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Kathleen M. Kelley, Bridget K. Behe, John A. Biernbaum, and Kenneth L. Poff

Two identical surveys were conducted with separate samples to determine consumer perceptions of the quality of five edible flower species. Participants were either members of a class that reviewed the history and uses of edible flowers at an annual, 1-day event (Garden Days) or Michigan Master Gardeners who attended a similar class. Participants were shown a randomized series of projected photographic slides of five edible flower species and asked to indicate whether they found the flower quality acceptable. The slides depicted a range of ratings of mechanical damage, insect damage, or flower senescence on a Likert reference scale (1 through 5) developed by the researchers. A flower rated 5 was flawless, while a flower rated 1 had substantial damage. Nearly one-half of all participants had eaten edible flowers before the study, and 57% to 59% had grown them for their own consumption, indicating many individuals had previous experience. Both samples rated flower quality equally and found pansy (Viola ×wittrockiana `Accord Banner Clear Mixture'), tuberous begonia (Begonia ×tuberhybrida `Ornament Pink'), and viola (Viola tricolor `Helen Mount') acceptable from stage 5 to 3. Both groups found the nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus `Jewel Mix') flowers acceptable at only rating 5. Garden Days participants rated borage (Borago officinalis) acceptable from ratings 5 to 3, while the Master Gardeners rated their acceptability from only 5 to 4. Participants also rated flower color (yellow, orange, and blue) as equally acceptable.

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Melinda Knuth, Bridget K. Behe, Charles R. Hall, Patricia Huddleston, and R. Thomas Fernandez

Water is becoming scarcer as world population increases and will be allocated among competing uses. Some of that water will go toward sustaining human life, but some will be needed to install and support landscape plants. Thus, future water resource availability may literally change the American landscape. Recent research suggests that consumers’ attitudes and behavior toward potable water supplies have changed in other countries because of greater social awareness and increasingly widespread exposure to drought conditions. We conducted an online survey of 1543 U.S. consumers to assess their perceptions about landscape plants, the water source used to produce them, and plant water needs to become established in the landscape. Using two separate conjoint designs, we assessed their perceptions of both herbaceous and woody perennials. Consumers placed greater relative importance on water source in production over water use in the landscape for both herbaceous and woody perennials included in this study. They preferred (had a higher utility score for) fresh water over recycled water and least preferred a blend of fresh with recycled water for perennials and recycled water used for woody perennial production. In addition, the group that did not perceive a drought but experienced one placed a higher value (higher utility score) on nursery plants grown with fresh water compared with those which were actually not in drought and did not perceive one. Educational and promotional efforts may improve the perception of recycled water to increase the utility of that resource. Promoting the benefits of low water use plants in the landscape may also facilitate plant sales in times of adequate and low water periods.

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Bridget K. Behe, Benjamin L. Campbell, Charles R. Hall, Hayk Khachatryan, Jennifer H. Dennis, and Chengyan Yue

Information plays a vital role in the purchase decisions of retail lawn and garden consumers. Consumers have readily adopted personal computers and Internet technology as a way of seeking information and/or making purchases online. However, the extent to which horticultural consumers specifically seek information and make purchases online is not well documented. Our interests for this project were driven by an interest in the impact of smartphone ownership and Internet search behavior on product purchasing related to gardening products and items and how search and purchase were similar to (or different from) non-gardening information and products. Given the sharp rise in the use of smartphones and mobile media use, we explored differences among online shoppers, specifically those who had searched online for gardening information with those who were online for other purposes. We found differences between those who had searched online for non-gardening information compared with those who had searched online for gardening information. Women were more likely to search online for both gardening and non-gardening information, but men were more likely to make online gardening purchases. Education level, ethnicity, and geographic location of residence had varying impacts on the likelihood of online search and purchase. Having searched online for non-gardening information increased the likelihood of an online purchase by 16%, whereas the likelihood of purchase increased to 19% for online gardening-related searches.

