It is a rare sight in any industry when you find rival companies working closely and openly together, but it is something that Dutch ornamental plant breeders do each summer, when they collaboratively open their doors to customers to share their latest product developments and news.
Over three days (11-13 June) breeders from the Netherlands, Germany and further afield group together in the Westland and Aalsmeer regions of Holland, often teaming up under the same roof, to show off their latest breeding developments, marketing concepts and company developments.
For UK growers working with Continental seed or young plant suppliers, the trials offer the chance to cement relationships with existing suppliers and build new bridges with others, while also learning about products and picking up on next year's potential hot sellers. Unlike similar spring trials, the June trials run when growers actually have the time to get away from their site. Delamore managing director Wayne Eady said the timing of the trials works much better alongside the company work schedule.
He told HW: "It's good to be able to get the team over to Holland and meet those who have the detailed knowledge of the plants we are taking on. It's very much a knowledge-building week, both for my team and myself; we then go home and get straight to work on the catalogue for the season."
When every minute away from the business counts, it is the co-ordinated trial locations that work for Pentland Plants director Carolyn Spray. She said: "We go out to the spring trials to see seed-raised material and the June trials for cutting material. They are always in two main locations, allowing you to get around easily and pick up all the information you need within a short amount of time."
Petunia-breeding developments remain a strong theme for a lot of breeders, and a number of additions boasting new colours, sizes or habits were evident at this year's trials and many new launches stand out. In previous years an emphasis has been placed on large blooms within the Petunia ranges but this year breeders were keen to feature small-flowered varieties.
Eady said: "We went through all the mini Petunia varieties on display by the different breeders. Petunia Mini-Me from Cohen Nurseries has a good marketing name but we were really taken by Petunia hybrida Littletunia from Danziger, which has five distinct colours in the series with plants all uniform in growth habit. 'Sweet Pink' is particularly nice."
Rudbeckia 'TigerEye' from Goldsmith Seeds stuck out as a favourite introduction for Spray, who sees the trials as an important event for developing the company plant catalogue.
A growing show
Hem Genetics has shown at the trials for the past three years and director Rudy Westenberg has seen it become more international, both in terms of exhibitor and visitor. He said: "Nurseries are increasingly working together to put on a show, and that's bringing more and more customers - a great position to be in."
Thompson & Morgan showed at the trials for the first time this year, hoping to make moves on the European market. Professional grower-manager Nigel Judd said: "We are already working with professional growers within Europe but this is our first time at the trials.
"We're also seeing a lot of UK growers coming over to take a look what's on offer, so it's a good venue."
As the breeding sector continues to professionalise, it is seeing a steady number of takeovers and strategic partnerships being formed. Last year Sahin and Takii joined forces. They were on show side by side at the trials this year, and developments continue apace.
Kieft-Pro-Seeds took the opportunity to announce a move to focus solely on its professional Kieft-Pro-Seeds assortment, having sold its Economy assortment to newcomer EconSeeds, owned and managed by Hans Veenstra, former production manager at Kieft Seeds.
Assuring grower customers of a smooth transition, the firms will run side by side until 1 September, when EconSeeds will move to its own premises.
September also marks the start of a new collaboration between Beekenkamp and Florema, which have announced the signing of an intention agreement to join activities with Florema becoming part of the Beekenkamp Group. With complementary company portfolios, the aim is to strengthen the group's market position. Florema's expertise in exports is expected to boost the Beekenkamp brand internationally.
SHARING MARKETING KNOW-HOW
Although plants will always remain a primary focus for plant breeders, many of the companies showing at this year's trials emphasised marketing opportunities for their plants, and sales-boosting ideas were on show across the board.
Companies were keen to gauge growers' reactions to retail concepts for their plants in a bid to gain more profitability for all links of the breeder-grower-retailer chain.
Ball presented a whole display section of marketing ideas at its Rijsenhout show nursery. Ball Holland manager Niko Moermann said the company is keen to enter into discourse with its growers on the best way to promote plants. He explained: "Our 'Creating Solutions Together' display area is about calling on our grower customers to come to us and work on concepts to suit the product but, most importantly, to suit their retailer customers and consumers.
Showing its Israeli produce in the Dutch trials through Carmel Agrexco, Hishtil produces both bedding plants and vegetable seeds, as well as plants for the edibles market. Some of its edible plants are already used by chefs and the culinary market, and Hishtil is keen to bring an easy take-home solution for those plants to the consumer market. It has developed a three-pot carry system for tomatoes, basil and peppers, which include full-flavoured varieties (including Tomaccio, which it claims is the sweetest tomato in the world) that are easy to look after. Following the consumer culinary trend, it is also offering a planted basket with a full range of kitchen herbs.
AN INDUSTRY FIRST
For the past 165 years, German plant breeding company Benary has aimed to produce quality plant varieties with high profitability for the ornamentals industry. Its breeding activities focus on tuberous and fibrous begonias, pansies, black-eyed Susans and perennials.
