Can plant packaging be sustainable as well as eye-catching at retail? Bringing these two trends together is the goal of a new Dutch industry initiative, the success (or otherwise) of which will be scrutinised by its partners this year.
Pot suppliers Modiform, Poppelmann and Desch Plantpak are among partners in the newly established Benefits of Nature Foundation, which aims to drive both sustainability and added value through the supply chain.
Its first concrete outcome is the Cl'Air concept being piloted in 50 of Belgium's Delhaize supermarkets. Under the slogan "pure air, healthy life", it consists of a range of pot plants supplied by specialist grower VDE Plant in printed biodegradable pots from Desch. They are housed in printed trays from Floramedia and supplied on Danish trolleys in matching livery. The foundation will measure the environmental impact of all the elements - plant, pot, aquapad and tray.
Desch has created a website explaining the life cycle of its D-Grade pot range (www.d-grade.com). Made from the vegetable-based Ingeo bioresin, the pots meet the EN 13432 standard for biodegradability and compostability and are made using certified green electricity. Foundation founder Henri Potze says: "It has to be right 100 per cent. We will see how consumers will react to the concept. Ultimately, increasing sustainability is the shared goal."
For those still sceptical of the value of such elaborate plant packaging, German manufacturer Poppelmann, which supplies the Teku pot range, has recently commissioned research on its merits at retail. Based on eye-tracking analysis, it concluded that customers are more likely look at printed pots in low-profile marketing trays and look at them for longer than plants in plain pots in conventional trays. Far from distracting customers from the plants themselves, the more eye-catching presentation drew their attention to the plant six times more often than the plain packaging, the study found.
An accompanying survey found that nearly two-thirds of customers preferred decorative pots and, more significantly, were prepared to pay up to eight per cent more for a plant in a printed pot and up to 15 per cent more for a plant in a coloured pot.
"The results of the study have shown that our products are very well received by our end customers," says sales manager Sven Hoping. "The great interest of existing and potential customers is an important confirmation of our work."
Meanwhile, a new container format intended to catch the eye at retail is Bato's Borneo balcony planter. It comes in four colours and has a horseshoe-type profile designed to fit most balcony railings or other narrow upright fixtures via fixing clips. In production the 27cm pots can be used in automated systems and then transported on Danish trolleys. They are available in the UK from LS Systems.
Driving sustainability, at IPM in Essen earlier this year Modiform promoted paperpots (plug casings) made from PlantPaper, specially developed for the horticulture industry by Sungrow in Denmark.
Modiform explains: "PlantPaper is an entirely new patented type of paper that is free of fossil oils and can be formed into a paperpot without the use of glue. The paper is pre-perforated so that the tender plant roots can easily penetrate the holes and gain access to plenty of oxygen in the growth medium. In addition, the paper is naturally resistant towards fungi. This means that no fungus coat will build up on the surface, which potentially limits the circulation of air."
Though certified as 100 per cent compostable, PlantPaper is still strong enough to be used in modern, fully automated nurseries, having been thoroughly tested by Aarhus University researchers as well as by Danish and Dutch nurseries, says Modiform. It has since developed a series of specialised trays for the paperpots, available in bespoke sizes. Both plugs and trays can be used in existing machines and are available from either supplier (see www.plantpaper.com).
This year Modiform is also promoting its new Prestigious Pot formulation and design within its range of conventional stacking pots. These are designed to reduce static for a smoother run through potting machines. "Our new pot prints better, colours better and simply runs better," it says.
A British manufacturer is also innovating in formats. Better known for its larger Air-Pots for the hardy nursery sector that combine perforations with a "knobbly"
profile to ensure a compact, fibrous root mass without spiralling, the Caledonian Tree Company has launched a Small Seed Tray that applies the same technique on a smaller scale for seedling propagation.
Originally developed for Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which already grows more than 3,000 species in Air-Pot containers, it has an outside diameter of 26.9cm, is 11.5cm high and is claimed to also ensure more even germination.Pot and container products from a selection of major manufacturers