From the Editor: September 2010

August 31, 2010
Written by
There’s a not-so-subtle transformation going on with industry trade shows and conferences. Over the past few years, we’re seeing more talks on marketing and retailing.
And that’s a good trend.

There was a time when Canadian growers felt they were a step or two behind their European cousins in terms of production efficiency. The gap has been narrowed considerably, if indeed a gap remains at all. In some areas, and thanks of course to the level of research being conducted here, Europeans are no doubt learning from us.

However, where the European industry still casts a large shadow is with marketing efforts, particularly on the ornamental side. Per capita spending on flowers in North America still lags well behind levels in most European countries. We haven’t made serious inroads in getting consumers to buy more flowers.

Ontario has had its Pick Ontario program for a couple of years, and it’s a great model of how to spread the news. It has received funding from the Ontario Greenhouse Alliance, the Agricultural Adaptation Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Studies show there is growing “brand” recognition.

“Research shows that ‘supporting our local farmers’ is the number one reason consumers proudly Pick Ontario flowers and potted plants,” notes Pick Ontario on its website. When you Pick Ontario, you are ensured the freshest product available.”

In addition to conventional advertising with billboards and signage, Pick Ontario is also spreading its message on truck panels of member growers. These moving billboards are quite noticeable, especially as they move through large urban centres making deliveries.

But ornamental promotion in Canada doesn’t go much further than that. There is very little in the consumer press about the benefits of plants. There aren’t as many gardening commentators on the radio or in newspapers as there used to be.

Marketing takes money, and we know the perfect sources for plant promotion in Canada – the senior levels of government. They haul in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues from ornamental horticulture every year; in 2007, some $850 million in “end-user” taxes (PST and GST) were collected, according to the Growing Canada Green for 2015 report of the Canadian Ornamental Horticulture Alliance.

Indeed, flowers are the only agricultural commodity that contributes GST.

We have no control over the weather, and spring sales will always rise and fall with conditions on weekends in April, May and June. But we can work to spread the news about the value of plants for environmental and health-related reasons. We can raise consumer awareness to increase per capita spending on plants and landscaping. We need a national campaign, and one that’s well funded by governments via a most modest share of taxes collected on ornamental horticulture. Investing just half of one per cent of those revenues into a national promotional campaign will make a difference.

It may even make European plant marketers take notice. ■

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