The company is well known for industry firsts. It launched the first F1 hybrid fibrous Begonia, B. 'Primadonna', 100 years ago and set a milestone in pansy breeding in 1974 with the launch of the first orange pansy. The company looks set to cause a stir again in 2009 with the launch of another first for the bedding market, the unusual Ptilotus exaltatus 'Joey'.
Benary managing director Matthias Redlefsen said: "The launch of 'Joey' brings a new species to the bedding market. Eighteen years of development have taken it from a large, shrubby plant to an avant-garde beauty, allowing for maximum creativity in designing mixed containers and flower beds."
The plant comes from Australia and as such is extremely tolerant of heat and drought, as well as being able to adapt well to other conditions.
Its 6-10cm bottlebrush flower spikes glisten silver with a darker neon-pink colour near the tips. Visually, the flower spikes appear soft and delicate but a touch will show the firm, cone-like structure, which makes it an extremely tough flower.
Offered as ApeX Seed, 'Joey' offers growers exceptional germination rates and a high percentage of transplantable plugs. Short crop times of 12-16 weeks allow for quick returns. The company placed a strong marketing programme behind this plant.
Flowers 2 Impress
A high-end gift line offering an alternative to short-lived cut-flower gift items. Packaging is just waterproof enough to tolerate in-store watering, it fits tight on a Danish trolley to maximise space and prevents the planter from moving around in the car when consumers take it home.
One in three Cyclamen sold is now used outside and this concept aims to give other traditional indoor plants a new outlet in the garden with a simple tray-sleeve-and-handle system. Other plant varieties in the range include Ranunculus, Bracteantha and Capsicum.
These aim to make it easier for consumers to adopt a planting scheme. A six-cell tray with a plant mix is provided along with a layout plan so consumers can recreate the display in their own garden.
Not so much a new plant as a new selling concept. A life-size display card showing the flower is added to the plant so growers can send out plants before they have flowered. The grower gets a faster turnaround and the consumer gets a longer-lasting plant with the knowledge of what it will look like in time.
Les Plantes Parfumees
Ball aims to create a new selling point for plants. Most plant marketing focuses on visual appeal. By alluding to luxury French perfumes the company hopes to create a new premium for scented bedding plants.
US MARKETING MEETS EUROPEAN PRODUCTS AT SAKATA
International plant breeder Sakata has announced a closer collaboration between its transatlantic concerns, bringing American marketing and sales expertise into its European operations.
The move has changed the emphasis of Sakata's European trials from benches of plants set out for comparison to a showcase of products and how they can best be used to maximise sales at retail level. The company has divided its plant lines into groupings that aim towards specific growing conditions and specific customers.
American marketing co-ordinator Kathy Crom explained: "We're putting a new emphasis on pulling together opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.
"Traditionally trials offered row after row of plants. We're shifting towards more of a showcase to give all areas of the industry - growers, retailers and landscapers - an idea of how to make the most of our selection.
Crom added: "We're displaying full colour ranges and splitting lines into 'warm season' and 'cold season' displays set out to inspire at all levels. Of course, there are plenty of introductions this year but our display also aims to highlight and pull out some of our established lines to give fresh ideas."
Sakata products are now grouped to target specific sectors more effectively. Plants including Begonia 'Emperor', Hibiscus moschentus Southern Belle group and Zinnia Profusion series are listed as "core warm landscape performers" while plants including Bellis perennis 'Galaxy', the Viola Dynamite series and the Osteospermum Side Show series run under the "core cold landscape performers" banner.
Sakata has also split its retail lines into warm and cool season categories to provide ideas for both spring and autumn crops to maximise production and profit. The aim is to create product flexibility in catering for different markets alongside a product offering to increase profit from savings in areas such as low or no heat crops and by taking on a mix of cool and warm season crops at the right time of year, extending the growing season.
Seeking to maximise profitability at all levels of the chain, Sakata offers a variety of ideas for planning mixed containers that meet the easy-care needs of the consumer by using tried-and-tested Sakata lines that growers can rely on. As with other plant lines these are split into cool and warm season assortments.
Cool-crop mix examples
- - Brassica oleracea 'Nagoya White', with Primula vulgaris 'Danova White'
- - Viola Dynamite 'Deep Rose with Blotch' with Brassica oleracea Nagoya 'Red'
- - Primula Supernova 'White' with Primula vulgaris 'Danova Blue'
- - Antirrhinum majus 'Floral Showers' 'Bronze' and Primula Supernova 'Yellow' with Viola Dynamite 'Deep Rose with Blotch'
Warm-crop mix examples
- - Coleus (Solenostemon) Fairway 'Orange' and Celosia Kimono 'Mix' with Begonia Ambassador 'White'
- - Zinnia Profusion 'Coral' and Gerbera Festival 'Blush' with Catharanthus 'Victory Bright Eye'
- - SunPatiens 'Orange' and Celosia Kimono 'Yellow' with Coleus (Solenostemon) Superfine Rainbow 'Volcano'
- - Platycodon Astra 'Blue', Impatiens Carnival 'White' and Gypsophila Gypsy 'Pink' with Phlox Crystal 'Blue with White'.