Over the last year, the interest for gardening spiked, which means busy times for growers and their suppliers. Also at US container manufacturer The HC Companies, they have all hands on deck to serve their growers, with factories running 24/7. They have a large assortment and see an increased demand across the board. On top of meeting the demand, they are continuously cooperating with growers to meet their needs. "As labor challenges continue to persist, and may have even grown due to COVID-19, we are working on creating more automation friendly containers. On top of that, with the new generation gardeners, sustainability will become an increasingly important topic", says Bryce Andersen, HC Companies' Territory Sales Manager.
In the picture: Bryce Andersen
High demand across the board
Due to COVID-19, Spring sales have had a slow start last year. However, from the minute things started off, the demand for garden products skyrocketed. Vegetable plants and hanging baskets are categories that has exploded last year. However, all in all, The Andersen noticed an increase in demand across their portfolio. "We have seen some shifts in sizes and types of containers that the growers have been ordering. For example, a grower might reduce 4-pack annual production and increase the amount of ready to go decorative containers." On top of that, Anderson also sees that growers are adding space to meet the increased demand. "In turn, our three factories here in the US are working 24/7 to meet the demand."
High expectations for this spring
As soon as the weather breaks, people will go out and start buying plants for their garden, Andersen predicts. "Last year, many people were out there as well, but most items were already sold out at that time. Therefore, we will, and we are already seeing, an early demand this year. Our retail customers are already demanding for containers, which indicates consumers are still planting and are still interested in home gardening."
On top of fulfilling the orders, The HC Companies is still working hard to meet the needs and the requirements of their growers. "Since the very beginning of our existence, we are working with growers to develop container solutions for a variety of different crops. For any hard-good producer if products are not relevant for grower, it is not worth pursuing. Therefore, it is so critical to get support and input from the growers we serve. Also when introducing new products, we are working with the growers, asking them to trial it and give feedback.
Importance of automation
For many years now, The HC Companies is paying a lot of attention on the production efficiency and maximizing the units produced per hour. "Labor challenges continue to persist and I think the impact of COVID-19 has even put more string on the available labor at the grower level." For this reason, it becomes even more essential to develop and maintain automation friendly products."
EcoGrow and FiberGrow containers were recently certified as FSC 100% Recycled and USDA BioPreferred, and our EcoGrow containers are recognized as safe for organic growing, and noted as allowed under NOP and COR regulations
What about sustainability?
For The HC Companies as a business, sustainability is an important aspect. Their facilities in Middlefield (Ohio), Sebring (Florida) and Sparks (Nevada) produce hundreds of thousands of black horticultural containers each year made exclusively from nearly 100% recycled materials. Additionally, their Burlington, Canada facility, which produces our full line of fiber containers, utilizes 100% recycled newspapers and raw newsprint in the production process. Recently, their fiber package even earned FSC recycled 100% designation.
However, how is the demand for more environmental solutions in the US? "The largest hurdle for all sustainable products is the balance between willingness to change at the producers level and the willingness to buy it at consumer level." A more sustainable product is often a bit higher priced, so are they willing to pay for it? Andersen is positive. "My feeling is that with younger people getting involved in gardening, their interest seems greater in sustainable practices than some older generation consumers. We already see a collective interest in sustainability in all kind of products. It seems more consumers are more gravitating to the more sustainable options and I think it is continuing the rise.
However on the production side, there is still a lot to gain. Even though there are many growers successfully growing with their fiber containers, large scale production can be a challenge as the pots are (not yet) automation friendly. "Our Eco-Gro line is made out of molded pulp, which is very environmentally friendly, and designed to fit flat filler trays. However, we continue to pursue alternate materials and applications that cater to the automation systems that growers are leaning on to improve operational efficiency. “