Brand names were quite prevalent at the recent HTA National Plant Show (20-21 June), which is unusual in the ornamental plant market. Developing a brand costs so much that it is usually only the fastest of fast-moving consumer goods that get enough promotion to be specifically asked for at the till.
Nursery consultant Will George describes David Austin Roses as the "Hoover" of roses. He says David Austin is the "go-to" brand and has become almost a generic name. It turned over £17m last year, up £2m, and works hard to maintain its position as one of the biggest names in the plant export market by attending trade shows such as IPM and events such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Glendoick Garden Centre's Ken Cox says David Austin is so good at branding that it can charge £10 more for a rose than its competitors and still achieve better sales.
Ball Colegrave marketing manager Stuart Lowen says brand names can show how long-term plants have outstanding performance. He cites Coolwave pansies and Easywave petunias as examples, as well as Tumbelina and Surfinia petunias, which he says are "almost household names". He adds that Sunpatiens is another that has built trust by doing a good job in the garden that the customer understands.
Hillier is another well-known horticultural name. The firm is more than 100 years old and sometimes it takes that long to build the trust a brand name engenders, says George.
Top industry brands the RHS and Kew have licensed their names, as has the Eden Project. RHS licensees give £800,000 per annum in royalties to the RHS on about £40m in retail sales, but only include non-plant products such as a Mr Fothergill's Seeds range and Moorcroft pots.
Kew has Garden Centre Fresh (GCF) as a plant licensee for orchids, ferns and bulbs. GCF's Brian Redman says the brand helps sell the product, which is being relaunched, repackaged and extended after talks at Kew's licensing day in July.
The runner-up at the show was Proven Winners, a joint entry from Kernock Park Plants and the Bransford Webbs Plant Company. Proven Winners is an "inspirational brand that also aims to give consumers ideas that they can achieve at home".
Bransford Webbs was promoting Proven Winners shrubs. Young-plant producer Kernock Park Plants is the UK licensee for Proven Winners, the biggest plant brand in the USA with a $6m marketing budget. Kernock business development head Mark Taylor hopes the brand will gain traction here now that Bransfords is growing the shrubs for sale in UK garden centres from this spring.
He says: "The brand is like Heinz baked beans - you know what you're going to get. The plants are trialled, robust and disease-resistant, because they're Proven Winners."
He adds that garden centres are starting to demand the brand more because they see it in other centres. Taylor says the only current big UK plant brands are David Austin Roses and Raymond Evison Clematis, but this could change. "People understand brands. They were brought up with them." He says just as he chooses one clothes shop over another, he hopes plant buyers will choose one plant brand over a non-branded one."
Trees for Life from Frank P Matthews is a brand emphasising the longevity and value of the 116-year-old grower's fruit trees. The firm won best plant and the visitor vote for Malus toringo 'Aros' at the National Plant Show. Nick Dunn, grandson of Frank Matthews, says the future company strategy is to carry on promoting its brand and its benefits.
Successful brand launch
In contrast, Happy Plants from Porters launched at the show just last year and has proved a great success, earning the grower two awards at this year's UK Grower of the Year Awards.
Happy Plants is intended to be simple, cheerful and memorable. In its first year, the brand has helped Porters increase its garden centre portfolio from 30 to 250 stores, representing a £1m rise and an 11% higher margin than its previous business model.
Another new brand, Neame Lea/Zyon UK's Enjoy Your Garden plant range, launched at the 2016 Four Oaks Trade Show. The products are grown by Neame Lea and marketed by Zyon UK.
Responding to the "need for an effective, fully integrated approach to marketing perennials", Perennial Plant Products launched a new, two-brand marketing strategy for its European and US markets for Geranium Rozanne and other Blooms of Bressingham plants.
Online entrepreneur Chris Bonnett of Gardening Express says brands have potential in garden plants but need "penetration". A Tesco plant is unbranded and the producer growing that plant for Tesco, Wyevale or whoever does not need to and is not required to brand, he adds.
He says Proven Winners has good varieties and branding can work if the varieties are right and can be shown to be better than those that are cheaper because they do not have the associated branding and marketing costs. "People have to know why yours is better than the next one which is cheaper."
George says: "You have to get the brand name through to the (retail) buyers and the end consumers. When I was a nurseryman (at peat-free herbaceous grower Prenplants, which he sold in 2014) getting the message across that our plants were different, you ended up talking to women's institutes. It needs to be via TV, magazines or talking direct to people to get across your brand."
Kew - Other commercial licensees
- CJ Wildlife
- Creative Tops
- Fine Art Panorama
- Otter House
- Spear & Jackson
- Taylors of Harrogate
- Terrace & Garden
- Thompson & Morgan
- Tom Chambers
- Yorkshire Flowerpots