Seeing red

Seeing red

Scarlet-hued poinsettias still dominate the Christmas plant market, but there are other options and trends to watch.

September 18, 2014

For people who celebrate the December 25 holiday, it’s not Christmas without an adorned fir tree. It’s not Christmas without the twinkling lights. And it’s not Christmas without red poinsettias encased in foil. Though growers, breeders and garden center retailers branch out and offer apricot or pink hues, the traditional red look still dominates the poinsettia market.

People value the classics during the winter holiday, but in order to compete with big box stores that sell lower quality plants at a cheaper price, garden centers are offering traditional plants plus something a little different. A grower, retailer and breeder weigh in and share how they are varying their product to stymie the competition while sticking to the customs of Christmas, and what trends they’re seeing in the holiday plant industry.

Red devotion

Growers, retailers and breeders all agree on one thing: red poinsettias occupy at least 80 percent of the market during the holidays, if not more.

“Red is still by far the No. 1 color, and it always will be,” says Lloyd Traven, owner of Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, Pa. “But our customers are not looking for red. They expect to see anything else from us.”

Traven instead grows bold burgundy, pink and apricot-colored plants and glitter and marble varieties that are speckled with red and white — a formal Christmas look with some flair. He specializes in the unique and captures that segment of the market.

While people may still prefer red, many are gravitating toward the darker, bolder merlot-like reds that offer Christmas color without clashing with the rest of their home décor, says Lori Harms, greenhouse manager at Countryside Flower Shop in Crystal Lake, Ill.

“If a customer has a home where red just clashes with walls, paint or carpeting, burgundy fits that spot,” Harms says. “It’s very rich and very nice in an environment where you have warm colors and you don’t want that sharp, bright red. I would say burgundy is our second seller next to red.”

Sam Kimling, brand manager for ECKE and Oglevee at Dümmen Group, says Dümmen is "exploring opportunities" in the design aspect of poinsettias, and color comes into play.

“We want people to think of it beyond just a pot crop and think of it as a decorating piece,” Kimling says, which is why they offer an array of red, pink, white and apricot hues. “Advertisers are not using poinsettias as much in consumer decorating magazines. Our breeding work shows there is depth beyond your traditional red, so there are lots of opportunities we'd like to explore with design.”

Other than red, apricot and white are popular colors at Countryside, as are the blue painted poinsettias.

“We offer blue and silver poinsettias for our Jewish clientele for Hanukah,” she says. “But everybody fell in love with them, and sales keep increasing every year.”

Big and tall vs. short and small

While people continue to prefer a red color palette, Traven says they’re more willing to experiment with different sized poinsettias. And they love the miniature varieties.

“The smaller the plant, the better we do. So we’ve now pushed topiary forms of poinsettias. We have gotten down to where the largest size of tree poinsettia that we grow is a 5-inch clay pot,” Traven says. “On the topiary end, the smallest size we offer is a 1-inch clay pot.”

Harms has found the exact opposite patterns at her store. Now that the economy has rebounded, customers are leaning toward bigger poinsettias.

“Trend wise, it’s not so much the colors that change, we’ve seen differences in the sizes people are purchasing,” Harms says. “From 2008 to 2012, no one really wanted to spend a lot of money on their poinsettias. The six-inch size was selling, but we were lagging on our 10-inch, beautiful showcase ones. In the last two years, our corporate clients have come back, they’re spending more money and they’re buying the 10 inch again.”

Breaking the mold

Kimling says Dümmen offers poinsettias bred with euphorbias to vary the shape of the leaves and give the traditional poinsettia a different look.

“We’re trying to break the mold of that traditional red,” he says. “But you have to get retailers and growers on board, because some growers are hesitant to add a large percentage of colors beyond red in a scan-based retail environment.”

By changing the shape and presentation, Kimling hopes they can extend the season for poinsettias. For example, Luv U Pink, a poinsettia and euphorbia hybrid, could be a plant to honor breast cancer awareness month in October.

“We want to introduce different design concepts, not just foil,” he says. “The future of the market is when we can collaborate with hard goods suppliers and do more with the containers and color trends.”

Educate and differentiate

One big hurdle both Harms and Kimling mentioned is getting consumers to realize that poinsettias are nontoxic, and retailers need to constantly reinforce this fact. While discussing this on the trade show floor of Cultivate’14 in Columbus, Ohio, Kimling rubbed some nectar from the cyathia on his fingers and tasted it to emphasize his point.

“The most important thing to get out there to people is that poinsettias are not poisonous. There is so much myth and folklore out there,” Harms says. You’d have to eat an amount equal to your body weight for it to be dangerous.

Traven says he’s seen a decline in poinsettias during the past few years. He offers other Christmas plants, such as cyclamen and grows ornamental edibles like peppers and tomatoes. Amaryllis, begonias and hydrangeas are also “surging” and “absolutely shine," he says.

Harms says she dresses up her poinsettias during the holidays.

“The more you can decorate, the more you can offer premade containers, anything to make it different than those pot covers that are premade and plopped in at the box stores, [the better],” she says. “Anything that we can do to make them more upscale. They are home grown so they last longer, and we’ve taken better care of them.”