On 3 March 2020, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) brought together key industry players to Miami, Florida – the cargo gateway to America – for a conference entitled ‘Growing the industry’.
The event, coordinated by the association as part of its Spring Meeting, was held to exchange knowledge and facilitate discussion on understanding the US market and how it is developing. A recording of this horticultural conference is available to watch on-demand here.
To answer the question of ‘growing the industry’, keynote speaker Anna Ball, CEO of Ball Horticulture, gave an engaging and broad overview of the horticultural industry. She identified ten key topics and urged the delegates to think about the customer of the future and to focus on the positive environmental impact of plants. Ball says for the industry to grow it’s essential to invest in IT and get to grips with the supply chain data so that you can bring the right plants to the right person at the right time. She used positive examples of educating youngsters to “plantology” and listening to what consumers are doing right now, such as the current social media trend of Plant Parenting. Ball also advocates collaboration within the industry to create solutions for the future of horticulture.
AmericanHort President and CEO, Ken Fisher, gave a passionate presentation on the implementation of initiatives in support of ornamentals producers in the USA. Fisher’s starting point is consumer confidence based upon current census data which states the Green Industry creates $348billion economic output and 2.3million jobs in the economy. In affirming the business case, he gave details on how AmericanHort plans to support the success of growers in the next decade with an advocacy team based in Washington DC to influence a “sensible playing field” for the industry when it comes to regulations on labour, immigration and transportation. He reveals how they are also dealing with the margin squeeze put upon producers by commissioning an industry price study. Looking to the future, Fisher says AmericanHort is developing training and best practices on how to attract and retain talent for now and in the future with a leadership academy. Echoing Anna Ball’s presentation, he says it is crucial to invest in technology for production efficiency and more importantly, to embrace collaboration with industry producers not just in the USA but around the globe.
Finishing this section of the conference programme was a panel discussion about what exactly does influence consumers’ choice and what they are willing to pay for plants following the data experiments by the speaker’s Dr Hayk Khachatryan and Dr Charlie Hall.
Dr Khachatryan, Associate Professor at the University of Florida, has an interest in consumer behaviour, experimental economics, environmental behaviour, temporal preference, urban and environmental policy. He gave examples of how visual search behaviour of a consumer can be tracked on labelling or marketing images using bio-metric, eye-tracking technology to reveal an exact preference to products or use of products.
Dr Hall of Texas A&M University revealed data from his horticultural research that provides more evidence on consumer decisions when purchasing a plant. It’s all about what ‘job the plants have to do’. Dr Hall also talks about data from civil projects in the US where investment had been made on green infrastructure instead of grey infrastructure and compared the cost savings, sustainable benefits and the positivity it gives to the environment and humankind.
Kate Penn, CEO Society of American Florists (SAF), talked about how the digital disruption of the past ten years has shaken the ‘bricks and mortar’ foundations of the traditional retail florists. Penn says that rather than dwelling on uncertainty, they have been developing initiatives and promotional tools for their members to energise communications with customers. She told of starting from the premise of “what can the florist offer offline, that customers can’t do online?”
Penn revealed the strategy is to target the strength of flowers to make memories both for the receiver and the giver, and she sites medical research which proves the positive impact on emotional wellbeing. She also talked about how they capture the ‘magic’ that giving and receiving flowers can create between people in an annual event known as Petal it Forward, where florists offer two bouquets to unsuspecting passersby – one to keep and one to give to someone else.
Christine Boldt, Executive Vice President of Association of Floral Importers of Florida (AFIF), has a vast responsibility overseeing the day-to-day operation of AFIF which translated into flowers amounts to 6.7 billion stems a year. Her members are responsible for all the activities of perishable cargo coming into Miami airport and inland in sea containers to both Miami’s seaports. Logistically this is 90% of imports coming into America by air and up to 224, 40ft containers arriving into Miami port. Boldt talked about the challenges of volumes, refrigeration and fumigation in both operations, and dealing with government and Federal regulatory agencies, all to ensure the flowers are on the road in time for the customers and meet the expectations of the importers who rely on an efficient, cost-effective operation.
The Miami Spring Meeting brought together industry representatives from across the globe and gave a unique network for every delegate. Commenting on the outcomes of the conference, AIPH Secretary General, Tim Briercliffe said “It is clear that our products have a positive impact on people’s lives and to grow our industry we need to meet customers needs by investing in technology and energise partnerships through collaboration to bring the power of plants to people.”