Larger, brighter plant tags enticing garden shoppers – USA TODAY
Pity the poor pixie tag.
The tiny plastic insert served for years as the sole means of identifying plants at garden centers and educating consumers about the plant’s needs. Impossible to read with miniscule text and not-always-reliable photographs, the pixie, at 1 inch wide and 4 tapered inches long, was the industry standard.
Over the past decade, however, new trends in plant marketing have replaced the tiny tag with a tidal wave of colorful, informative packaging that has changed the appearance of garden centers everywhere.
The new tags are vivid, with beautiful photographs and artwork that provide a sophisticated look for an increasingly demanding consumer.
Companies like John Henry in Lansing, Mich., and Macore in Lafayette, Ore., specialize in creating and printing plant tags and other packaging for plant growers, wholesalers, retailers and propagators throughout the United States and Canada. As the number of plant varieties increases along with the number of plants patented and registered, their businesses have changed to meet the demand.
“When I started eight years ago, probably half of my growers didn’t use a tag,” says Tim Shatraw, a designer and account manager with John Henry. “Today, you go into a garden center and see people reading them. Growers now realize the tag is important to sell more plants.”
One of the most popular new styles is the portrait tag which features a photograph of the plant in bloom on the front, with detailed information about it on the back. Larger, more informative, and far more attractive, they have a huge visual impact as a point of sale.
Creating the right packaging requires teams of graphic designers, horticulturists, photographers, researchers, engineers and machinists who work with clients from initial design to end product.
“Graphic art was rare eight years ago and now that’s the primary reason people come to us. We also assembled a large research team over the last seven-eight years … to coincide with the new (plant) varieties hitting the marketplace,” says Mike Howden, sales and marketing manager for Macore.
“We do a lot of custom work we didn’t do before; that niche has taken off,” he says, adding, “We’ve made tags in shapes of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and even birds, but the biggest thing happening is the vividness and richness of the color and the imagination of the art.”
That liveliness infuses not only the tags, but signs, carriers, handles and even pots.
“There’s a lot more printed material on the pots, which used to be black, white or green,” says Shatraw.
The search for creative ways to display plant information has given rise to special stakes that fit onto the rims of pots, small clips that attach to a plant’s stem, and “billboard” handles that feature large photographs of the plants in bloom.
Coordinating all these elements with matching artwork helps growers and retailers brand themselves into a recognizable commodity.
As the artwork on the front bedazzles the eye, the content on the back engages the mind. Meticulously researched and often reviewed by a third party, the information must align with current horticultural standards as well as current patent numbers and correct register numbers.
“There is a broadening market for the educated plant buyer which is reflected on the tag,” says Meagan Hagan, staff botanist at Macore.
Working with a team of researchers, she writes content for plants from groundcovers to trees, focusing on their unique characteristics. Icons, or symbols, indicate light, water, and soil requirements, mature size, and hardiness zones. Using them frees up space for more in-depth content about long-term care and landscaping possibilities.
“There wasn’t a lot in the old style that would compel a customer to take a risk on a plant,” she says.
Instead of generic descriptions, Hagan says they try to find ways to motivate the consumer to use the plant more creatively. Ideas for companion planting, butterfly gardening, and deer-proof landscaping are some of the suggestions offered.
For a new generation of tech-savvy gardeners, a smartphone will come in handy on some plant tags. Scanning codes, or QR (quick read) codes, link consumers to websites where they can view videos and access specific gardening advice.
“Besides some splash and presentation to draw you in, the new generation needs more information. An approachable tag builds confidence to get gardeners over that hump,” says Howden.
At both John Henry and Macore, even the physical makeup of the tags undergoes rigorous testing.
“We test tags with special adhesives and they’re put through water and heat tests to make sure [they perform],” Shatraw says.
Both companies produce millions of plastic products during their high season from December to March.
At Macore, Howden says, “We’re very careful about what we print on; we can’t take a risk on something that hasn’t been tested. One of the factors is chemical makeup. With Styrene [a synthetic chemical used in the manufacture of plastics], having a little higher rubber content can lessen the brittleness of a tag and it will last longer.”
All the improvements in plant packaging have translated into benefits for the consumer, who often retains the plant tags for future reference.
“Customers will keep their tags for years – to inform friends about a certain plant variety or to note the source where they bought it,” says Howden. In addition, it can be a mini guide on how to care for the plant as it grows.
“Having a really effective tag in your plant is a great seller,” says Howden.
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