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Kathleen M. Kelley, Bridget K. Behe, John A. Biernbaum, and Kenneth L. Poff

Two surveys were conducted to assess consumer and professional chefs' perceptions of three edible-flower species. Our objectives were to determine opinions, preferences, and uses of Viola tricolor L. `Helen Mount' (viola), Borago officinalis L. (borage), and Tropaeolum majus L. `Jewel Mix' (nasturtium). Flowers were grown using certifiable organic methods and chosen to reflect a variety of flower tastes, textures, and appearances. We quantified three attributes (taste, fragrance, and visual appeal) with a total of seven semantic, differential scales adapted from a scaling authority. The attributes were rated as: visual—“appealing”, “desirable,” and “very interested in tasting”; fragrance—“appealing” and “pleasant”; and taste—“tasty” and “desirable”. Garden Day participants were self-selected to evaluate and taste flowers from a consumer perspective. When asked to rate the three species on visual appeal and desire, no less than 76% of consumers awarded all flowers an acceptable rating. We found similar results when consumers answered questions regarding the taste of two of the three species. Results from this study support our hypothesis that customers would rate edible flower attributes highly and would be likely to purchase and serve the three species tested. Members of the Michigan Chefs de Cuisine Association participated in a similar survey. At least 66% of these chefs rated the three visual attributes and two fragrance attributes of viola and nasturtium acceptable. Chefs' ratings of the fragrance of borage as “appealing” and “pleasant” were higher than those of consumers, but the ratings were still low, 21% and 25%, respectively. Unlike consumers, chefs' ratings of the taste of viola as “appealing” and “desirable” were low (29% and 36%, respectively). We found some minor differences in ratings when groups were compared, using demographic variables as a basis for segmentation, indicating a homogenous marketing strategy may be employed.

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Melinda Knuth, Bridget K. Behe, Charles R. Hall, Patricia T. Huddleston, and R. Thomas Fernandez

In the coming decades, no natural resource may prove to be more critical to human health and well-being than water. There is abundant evidence that the condition of water resources in many parts of the United States is deteriorating. In some regions of the country, the availability of sufficient water to meet growing domestic uses, and the future sufficiency of water to support the use of landscape plants where we live, work, and play is in doubt. Conservation through water efficiency measures and water management practices may be the best way to help resolve water problems. Yet, consumer perceptions and attitudes and behavior toward water conservation may differ widely, particularly in the presence of drought. This study sought to add to the current horticulture and water conservation literature by exploring consumer attitudes and behavior during real and perceived drought situations, especially in terms of their landscape purchases and gardening/landscaping activities. Study findings could better inform educational programs and marketing strategies, helping to ensure the future demand of Green Industry products and services. With a national sample of 1543 subjects, an online survey tool was used to classify respondents into categories based on whether they accurately perceived if the region in which they lived was experiencing drought. We hypothesized that consumers were heterogeneous in their attitudes and behavior regarding plants and water conservation, depending on their real and perceived drought situations, and that their attitudes affected their behavior regarding plant purchases. Results confirmed this hypothesis. Attitudes and behaviors for those who correctly perceived they were in drought were different from those who correctly perceived they were not in drought, as well as those who incorrectly did not perceive they were in an actual drought.

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Bridget Behe, Robert Nelson, Susan Barton, Charles Hall, Charles D. Safley, and Steven Turner

Researchers often investigate consumer preferences by examining variables consecutively, rather than simultaneously. Conjoint analysis facilitates simultaneous investigation of multiple variables. Cluster analysis facilitates development of actionable market segments. Our objective was to identify relative importance and consumer preferences for flower color, leaf variegation, and price of geraniums (Pelargonium ×hortorum L.H. Bail.) and to identify several actionable market segments. We also evaluated the desirability of a hypothetical blue geranium. Photographic images were digitized and manipulated to produce plants similar in flower area, but varying in flower color (red, lavender, pink, white, and blue), leaf variegation (plain green, dark green zone, and white zone), and price ($1.39 to $2.79). Conjoint analysis revealed that flower color was the primary consideration in the purchase decision, followed by leaf variegation and price. A cluster analysis that excluded blue geraniums yielded four actionable consumer segments. When preferences for the blue geranium were included, six consumer segments were identified.

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Bridget K. Behe, Benjamin Campbell, Jennifer Dennis, Charles Hall, Roberto Lopez, and Chengyan Yue

Savvy marketers rely on the principles of customer segmentation and product targeting to more efficiently allocate scarce resources and effectively reach groups of consumers with similar likes, preferences, or demands. Our objective was to identify and profile consumer segments with regard to their gardening purchases to determine whether there were differences in their ecofriendly attitudes and behaviors such as recycling. Our underlying hypothesis was that different types of gardeners may exhibit more environmentally friendly behavior, predisposing them to be more receptive to product innovations specifically designed to be ecofriendly. Researchers collected plant purchases, recycling attitudes and behaviors, and preferences for ecofriendly containers from 763 consumers in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Texas. A cluster analysis based on plant purchases yielded three consumer segments: low use, woody plant buyers, and herbaceous plant buyers. There were some differences with regard to recycling behaviors among consumers in the three groups, including recycling aluminum drinking cans, newspapers, magazines, use of energy-saving bulbs, and composting yard waste. Generally, herbaceous plant buyers were most ecofriendly followed by woody plant buyers and low use. Given these differences, there appears to be some merit in the future to segment consumers by plant purchases versus others to target specific types of ecofriendly products to them.

