It all started seven years ago with a variety that was not bred by one of Ball Horticultural Company’s breeders. The desire to bring a new variety to the North American market and the awareness of the broad range of special varieties around the globe has resulted in the establishment of a new division within Ball Seed, namely Ball Ingenuity. This history is explained by Kelsey Minalga, who together with Joan Mazat, and Katie Anderson, manage this new division, looking for new and unique products from breeders from all sizes from all over the world. They trial, supply, sell, and market these products and over the years, they've built up a wide assortment, which is expanding continuously. "Every year, there are many new and exciting products available," she says.
Joan Mazat and Kelsey Minalga at Cultivate'19 in Columbus (OH), USA.
The process of choosing a new variety
Unlike parent company Ball Horticultural, Ball Ingenuity doesn't have its own breeders and is always looking for new and - more importantly - unique varieties from breeders from all over the world. "When a product is different, it catches our interest whether it is from a large breeder like American Takii or a small local breeder," says Minalga. So how do they choose a new variety? "The first step for a breeder is to send in a picture. Then, when the item on the picture, or the description of the breeder is so interesting and unique, we will start trialing the product for a season." Ball Ingenuity has its own trial facility with own cultural grower in West Chicago, IL, where they are based, but will also trial it throughout the US at different locations in different climate zones. "Then, if we like it, we trial it again to collect culture info and we will ask some of our growers to grow it as well." Usually, this process takes about 3 to 5 years and if the variety successfully passes this process, the variety will be supplied, sold and marketed exclusively through Ball Ingenuity.
Rapid increase of assortment
Despite Ball Ingenuity being a fairly a new company, their name as well as their assortment gained popularity quickly. "We come from Ball, which is a family business and is well rooted in the market. So, right from the start, we got a lot of trust. The fact that there are just three of us running the division, the new breeders and our growers have direct contact with us, which seems to be highly appreciated."
The celosia and mums of Floritec were the first varieties in the Ball Ingenuity assortment and actually the reason for its establishment, explains Minalga. "We liked the variety but Floritec is not one of Ball's own breeders so we could not introduce the varieties of this Dutch breeder through Ball Horticultural. This is when the idea arose to start up Ball Ingenuity, a company without its own breeders."
In the years that followed, the assortment increased sharply. They now offer all kind of varieties, from cacti, flowering plants to edibles.
Clockwise: Metalis cyclamen, Canary Wings, Canna Canova Combo, Celosia Intenz, and Coral orange Sunrise Vining Dipladenia
The assortment is large and expanding every year, but for several years now, there are some varieties that are doing very well. The five best-selling items, from top down are Cyclamen Metalis of French breeding company Morel Diffusion; the Canna Cannova of Japanese breeding company Takii; Celosia Intenz of Dutch breeding company Floritec; Dipladenia Mandevilla of French breeding company DHMI; and Canary Wings Begonia of Groovy Plants Ranch, a US breeder.
Clockwise: Jurassic Green Streak, Philodendron Shangri-la, Exacum Juniper Blue and Brew-Tea-Ful Camellia
The novelties with high expectations
And for the year 2021, Ball Ingenuity has four new varieties to offer – a tea plant, two exacum varieties, philodendron, and a begonia. And expectations are high. "Brew-Tea-Ful Camellia is a new plant that consumers can make their own tea. Exacum Juniper Blue and White are two new varieties that are usually only available in seed and these are vegetative. Philodendron Shangri-la is a very tropical plant. It has leaves like fingers and stays nice and bushy. And last but not least Jurassic Green Streak, a begonia variety we have big expectations for as they will be produced from tissue culture (TC)."
Trends: Tropical and edible plants
Over the years, Minalga has seen the demand for tropical plants and edible plants rising. "Particularly in Canada, we see a high popularity of tropical plants, but also in the US, it has increased and is still growing. The demand for edible plants have been rising steadily for several years, but the pandemic fueled this trend. Home grown vegetables and houseplants are hot at the moment and I expect this trend will hold and will encourage new plant buyers."
Benefits for breeder and grower
So, what are the benefits for the breeder and grower when deciding to collaborate with Ball Ingenuity? "The breeder can benefit from our large sales force, not only nationally, but internationally. We have the largest sales force in North America, but we are represented all over the world (20+ countries) which enables us to put a variety on the market globally. And as the variety is exclusive to us, we will do the research, marketing and sales taking a lot of work out of the hands of the breeder. It will also be beneficial for the greenhouse growers as they can get special varieties through one sales person, so short lines and trusted confidence and quality. "
For the coming years, the team of Ball Ingenuity is eager to discover new varieties. "We are always looking to grow our assortment and bring great new and unique things to the market."
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