Foodies Dish Up Fresh Opportunities for Garden Center Sales

By: Maureen Gilmer

From: Garden Chic, March/April, 2013

Foodies Dish Up Fresh Opportunities for Garden Center Sales

LUXURY AT ITS FINEST Always give your food-themed displays a feeling of abundance. It will pay off in more sales.

Making a place for foodies in your garden center is a natural fit, because to them, there is nothing more appealing than to pick and prepare vegetables without ever leaving home. It's truly evident when we see the wealthy locals flock to Tomatomania at Roger's Gardens in Corona Del Mar, CA, in the spring to buy their veggie seedlings. You couldn't give a tomato plant away 10 years ago, but now this opulent coastal town of Southern California is home to backyard gardens wherever there is enough space for a single tomato plant.

What are the driving forces that are fuelling our love affair with cuisine? It depends on your age.

There's no doubt that aging boomers are driving the top end of the food craze at Roger's, but this group may not be as sophisticated as you think. Dining is a favorite recreational activity for the over-50 crowd. They'll dine out or dine in, and they always dine well. There will be true gourmets among them, but the evolution of the "foodie" has resulted in a far less sophisticated taste that ranges from barbecue to cordon bleu. Here, the emphasis is on new flavors, ultra-fresh foods, exotic dishes and not-so-exotic fare remixed into more interesting forms.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies an entirely new group of food fanatics who are young and driven by both economic necessity and health. Growing food solves the economic problem of the rapidly rising prices of organic produce. Fears of pesticides, GMO and processed additives to otherwise simple food products is driving this group to eat only fresh, organically grown produce. 

While the older set is dining on haute cuisine, the young family is discovering ways to augment their store-bought groceries with what they can grow at home. Anyone with a sizable garden will have an overabundance of produce, particularly fruit, because a family cannot consume a summer crop of plums or apples all at once.

The popularity of jams, marmalades, apple butters, jellies, pickles and canned produce is exploding in a quiet way. The implements and supplies used to make these items and preserve harvests are making a return. This is more than the usual Ball Mason jars and banded lids. Tools that help the process along include specialty peelers and corers, food mills, funnels, steam canners and pressure cookers. Books and kits that help beginners get started are in demand for regions where old-school canning vanished a long time ago.

Setting the Scene
Food preparation is all about cooking, and food presentation is all about dining. Both of these fit into the big picture of backyard entertaining and well-appointed outdoor living spaces. For garden centers, it's presentation that drives merchandising because there are so many opportunities for blending aesthetic and practical items with plants and plant products.

Everyone who entertains, including foodies who place a high value on the way food is presented on plates, dining tables and buffet sideboards, is looking for things that make their table memorable. Some look for beautiful lightweight plastic serving platters since they're not as fragile as ceramics for outdoor entertaining. Pewter is another good option because it's so variable and unbreakable, and when it's shined brightly, it lends the feeling of formal table silver; left to its own patina, it becomes more rustic. No matter the approach, they want their table to look beautiful.

Setting a table within your displays can inspire customers to strive for the same look. Whether you set it for an intimate dinner for two or a large family gathering, setting tables allows you to put your merchandise on display in a way that encourages customers to try new things. Be edgy, be traditional. The more diversity, the better.

Emphasis on serving dishes at all price points can easily translate into sales. Heavy pewter is perfect for presenting barbecued steaks and ribs. Beautifully molded plastics are nicely lightweight to carry outdoors. Creative ceramics can be the perfect bowls for dips and sauces. Be sure to include a wide range of cloth napkins, placemats and tablecloths in compelling colors and patterns - they make some of the best impulse buys.

Don't underestimate the importance of beverages in this milieu. After all, a cocktail party on the patio involves nothing but drinks and hors d'oeuvres. This world, with its home brews, microbrews and wine tasting, is a vital part of the foodie lifestyle, and providing accessories, from beer mugs to wine bottle openers with sophisticated motifs, brings this festive world into your garden center.

A great way to connect with this crowd is to emphasize locally made beer and wine at your garden center. Wineries may be looking for ways to get their brand in front of more people. Include their wines in your garden center displays, and you'll glean customers from their fans. You might even benefit from hosting promotional wine tasting events with products donated by your partner wineries.

This is also true with microbreweries, which are less tied to grape-growing regions. This is a more relaxed clientele, with higher numbers of men who are often keen on their own home brews. The combination of beer tasting and home brewing supplies can blend the good-time feel of casual living and dining with the new trend of watching sports outdoors.

Speciality Foods In the Mix
Roger's Gardens is featuring a growing emphasis in gourmet foods by showcasing a speciality foods shop selling jars of exotic condiments and delicacies. They also coordinate chef food trucks, which come to the nursery on specified days to share their unique dishes. Among their branded offerings are gourmet olive oils, pasta, cookies, chocolate, jams and chutneys, tapenades and salsas. The ability to integrate these products into your table settings and food-oriented displays gives them a take-home flavor for every foodie who sees them.

Foodies of every stripe love to read about food. This is an area where you can parlay your social networking efforts into a more powerful sense of community. Find a foodie to assist you in writing new content that helps customers find greater success growing and cooking with the plants you sell. This applies to seasonal annuals of course, but it's the bigger woody plants that can fly out the door when you've hit the mark in the newsletter. For example, Mexican lime trees are related to tequila tasting, and blending these two things in your content provide a reason for customers to buy such a tree. Or perhaps recipes for sauteed pear meals can indeed drive a run on gourmet pear trees.

Today's home gardeners, or foodies brought to gardening by the desire to grow fresh, need inspiration beyond Tomatomania. They're looking for fresh new ideas for plants that yield unusual varieties and flavors that are difficult to find in the store. Whether it's avocados in San Diego or blueberries in New England, there's a great deal to be made on these long-lived trees, shrubs and vines that are well-suited to the average backyard.

Make your garden center a place where foodies can come for ideas, seminars, specialty implements and beautiful table settings. Retrofit your demonstration spaces to be more food-friendly. Bring in knowledgeable experts and chefs who in turn draw their own followings into your store. And remember that foodies love nothing more than to talk about food, look at food, taste food.

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