Designing a new pot, container or bedding pack is not simply a case of deciding to do a production run in red or thinking it would be a good idea to add extra drainage holes, make the top thicker or the body thinner. Designing new products involves lots of consultation as well as science and technology. That means investment in time and facilities.
Modiform is one plastics manufacturer aiming to say ahead of the market. Sales manager Shaun Herdsman explains that the company works with innovative and forward-thinking partners from across the horticultural supply chain.
"The partners include breeders and young-plant growers, retailers and their customers, each playing an important role in helping to create new products," he says.
"To gather the information from each link, Modiform researches the market, organising consumer focus groups, doing buying trials at garden centres and even talking to companies outside the industry to find out what exactly the buying trends are. This information gives us a better idea of what people want to buy in the way of pack bedding, printed pots and coloured products."
Herdsman sees a trend of consumers split into certain "knowledge" groups. "Basically, if we are talking bedding plants, there are two groups. There are those with some horticultural knowledge, who are looking for smaller plants that they can grow on. These people are buying plants from supermarkets, DIY stores and mail-order companies.
"Then there are those who just want to buy plants that they can put straight into their gardens. Generally speaking, these people are buying plants form a whole range of retailers, but mostly supermarkets, in an unplanned shop and from garden centres in a planned shop."
That information leads Herdsman to suggest that growers need to have a wide selection of pack choice from their suppliers. Modiform offers 15 six-packs of various sizes. Overall, the company develops around 50 new products each year.
One such new development in the bedding pack sector is the award-winning transparent-green bedding punnet. The product picked up the Four Oaks Trade Show award for technical excellence this September.
"This punnet is made from recycled drinks bottles and is used by Coletta & Tyson and Roundstone Nurseries to grow bedding plants for B&Q, replacing the old white EPS packaging," says Herdsman.
To gain this order, Modiform spent a lot of time researching alternative material types to find the most environmentally friendly option. "Once Modiform knew which material was best to use, it conducted a consumer focus group to find out whether the public liked it. This takes time, but it can give the best results and is the most secure way of bringing a new product to market."
Producing pots, trays and packs in different colours has been gathering interest over the past couple of years. According to Herdsman, "Is it available in different colours?" has now become a standard question from large growers. To test the theory that coloured products sell, Modiform undertook trials in a garden centre. The answer was yes. "The coloured products out sold the same black products by six packs to one," says Herdsman. "Consumers' favourite colour was green, which they said matches the plants' foliage."
At Fargro, work also continues with retailers and growers around the UK to look at trends in materials, design and colour. Key accounts development manager Kieran Daly says this enables the company to offer bespoke pots and containers that meet the expectations of the retailer in terms of look and price point.
Daly has noticed an increase in the use of decorative pots and containers made from numerous materials to promote a wide variety of plants, from single plants to multiple planted arrangements.
Many growers recognise that adding value through the pot or container can increase sales. But such pots should not cause problems in production. "Adding value with pots needs to be easy for the grower," says Daly. "Simply dropping the plant into a suitably sized container to give instant added value makes sense."
Regarding multiple-plant containers, he adds: "Planters of all shapes and sizes can allow growers and retailers to explore and experiment in ways to promote and sell several plants at once. Containers for planting herbs are very popular, especially those that allow three or more herbs to be sold together, as in the case of our Herb Garden Planter."
While plastic decorative containers still offer good value, Daly notes that materials such as wood, tin and rattan-style materials continue to show good growth. For 2015, Fargro has greatly increased its ranges of pots, containers and planters to offer a wide choice for growers and retailers to suit all occasions, including new styles of tin, wicker and plastic products.
Seasonal pots and containers are also on the increase and Fargro has no shortage of ideas in this area. For Halloween displays, the company offers a cauldron and for Christmas there is a holly design.
"Seasonal pots and containers are ideal to highlight particular times of the year and target dates such as Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Orders for Christmas containers have seen huge growth this year, with tin products proving especially popular," says Daly.
But he advises growers to think carefully about products for some events such as Valentine's Day or Mother's Day. "Often it is better to offer a product that ideally relates to the occasion but can still be sold after that date. Unlike Christmas, these target dates have shorter sales and display periods."
For those looking for landscape containers, Fargro has launched its Amenity & Landscape Webshop. Products include Italian rotary-formed planters and flower boxes.
A new container range for professionals launched by Soparco at the Four Oaks Trade Show in September reveals the key benefits of SX containers. An eco-friendly conception in line with the company's environmental policy of material-weight and energy-use optimisation, the containers provide efficient drainage through a multi-level bottom with 25 holes and six channels. They have a well-marked rim for maximal rigidity to aid handling and automation, and are available with four G2 slot boxes to fix labels or handles.
Among new products for growers and garden centres, Anglo Eastern Trading highlights the Serenity planter in black/green, dark red with pink wash and black with white wash. It also has the ruby red Aegean fibreclay bowl and the silver and gold Floral Fluted Planter.
As well as investment in new products, there is also investment in new facilities. Desch Plantpak, one of the largest producers of pots and containers, plans to invest EUR5m in its production facilities in the Netherlands and England.
The investment will include new injection-moulding machines, an extruder and a thermoform machine. Desch Plantpak managing director Jan Willem Wieringa points out: "All these machines have a higher capacity and use less energy too. They are also more economic with the materials available."
New sizes available from Poppelmann
Recognising that automated plant cultivation requires pots that pass efficiently through all production stages, Poppelmann Teku introduced the VCG and VCH series two years ago. With increasing demand for more sizes and versions, it has now launched the pots in 9cm, 10cm and 11cm diameters. VCG and VCH series pots have a wide U-shaped rim for stability and to prevent them deforming in the pot magazine or when moved. A patented facet rim and lateral stability enable easy destacking.
Kreuwel demonstrates continued new product investment
Dutch plant-container manufacturer Kreuwel Plastics Almelo has announced that sales manager Stefan Lohuis is to become co-owner and finance manager. He will continue to grow sales with owner and founder Paul Snijders, who will be responsible for raw materials and production.
UK sales agent Nigel Swain says: "This is really good news for Kreuwel and its customers. Stefan has been a key part of the firm's success and its relationship with customers in Europe and the UK."
Demonstrating Kreuwel's continued investment in new products for the horticulture market, the company plans to start production of two-, threeand five-litre slotted pots in December. The pots have four label slots.
January 2015 will see production start on the KPG-3.5, a 3.5-litre Large Lip pot designed to complement the recently introduced 1.5-, two-, threeand five-litre Large Lip containers.
"This is a superb Dutch-style pot, which finds the perfect balance between strength and style with light weight for economy," says Swain. "We have had tremendous success both in the UK and the Netherlands with Large Lip containers. Customers really like them and the 3.5-litre will enhance the range."