Pots of choice and convenience

The latest pots offer benefits for both the grower and the environment.

You fretted through the propagation stage, worried yourself silly during transplanting and spent extra on foliar feeds to get those plants into prime condition — so why have you spoilt it all by using the wrong pot? All too often the focus is totally on the growing of the plant and too little consideration is given to the pot it is growing in.
At a time when margins are tight and a decent profit seems a dream, it is tempting to go for the cheapest option. Particularly as this year the price of raw materials has risen by about 38 per cent, electricity charges have gone up 45 per cent and fuel prices have been destabilised amid global political instability. Pot suppliers are finding it more difficult than ever to hold their prices.
However, developments in design and manufacture means today’s pots and containers have other benefits that make new lines well worth investigating. Such benefits may be presentational, or convenience factors that mean less money, time or effort has to be spent on other aspects of production or dispatch. Some of the latest products also address environmental concerns.
Recognising the importance of presentation, label supplier Advance Bunzl has expanded its portfolio with a number of innovative and cost-effective products focusing on plant presentation. One of these is the printed pot and tray system, which enables the entire surface of the pot to be printed in full process colours, lightfast and water durable and in customers’ own designs. Part of a range of Plant Presentation products, the printed pot has many advantages, as general manager Mike Sutton explains: “Presentation of the product and point-of-sale impact are substantially enhanced with full-colour printing, which can be developed as a range of livery or in a single style. In-store promotional opportunities are also increased, with tremendous scope for cross-marketing, special offers and premiums. Furthermore, fully printed pots generate cost-saving benefits for the grower as the need to apply a label and stick-in care card is eliminated, along with these costs.”
Advance Bunzl offers a range of full-colour printed pots in various sizes and configurations. The system enables pots to be printed  with durable, multi-colour designs and product information. There is no adhesive labelling involved and the range includes standard single pots, a 2-litre, square, tall pot and two sizes of Tri-Pack tray, holding three standard round pots. If you are using labels, they need to be secure. For this reason Aeroplas has introduced round pots with slots. Aeroplas representative John Leacey says: “This was in response to growers’ need to apply the label, which would be less easily removed. It also eliminates the need for a staple.”
The coloured pot is still prominent in suppliers’ catalogues for the coming season.  Styropack is now using a new type of pre-dyed material that lets the company manufacture EPS bedding trays in any colour. This material is described as colourfast and is dyed all the way through rather than just externally. The company has also brought out a  double-eight tray, neatly fitting eight to a Danish-trolley shelf for convenience of transporting and displaying bedding.
Convenience — both for the grower and for the shopper — should also be considered. PG Horticulture has recently started stocking PlantinBag nursery containers.  “Our customers prefer this type of container because they are cheaper to buy, easier to handle and transport than traditional plastic containers and also create less waste,” says director Paul Greenhalgh. PlantinBag containers are made from high-density laminated polyethylene and have side and base drainage holes like traditional plastic pots. A round sewn-in bottom makes the containers easier to fill. Various sizes are available from 15 to 1,350 litres — all with strong handles or straps to carry them.
Shoppers seem to have appreciated the convenience of a system newly developed by Wickford-based H Smith Plastics. The system of three linked round 9cm pots with growing/ carry-home tray has been used by several growers in the Essex area this season and reports from these growers were that plants looked attractive and sales of larger bedding and vegetables were good. The carry tray for linked pots has also been used to hold nine individual 9cm round pots. In addition, H Smith has introduced a 9cm square pot to its range of products. An economical pot, this was introduced at the request of customers already using Smith’s 7cm pot but needing a larger one as well. All products are made from reclaimed high-impact polystyrene.
For many, environmental issues are the driving factor when it comes to choice of pot. Environmental issues have also seen a number of firms look at the materials they use and also services for recycling. “Recycling being at the forefront of many people’s minds had encouraged us to examine ways to help the environment,” says Leacey. “All the black pots and marketing trays made by Aeroplas are made from recycled material.”
At the Four Oaks show, Jiffy launched the P9 (9x9x10cm) to give liner growers an alternative to plastic. It has been designed to fit all existing P9 carry trays, so allowing biodegradable pots to be integrated into existing systems without additional costs. The P9 Jiffy-Pot is also compatible with all types of pot dispensers.
Previously, the argument against using biodegradable pots has largely centred on pot strength. But it is an argument that, according Jiffy sales and marketing director Richard Stevenson, no longer sticks. “We can now offer a range of pot strengths and life spans to suit cultural and crop needs. Growers can choose whether they want a quick degrading or long-lasting pot.”
This year, Jiffy introduced its largest pot to date — the 15cm (1.3 litre) with advanced de-stacking features to allow it to be handled by machinery. A thicker wall makes this sized Jiffy-Pot stronger and able to cope better with a longer growing cycle and the increased handling.
What’s more, Jiffy biodegradable does not have to mean “peat”. The recent introduction of the Coir Jiffy-Pot has, according to Stevenson, been a success story, with a number of producers turning to coir pots for cultural reasons. The company expects the trend towards the Coir pot to continue.
“The Coir pot wall offers quick water uptake and drainage, allowing more accurate control of irrigation as well as allowing extremely quick root penetration. Liner plants grown in Jiffy-Pots are generally ready to pot approximately four to six weeks earlier than those grown in plastic pots, but plants in the Coir Jiffy-Pot are generally ready a further three to six week earlier,” says Stevenson.
Growers do, however, need to look beyond the initial invoice costs of pots when considering biodegradable products. “Our products are slightly more expensive than the comparable plastic pot,” says Stevenson. “However, the true cost over the production cycle is significantly cheaper. Taking the 9F, for example, our pot would generally be in the region of £5 to £10 per 1,000 pots more expensive at the point of purchase. But the savings in labour for the average nursery are £20 to £30 per 1,000 pots when using Jiffy, so true production costs are actually £15 to £25 cheaper per 1,000 than using plastic. If you add in the extra savings on waste disposal costs, quicker crop cycles etc, the savings are even more substantial.”
Interest in options suitable for retail is also gaining momentum. This year, Jiffy is supplying 50 million pots to growers producing for Wal-Mart. These pots are marketed as “Earth Ready” and provide the advantage, through moisture absorption, of reducing the number of returns due to plants dying when planted into dry soil or not being watered sufficiently.
Of course, choosing the pot in which to grow your plants is only part of the story. You also need to be assured of supply. Deliveries must be made on time but some suppliers offer more — such as advice. “Our ability to give advice on, and supply, growing media, irrigation systems and marketing trays ensures the grower receives a package of products that best does the job,” says Avoncrop director Mark Davies.
Against what seems to be a reduction in hardy nursery stock and bedding plant production on many UK nurseries, North Somerset-based Avoncrop reports a rise in pot and container sales this year compared with the same period in 2005. “I suspect we are bucking a national trend,” suggests Davies. “The current UK market demands we have a broad range of products to suit our broad range of customers, backed by good service and competitive prices.”
Avoncrop stocks a wide range of bedding plant systems and container pots, including containers with label slots, two-tier drainage, large tree containers and poly pots. Davies believes certain trends continue. He notes a lower demand for five-strip bedding packs and more interest in the range of label-slotted container pots, just-in-time deliveries and Avoncrop’s recycling services. For the future, Davies says he will be keeping an eye on the factors driving and impacting on the pots and container market, including stock control, production costs, transport costs, materials handling, labour costs and environmental issues.

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