ideas for product presentation with which the retail nursery can differentiate itself without great expense from food retailers, for example, with bright tomato varieties arranged by colour which can be mixed by the customer like sweets. As a particularly sweet grafted nectar cherry tomato variety Schnecking recommends ‘Solena Sweet’ for example. The nursery’s sales pitch could be: “You won’t get tomatoes this sweet anywhere else!”
Secret tips yacon, rhubarb and wasabi
Another “secret tip” which retail nurseries can use to stand out, according to Schnecking, is called yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolia). Like the sunflower, this plant belongs to the daisy family. It is related to the Jerusalem artichoke and also forms root tubers. Schnecking enthuses: “This is a fantastic tuber, it’s very healthy and really fresh with a taste somewhere between carrot and nashi pear”. And naturally it will also catch the eye in a nursery’s range.
His other tips for nurseries that wish to offer their customers special vegetables are everbearing rhubarb with low oxalic acid content, wasabi leaves for salad and also ‘Magic Blue’ bushy basil, with a far eastern aroma and taste.
And herbs are a further source of fresh and new ideas too. Schnecking says: “My favourite project in recent years was the “Mix a Herb” project. As with ornamental plants, we offer various varieties of herb in a single pot: And everything that grows in the pot can be combined on pizza or on the barbecue.” Because this is another important consideration when marketing vegetables: “Let’s not overcomplicate things, consumers are looking for simple solutions.”
Targeting ornamental plant growers and retail nurseries
Marketing expert and vegetable specialist Raimund Schnecking (Volmary) is mainly addressing ornamental plant growers and retail nurseries. In his address at the Fruit, Vegetable and Herb conference organised by TASPO and the Messe Essen exhibition centre at IPM 2018, he asked: “Native Superfood – Regional Vegetables. Who Produces What and How Do the Goods Come into the Shop?” The “who”, according to Schnecking, can certainly also be smaller businesses and the “shop” also retail nurseries who typically offer a range more focused on ornamental plants.
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