Funding for this column is provided by the ASCFG Research Committee

Fresh Flowers Through the Eyes of Generation X and Generation Y

Generation X (GenX) consists of 44 million people born between 1965 and 1976. Generation Y (GenY) consists of 71 million people born between 1977 and 1994. Targeted marketing to these age groups could reverse the downward trend in floral sales if the industry can gain insight into their preferences and attitudes toward flowers. This study looked at flowers as gifts since more than $100 billion is spent on gifts in the United States each year. Conducted using focus groups in Michigan and Minnesota (216 total participants), the study aimed to: 1) explore the positive or negative attitudes of GenX and GenY toward flowers as gifts, 2) explore differences in perceptions about price, product, place and promotions among GenX and GenY, and 3) determine what actions the floral industry can take to improve the use of flowers as gifts by GenX and GenY.

The following actions were the top three identified as those actions that would increase the likelihood of purchasing flowers as gifts: 1) offered special discounts, 2) longer longevity, and 3) more price ranges. The study found that both GenX and GenY view flowers as “special” gifts. GenY displayed some reservations about enjoyment by the recipient and cost of the gift. The research suggests there is great potential to position flowers as a well-received yet surprising birthday gift. The upper limit for spending on a birthday gift was around $50, though the upper limit for spending on a floral gift for a birthday was around $30. Targeting birthdays is ideal to increase sales across the calendar year.

GenY consumers indicated that their perceptions about flowers were that they are high-priced, difficult to obtain and not frequently advertised. Furthermore, they do not reflect the gift giver’s personality as well as other gifts such as a DVD, book or CD.  GenX placed more value on flowers, citing greater enjoyment and confidence in choosing the correct floral gift. Participants indicated a willingness to pay more for gifts that reflected their personality and knowledge of the recipients’ preferences.

Other potential strategies identified by the preferences of GenX and GenY in this study include sales promotions, proven longevity, more price point offerings, more unique or trendy flowers and packaging, and combining flowers with other products such as gift cards, food or media, such as a CD, DVD or book.

Rihn, A.L., C. Yue, B. Behe, C. Hall. 2011. Generations X and Y Attitudes toward Fresh Flowers as Gifts Implications for the Floral Industry. HortScience 46(5):736-743.

Postharvest Performance Relative to Transport Systems

Recent research on shipping cut flowers has focused on maintaining the cold chain since high temperatures can reduce vase life and make ethylene-sensitive species more susceptible to ethylene. The typical shipping method (from Central and South America) requires five to seven days utilizing air and truck transport. This research, conducted by the University of Florida, evaluated the effect of three commercial transport systems on postharvest quality and vase life for cut alstroemeria, carnation, gerbera and rose.

The transport systems evaluated were 24-hour, 3-day and 7-day. The 7-day transport system included temperature controls while the 24-hour and 3-day trials did not utilize any temperature control methods. The trial was conducted monthly for one year to include seasonal temperature fluctuations. Five cultivars of each species were harvested at commercial maturity, graded for uniform quality, combined into bunches, recut, hydrated, wrapped in sleeves and packed dry. The flowers were held overnight in a cooler at 2 to 3pC prior to shipping.

In most cases, the study showed that transporting fresh flowers within 24 hours to 3 days resulted in a longer vase life compared to a 7-day transport system. The results demonstrate that the five species tested were able to tolerate high and fluctuating temperatures (at times, substantially higher than is recommended for most cut flowers) for short periods without substantially affecting vase life and quality. The variation in temperatures through the year did not result in a consistent trend in vase life among the floral species—the summer months, when exposed to the highest temperatures, did not result in the shortest vase life.

The researchers acknowledge that while all postharvest factors were as consistent as possible, there may have been preharvest variation that affected the vase life and postharvest quality. They also suggest that treatment with fungicides, anti-ethylene agents and commercial hydration solutions are beneficial to cut flowers exposed to high or fluctuating temperatures.

Leonard, R.T., A.M. Alexander, T.A. Nell. 2011. Postharvest Performance of Selected Colombian Cut Flowers after Three Transport Systems to the United States. HortTechnology, 21(4):435-442. 

Nutrient Movement Through Plastic Mulch

Plastic or fabric ground covers help suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. A soil scientist with the Agricultural Research Service in Texas has evaluated how ground covers limit water penetration and affect carbon and nutrient levels in the soil; particularly when composted manures were applied after planting—a common practice in organic production.

Two materials were tested: needle-punched, double-layer fabric and tightly woven polypropylene. Two types of compost, poultry litter pellets and a cattle manure compost mix, were used. While water moved freely through the fabric cover, there was limited penetration through the polypropylene cover for the first two weeks. However, by the end of the 30-day study, water moved more easily through the polypropylene cover.

The levels of beta-glucosidase were used to assess the biological activity in the soil. Beta-glucosidase levels can be used as a soil quality index to determine how the influx of soluble carbon affects soil microbial activity. Not only were the levels similar in the fabric and polypropylene covered soils, they were also similar to the control soil samples without ground cover. However, soil under both ground covers had somewhat lower levels of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus than the control.

Perry, A. 2011. Good News About Ground Covers for Organic Gardeners. Agricultural Research, 59(7):22.