The Edibles Revolution
Consumers can't get enough herbs and veggies for their gardens, patios and indoors. Here's what you need to know to jump on board.
by Michael Kovalycsik, National Sales & Marketing Director, Delta T Solutions
One-third of all American households participated in food gardening last year. That's according to the 2016 National Gardening Survey of U.S. consumers. They spent more on edibles gardening, too, than on flowers, to the tune of $3.6 billion vs. $2.7 billion for flowers.
What's driving the trend? There are lots of different angles, including the crafting/hobbyist segment, those who want to know where their food is coming from and preserve it, and the foodie craze in general. Let's break it down.
There's a whole new generation out there (along with an existing, aging generation) that wants to get their hands dirty and make things from scratch (or with a little help). This can be anything from making soaps with herbs and fragrant edibles to using them for medicinal purposes, along with hobbies like beer and wine making. Lots of garden retailers are now offering unique varieties of edibles to capitalize on these trends, including varieties that fit in small spaces like containers, vertical gardening and square foot gardens.
Green Valley Garden Center, a grower-retailer in Ramsey, Minnesota, offers more than 200 different varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables, some offered in multiple pot sizes to cater to their customers' needs. "Annually we have a class on ‘Cooking With Herbs,' and have had various classes in the past and planned for this year on ‘Veggie 101/Gardening 101' with more advanced techniques," says Joni Stapfer, assistant manager at the garden center.
Knowing Your Source
It seems almost weekly there are new reports of large recalls of grocery store items. Americans are turning to locally grown food, as well as backyard and patio gardens as a way to know where their food is coming from. According to "Garden To Table: A 5-Year Look at Food Gardening in America," food safety was one of the top reasons for starting a home garden. Other reasons included saving money, and producing better quality and better-tasting food.
To that end, consumers are continuing to look for better quality and more unique flavors from the veggie and fruit starts they buy from retailers. We're seeing increases in offerings like heirloom tomatoes, colorful veggies like purple carrots, purple potatoes and black heirloom tomatoes, and unique edibles like salad mixes, grafted tomato/potato plants and even edible flowers.
Stapfer says they have seen increased demand for heirloom varieties in particular, with customers often looking for specific varieties. Other garden centers are expanding their offerings as well, to include unique edibles like yacon, oca, kalette and kosmic kale.
Fruit trees and berries are some of the faster growing categories in the edibles realm, too, according to the Garden to Table report. Suppliers are now offering more patio-style fruit trees like columnar apples and dwarf blueberry plants to accommodate consumers with smaller gardening footprints.
Many who labor throughout the summer nurturing their fruits and veggies don't want to waste them when harvest time comes. Canning and preserving has once again become a popular fall past time, with classes available at retailers, local libraries and through extension offices. Education continues to be a driver in selling edibles and extending the seasons into fall and even winter gardening in some locations.
Stapfer says Green Valley offers classes on canning/preserving the harvest, as well as specifics on choosing fruit varieties and growing specifically for making jams, jellies and preserves.
Cable channels like The Food Network and the Travel Channel have exposed viewers to new and unique ways of cooking food, and they've inspired them to seek out unique vegetables, fruits and herbs for their own recipes. Garden retailers are jumping in on this trend, too, by offering tasting events for popular edibles like tomatoes, peppers, apples, oranges and more.
Indoor gardening also is a niche area that some garden retailers are starting to become more engaged with. For example, Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Maryland, launched a new department called Modern Homesteading that carries all the equipment local residents need for growing edibles indoors all year round. The interests represented in that department include hydroponic growing, beekeeping for honey, wine and beer brewing, aquaponics and more.
The farm-to-table element also is represented in this category, as more of these type of restaurants are cropping up, inspiring consumers to grow their own and host farm to table dinners at their homes.
The popularity of edibles doesn't seem to be waning any time soon, and there are many avenues of the trend growers and retailers can continue to explore for added profitability.
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