Judging by the orders received by label manufacturers this spring, nurserymen are now feeling that the economy has turned the corner and believe that better times lie ahead. Bamboo Print is one provider to see an upturn in orders and enquiries.
"We've been delighted to see orders for labels, point of sale (POS) and packaging returning to their 'normal' level, reflecting the fact that growers seem to be working their way through the stockpiles that some tough years forced upon them," says managing director Duncan McLintock. "It's really encouraging to sense so much optimism in the market again."
The demand for bigger, bolder, brighter labels shows no sign of slowing down and there are clear indications that growers are keen to offer the retail customer more and more information. Data is a major factor in successful plant sales. MasterTag creative director Gerry Giorgio explains: "Gardeners place a high value on plant tags. They rely on them for their primary information when buying plants. They use them as both a marker in the garden and as a reference that can be used to make a repeat purchase the following year."
MasterTag's own research shows that 66 per cent of gardeners want to keep the labels after purchasing a plant. The company offers exclusive labels suitable for every seed, seed-raised plant and vegetable variety in the Ball Colegrave catalogues - that's more than 2,200 ornamental and 400 vegetable varieties.
It also offers its own highly colourful 10cm Ball label for more than 950 varieties of bedding and patio plants from its Ball Colegrave Plant Catalogue and 120 varieties from its vegetable catalogue. These are bundled in quantities to match the plug tray count supplied and are delivered at the same time.
But to give the label real value, what information should be on it? Giorgio's research demonstrates that gardeners place a relevant or hierarchal importance to the information they want to see on the tag. He lists the most desired data, in order of importance, as:
- Watering instructions.
- Annual/perennial classification.
- Planting instructions.
- Photograph of plant at maturity.
- General tips and care.
- Hardiness zone.
- Information on where to plant.
Icons used on plant labels are also appreciated by gardeners, but they want text too. It has to be in the right balance. "When icons are accompanied by simple text and pointer words, it enhances communication within a limited space area," according to Giorgio.
"Our research showed 44 per cent of gardeners prefer icons along with text. Icons alone can be abstract. Too much text can be confusing or not read at all. Combine icons with brief descriptor text and shoppers experience a quick and easy-to-read overview of the plant's requirements."
Hortipak's general manager Tracey Dunn agrees that label content is key.
"Some of Hortipak's first considerations when designing labels are how we can help the consumers connect to gardening and how can we encourage them to come back for more, helping both growers and retailers to increase return business?"
This is part of Hortipak's 'Connecting People with Plants' philosophy.
"To address this in a relatively small space you have to have images that attract, text that engages and care information that delivers," Dunn continues.
"By using descriptive text and care instructions written by horticulturists alongside imagery from the Nova Image Library, consumers have a product that they understand and can succeed with, in turn encouraging them to come back for more."
Once the information is determined, the label can be designed around it. To be effective, it is important to understand how labels are viewed and what draws a person's attention. "Research that tracks and records a person's gaze as they look at a plant tag or sign consistently points to a few key behaviours that one should keep in mind," says Giorgio.
"First, colour contrast is what draws people's attention. Important information would be well positioned if it were designed with high-contrasting colours. Second, images will always win out over text. Images should be as large as possible and be placed in the upper two-thirds of the plant tag. Minimise text to simple statements."
With information, images and icons, what size of label is best? McLintock points to the demand for bigger, brighter labels while Giorgio says the best solution is a larger tag with a more prudent application to what is put on it.
"I understand that cost is a factor and know what growers are thinking: 'Sure, a larger tag is exactly what the tag guy wants me to buy.' I do not dismiss or take lightly the input costs of growers and retailers. It is a simple matter of what you need to communicate with the shopper. The test is to compare your plant product to other consumer product labelling."
But, as Giorgio puts it, there is only so much "real estate" on a tag. He has more suggestions. "Add a printed pot to go along with the tag. Here is an opportunity to expand your information beyond the tag. Printed pots can hold graphics and text. Does it add cost? Yes, but we are talking about adding true value to your finished product as well."
At Floramedia managing director Nick Mathias has noticed an increased desire to differentiate. "Retailers are looking at how they are branded and how they are marketing themselves - and with more optimism in the industry they seem more willing to make changes."
In addition there is greater focus on multi-channel marketing and in consistency of marketing across those different channels. As a result, emphasis is placed on getting the back of the label right. "We've led the way in putting a more interesting design on the back," says Mathias. "It might still be mono colour, but including pictures and graphics," says Mathias.
Floramedia's FloralinQ enables content delivery and consistency as Mathias explains: "FloralinQ continues to evolve and is now a backend content service for web activities. We have a very powerful database that allows content delivery. For retailers, consistency of content across everything is important."
In addition to labels, Bamboo Print is increasingly busy with large-format print - POS and exhibition graphics - on the new Vutek QS3 Pro. "With six colours, this gives us a much wider gamut and offers vastly improved fade resistance - a really important consideration with outdoor displays. There's nothing to beat banners and posters when it comes to setting a mood at the point of purchase," says McLintock.
Bed cards should not be forgotten. They help customers to find the plant that's right for them. Launched in January, the "Print Your Own Bed Card" service from Joy of Plants is already proving popular with garden centres. Service users rate the ease of use, design and content of the cards.
Joy of Plants director Terri Jones says: "The service can be used by any member of staff. You simply log into the website, search for your plant and click 'Print'. You can print cards as plants arrive, with no need to order in advance or keep stocks of cards."
The number of plants on the website continues to grow, with 400 added since January - including 75 new roses. The bed cards cover genus and species-level plants as well as individual varieties. In addition to outdoor plants, houseplants are included too, and each bed card features a QR code.
"The service doesn't require software installation or special printers and it is maintenance-free. New plants and updates to the tool are available to all users as they come online," says Jones.
The bed card information is consistent with the new Joy of Plants "Image Server" service that delivers plant images and descriptions for use in websites and e-commerce systems, and also with the Joy of Plants Plant Finder smartphone apps and website plug-in.
With so many tools available, growers and retailers should find the means to supply end users with all the information they need to select the right plant and enjoy their purchase. McLintock says: "It's great to see so many UK growers continue to invest in well-designed labels and they tell us they're the key to healthier sales."
Options - mark it down, discard it or re-market it? IML Labels is working on a solution to help retailers steer customers towards a full-priced sale. Its new gift tag labels are preprinted and can be attached directly to the plant or onto a plastic soil stake.
"Not only do gift tags breathe new life into existing stock by giving it a new purpose, they appeal to customers looking for a quick gift solution," says IML marketing manager Hayley Higgins.
The tags, which feature "to" and "from" spaces, withstand watering and chemicals. The range can be expanded to include seasonal designs according to market demand.
Labels designed to last
Known for its ultraviolet-protected plastic laminate engraved plant and tree labels, Sheen Botanical Labels reports a good start to the year with demand for its product from National Trust properties, stately homes, schools, private gardens in the National Gardens Scheme and village community projects - many of these being to label heritage fruit trees. It has also supplied more than 1,500 plant label holders for Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and is now receiving orders from gardens overseas.