Hops are hitting the shops in Germany this spring – and its thanks to “hopstimist” Richard Petri, founder of RiPlant.
As we know, flowers and chocolates complement one another so well that their point of sale is often found side by side in key retail positions. Indeed, the confectionary and horticulture sectors share many similarities. The products bring rewarding cheer to people’s lives. With this point in mind, it makes sense that those who work in floriculture might also work in the confectionery business at some point in their career. But it is doubtful that many people’s CVs are quite as unique as Richard Petri’s.
The founder of the Germany-based communications and sales agency RiPlant, Petri studied horticulture but, by chance, spent a decade during the early part of his career working in marketing for Mars.
“The training was unbelievable. Never in my life have I had such opportunities to learn. I was taught, for example, that my job was not to tell people what to do, but to motivate them to do it for themselves. And I also discovered that, as a manager, you must appraise yourself and ask your staff members to give feedback on your performance. And that is what I did in Africa. You employ people, you train them, you motivate them, and you build an organisation.”
Petri left Mars to return to horticulture – moving to Africa to help European breeders develop their mother stock. This time in his career included some four years working as general manager for Selecta’s production site in Uganda.
He reflects: “During my time in Africa I learned the importance of improvising, patience, endurance, and finding happiness in the little things in life – those things that we often take for granted.
“I also learned that, if you stay curious and show interest in your colleagues’ lives – their families and their culture – you will be respected. And, in return, they will offer you their loyalty, commitment, and hard work.”
On returning to Germany in 2010, Petri worked as Selecta’s marketing and product management director, leading an awarding-winning campaign for the mini-pot carnation, Pink Kisses.
“We ran a successful campaign. And now, more and more companies are asking RiPlant: “Can we do something similar?’”
Petri believes that Pink Kisses’ success was largely due to how it tuned into people’s emotions. Specifically, the campaign communicated to young people – ‘Generation Y’, whom Petri believes the horticulture industry should be doing more to reach out to. “We have placed Pink Kisses as a gift between young women – so that the plant was as beautiful as their friendships, or their friendships were associated with this plant.”
Interestingly, the campaign never discussed any horticultural advantages of the mini-pot carnation, such as whether it is a perennial or has a scent or is winter hardy. Another noteworthy point is that the PR campaign targeted lifestyle and beauty publications rather than traditional horticulture industry campaign channels.
Petri’s skill for marketing a brand to the consumer is one that he honed during his time at Mars. It’s a skill that he believes the horticulture industry has been missing because, often, breeders focus all their efforts and money on breeding and producing the plants but fail to monetise their product. Fortunately, RiPlant can bridge this gap and help breeders and growers’ better market and sell their products.
Petri set up RiPlant three years ago after deciding it was time for a career change. He explains: “The ten years at Selecta ended in Pink Kisses, which was a great success. So, then I thought: If I don’t try to do my own thing now, then when will I?’ After 30 years on the move, it was now or never.”
Since founding RiPlant, Petri and the RiPlant team have helped connect many plants to consumers’ emotions in Germany. As the marketing consultant for Elsner PAC, RiPlant is relaunching PAC’s Pelargonium ‘Chocolate’ series this year. This plant boasts colourful flowers and sumptuous, dark, chocolate-brown leaves.
“Having worked in the chocolate industry, I am encouraging consumers to associate these attractive plants to the familiar feelings they have about chocolate. So, we are presenting the ‘Chocolate’ series ‘tastefully’ and with a bit of humour,” explains Petri.
For the purposes of the Pelargonium campaign, RiPlant has also ‘transformed’ PAC owner Antonia Feindura into a “chocolatier of Pelargoniums” because “creating fine chocolate is like creating fine Pelargoniums.”
RiPlant’s sales and marketing campaign for hops plants (produced by Elsner PAC) also connect to people’s emotions by focussing on the nostalgia associated with drinking a cold glass of beer (ideally on a warm summer’s day, with friends, in the garden).
Petri, who amusingly describes himself as an ‘hoptimist’, explains that whilst hops plants are best known for producing beer, they are also an interesting, multipurpose garden plant. “They are decorative and could be nice for urban greening. They will climb high up wires and trellises to create green screens,” he says – adding that gardeners can also make non-alcoholic beverages from hops, such as hop-infused tea and lemonade.
The initiative started last year with a digital marketing campaign that utilised Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness of and inform younger consumers (millennials) about the Echter Brauhopfen hops, which is now available on https://hops.digital/en/
Petri points out that digital marketing is not used in every campaign he runs – only those in which it is necessary. For example, Ri Plant’s work for the (hortensia) Runaway Bride primarily utilised print media. This decision is because this garland Hydrangea is traditionally associated with weddings. Therefore, photographs of the plant’s resplendent white blooms were marketed to wedding magazines, which are read and enjoyed by brides-to-be and their friends and family members.
RiPlant’s hops marketing campaign won a prestigious TASPO award in 2021. This season they will continue to utilise digital media channels. At the same time, the hops plants will go on sale in well-known retail chains, garden centres, and Germany’s largest online gardening store, Gärtner Pötschke.
“We know from last year’s test markets that consumers are ready for hops,” asserts Petri, whose clients are ready to connect their plants to the people who buy them emotionally.
From his time working for Mars, he recalls that a different type of consumer enjoyed each of its many products – such as Bounty, Twix, Milky Way, Mars bars, and M&Ms. Similarly, a breeder’s many plant varieties have a different audience. And a thoughtful, strategic marketing initiative can nurture and encourage people’s fondness for specific plants and flowers.
This article was first published in the May 2022 FloraCulture International.