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Bridget K. Behe, Jennifer H. Dennis, Charles R. Hall, Alan W. Hodges, and Robin G. Brumfield

Nursery production contributed $18.1 billion to the U.S. economy in 2002 and created nearly two million jobs. A U.S. Department of Agriculture multistate research committee on economics and marketing has conducted The National Nursery Survey four times at 5-year intervals (1988, 1993, 1998, and 2003) to help fill the void of publicly available information on production, marketing, and management for the nursery industry. In 2003, the committee conducted the National Nursery Survey using a standard sampling methodology targeting 15,588 total firms representing 44 states with 2,485 nurseries responding. The objective of this analysis was to provide a regional profile of the marketing practices of nursery producers. Regional differences were present in several areas of sales management, selling practices, pricing, and advertising. Generally, the coastal regions had a higher percentage of wholesale sales, whereas interior regions had a higher percentage of retail sales. Newsletters and yellow pages were the most important form of advertising in the Great Plains; trade journals were the most important method in the south central and southeast regions; and catalogs were the most important advertising method for all other regions. The percentage of sales to repeat customers varied from a low of 65.6% in the Great Plains to a high of 76.2% in the southeast. The Appalachian (26.9%) and southeast (26.8%) regions had the highest percentage of negotiated sales, whereas the northeast had the lowest. Although significant differences generally existed among regions in the percentage of sales spent on various transaction methods, nurseries in all regions used in-person, telephone, and mail order as their three most important sales transaction methods, except for the southeast where trade shows were the third most important method of sales transactions. Landscape professionals, rewholesalers, and single-location garden centers were the major market outlets in all regions. Respondents in all regions identified production, personnel, and marketing as limitations for expansion.

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Bridget K. Behe, Patricia T. Huddleston, Charles R. Hall, Hayk Khachatryan, and Benjamin Campbell

Brands differentiate products from each other and help create the perception of added value. They influence product choice at the point of purchase with >70% of all buying decisions made in the store. Brands are often one of a few pieces of information consumers use to make product choices. Prior research showed that consumers had a greater likelihood to buy plant brands they had previously seen. To advance both the academic and practitioners’ understanding of plant brands, we sought to investigate the role of real and fictitious brands and their effects on visual activity and purchase intentions. Would simply including information on the container (e.g., fictitious brand) sway visual activity and purchase intentions? To investigate this notion, we conducted an in-person survey with a conjoint design in four states during May and June, 2015, using two flowering annuals and two flowering shrubs. Our goals were to assess consumers’ expressed and implicit preferences and, at the same time, monitor their gaze to determine how subjects used the real and fictitious brands as cues in their purchase decision. We showed 214 study participants digital images of 16 plants, varying the plant type, brand, and price; asked about brand awareness and familiarity; collected demographic and plant purchase information; and recorded their gaze as they viewed the images. We segmented the sample into three clusters, comparing their brand awareness and familiarity, conjoint analysis results, and the two visual measures: time to first fixation (TFF) and total fixation duration (TFD) on the container. The three clusters identified varied in their level of brand recognition and awareness but were similar in the relative importance and part-worth utility (PWU) mean scores, indicating a relatively similar decision process. The visual activity varied slightly by brand, but the fictitious brand captured and held visual attention similarly to the two established national brands.

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Hayk Khachatryan, Ben Campbell, Charles Hall, Bridget Behe, Chengyan Yue, and Jennifer Dennis

This study adds to the consumer choice literature by linking consumers’ environmental concern (EC) orientations (egoistic, altruistic and biospheric) to willingness to pay (WTP) premiums for proenvironmental attributes. Results from a mixed-ordered probit model showed that individuals were willing to pay a premium for energy-saving production practices ($0.131), non-plastic containers such as compostable ($0.227), plantable ($0.122), and recyclable ($0.155), and locally grown plants ($0.222). Individuals scoring high on the EC scale expressed higher WTP across all attributes—$0.148 for energy-saving practices, $0.288 for locally grown plants, and $0.255, $0.143, and $0.175 for compostable, plantable, and recyclable containers, respectively. Using the results, we discuss the practical implications for nursery and garden stores (i.e., communicating product attributes related information to consumers).