The Department of Horticultural Science has a plethora of areas where research, growing, and extension are at play but graduate student Ethan Jenkins is focusing on a special area within the plant-loving world. His research looks at consumer horticulture and the “whys” of consumer purchasing. While any industry that has a commercial side will do all it can to attract loyal customers, Jenkins and North Carolina State University’s Cognitive Behavioral Lab want to know why consumers choose what they do.
This research brought the opportunity to traverse Japan in September when Jenkins gave a presentation on driving forces of change in the floriculture industry. The information was based on floral summit data collected by Associate Professor Melinda Knuth, the Principal Investigator of the Cognitive Behavioral Lab and Jenkins’ graduate advisor, and Charlie Hall, Professor at Texas A&M University. Knuth and Hall had interviewed leaders from the floriculture industry on what has changed, the causes of change, and where the industry is going. Jenkins was able to present their findings in Japan and meet with researchers in various areas of horticulture from around the world.
Jenkins’ research titled Shifts in the American Floriculture Industry: Insight from Industry Experts analyzed the data from Knuth and Hall to benefit members from all sectors of the horticulture industry with insights provided by the very experts in the industry and along the supply chain whose feedback contributed to the data.
A big takeaway from the paper showed that “silos” among sectors had the potential to be problematic as it hindered collaboration. This lack of sharing information has led to discrepancies in how best to conduct business between sectors. Adaptability and planning for the future will be necessary for the continued success of the floriculture industry. Addressing these issues, as well as, educating consumers on the benefits of and care for floriculture products can go a long way in contributing to the longevity of businesses and the industry as a whole.
This chance to travel and talk about these findings was made available to Jenkins and other researchers as part of an event hosted by the Asian Horticultural Congress through the International Society of Horticultural Science at The University of Tokyo.
It wasn’t all work though as Jenkins was able to do a bit of traveling. He was able to see Kyoto, the Disney Sea, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Teamlab Planets, Tokyo Tower, and a bamboo forest but Jenkins said Mount Fuji was far and away his favorite.
After returning home, Jenkins got little rest as classes and research were in full swing during the fall 2023 semester. He soon began sorting through data that was collected in an experiment that found him working with a leading industry partner using their fertilizer on petunias. He also did a consumer study where he looked at how much people would be willing to pay (through a fake auction) for these petunias and the results showed the research team which plant fertilizer was more attractive to participants.
As he focuses on graduating in 2024, Jenkins continues to work in different areas within the Cognitive Behavioral Lab, with his interest being aimed more at product source labeling and consumer interactions with horticultural products. Eventually, Jenkins would like to go into production, be it in a large or small-scale Nursery or Greenhouse. His long-term goal is to open a nursery, using the skills learned in the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of Knuth’s Lab.
Jenkins says he has enjoyed growing his knowledge about not just the horticulture industry but also how customers interact within this broad world. However, focusing on the marketing side of things is still what attracts him most. When speaking of why he chose his focus in graduate school, Jenkins says, “You can grow the best plants in the world but if you don’t know how to market them to sell, then it doesn’t matter.”