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William E. Klingeman, David B. Eastwood, John R. Brooker, Charles R. Hall, Bridget K. Behe, and Patricia R. Knight

A survey was administered to assess plant characteristics that consumers consider important when selecting landscape plants for purchase. Visitors to home and garden shows in Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.; Detroit, Mich.; and Jackson, Miss., completed 610 questionnaires. Respondents also indicated their familiarity with integrated pest management (IPM) concepts, pest control philosophy, recognition of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) pests and diseases, including dogwood powdery mildew (Microsphaera pulchra), and willingness-to-pay a price differential for a powdery-mildew-resistant flowering dogwood. Fewer than half of the respondents in any city indicated familiarity with IPM, although they were familiar with organic farming and pest scouting components of an IPM program. Willingness-to-pay was relatively consistent across all four locations. The uniformity of average tree premiums, which ranged from $11.87 in Jackson to $16.38 in Detroit, supports the proposition that customers are willing to pay a substantially higher price for a landscape tree that will maintain a healthier appearance without the use of chemical sprays. Factors affecting consumer demand for landscape nursery products and services can be paired with consumer awareness of IPM terminology and practices to create an effective market strategy for newly developed powdery-mildew-resistant dogwood cultivars.

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Sheri Dorn, Lucy Bradley, Debbie Hamrick, Julie Weisenhorn, Pam Bennett, Jill Callabro, Bridget Behe, Ellen Bauske, and Natalie Bumgarner

The National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture (NICH) is a diverse consortium of leaders who provide a unified voice for promoting the benefits and value of consumer horticulture (CH). NICH endeavors to unite national research efforts with the goals of the diverse stakeholders in the industry, the public sector, and the gardening public in an effort to advance knowledge and increase benefits and application of horticulture for cultivating a healthy world through landscapes, gardens, and plants, and an improved quality of life. Benefits of CH are broadly applicable, whether economic, environmental, or community- and health-related. A benefits approach to marketing sets the stage for unprecedented collaboration, such as that demonstrated by NICH. NICH members have developed three broad goals: recognizing CH as a driver of the agricultural economy; highlighting that CH restores, protects, and conserves natural resources through research and education; and cultivating healthy, connected, and engaged communities through CH. Three NICH committees (Economic, Environmental, and Community and Health Benefits) have focused their efforts on NICH goals for the past 10 months. The three committee chairs, representing ≈30 committee members, presented the results of their efforts and future directions for their committees. The Economic and Environmental committees have proceeded with campaigns to better market CH by promoting the benefits of plants and to increase environmental benefits by changing consumer behavior. After reviewing current research, the Community and Health Benefits Committee suggested that a gap exists in research related to specific benefits of CH and personal gardening (as opposed to benefits accrued by enjoying forests, horticulture therapy, indoor atriums, community gardens, parks, and other public places). The committee suggested that overcoming this gap requires strategic collaboration of skill and expertise from a more diverse group of industry representatives, specialists, and scientists. This approach has tremendous potential to affect the CH marketplace, especially when drawing multiple sources of value from the products and experiences.

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

Given recent consumer and market interest in more sustainable products and business practices, researchers conducted a nationwide survey of greenhouse and nursery crop growers to determine the current state of the industry in terms of sustainability. Growers were asked about the importance of sustainability, their views of state environmental regulations, sustainable practices in place and ones they would like to implement in the next 1 to 3 years, and interest in sustainable certification. None of the grower respondents in this survey were certified sustainable, but at least one fourth (25.8%) were interested in certification. More than half of the respondents currently recycle plastic pots, use controlled-release fertilizers, and composted plant waste. However, only 12% of growers want to use biodegradable plant containers or implement water conservation measures into their production system within the next 1 to 3 years. Grower respondents felt the biggest obstacle toward implementation was the sustainable production practice would not be compatible with their existing system of production.

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

Organically and locally grown food products have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, unlike food products, consumers purchase most outdoor plants for their aesthetic value rather than their nutritional value. Many of the health concerns related to food products might not be applicable to ornamental plants, so the demand for organic non-food plants is unknown. Using a survey with 834 participants from four states, we investigated consumer preference for ornamentals, vegetable transplants, and herbs grown: 1) organically, locally, and sustainably; 2) in energy-efficient greenhouses; and 3) in biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable containers. Our study found that consumers are not enthusiastic about plants or their fertilizers being “organic.” However, consumers are very interested in plants being produced locally, similar to the public's ever-increasing interest in local food products. Consumers are also interested in purchasing plants in containers that are more sustainable. Among the different types of containers, biodegradable and compostable pots are more desirable than recycled pots.

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Bridget K. Behe, Benjamin L. Campbell, Hayk Khachatryan, Charles R. Hall, Jennifer H. Dennis, Patricia T. Huddleston, and R. Thomas Fernandez

Plants are often merchandised with minimal packaging; thus, consumers have only the plant (intrinsic cue) or information signs (extrinsic cues) on which to assess the product and base their purchase decision. Our objective was to segment consumers based on their preferences for certain plant display attributes and compare their gaze behavior when viewing plant displays. Using conjoint analysis, we identified three distinct consumer segments: plant-oriented (73%), production method-oriented (11%), and price-oriented (16%) consumers. Using eye tracking technology, we show that subjects spent more visual attention to cues in the horticultural retail displays that were relatively more important to them. For example, plant-oriented consumers were the fastest segment to fixate on the plants and looked at the plants for longer amounts of time compared with the other segments. Production method-oriented consumers looked at the labeling related to production method for a longer duration, whereas the price-oriented consumer looked at the price sign the longest. Findings suggest that retailers should carefully consider the type of information included on retail signage and the visual impact it has on different consumers.

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Jennifer H. Dennis, Bridget K. Behe, R. Thomas Fernandez, Robert Schutzki, Thomas J. Page Jr., and Richard A. Spreng

A consumer research study was conducted examining effects of plant guarantees on satisfaction and regret in the purchase of three horticultural products: hanging baskets, potted roses, and container perennials. Five hundred and seventeen respondents were divided into two groups: those who were offered a guarantee and those who were not offered a guarantee. The effects of satisfaction and regret on repurchase intentions were recorded on multi-item seven-point Likert scales. A structural equation model was used to examine simultaneous relationships between regret, satisfaction, and intention to repurchase. Survey results indicated guarantees would increase satisfaction and decrease regret for hanging baskets, but not for container perennials and potted roses. Five of six models showed regret and/or satisfaction directly impacted intention to repurchase. Both satisfaction and regret had a direct influence on repurchase intentions for the hanging baskets model regardless of the presence or absence of guarantees. When guarantees were absent, satisfaction and regret had direct effects on intention to repurchase for the perennial model. Regret was the only construct to directly impact intention to repurchase in the potted rose model. Guarantees appear to lower the risks of buying some products and may improve the perception of quality of the offering.

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Bridget K. Behe, Rachel M. Walden, Marcus W. Duck, Bert M. Cregg, Kathleen M. Kelley, and R.D. Lineberger

An aging American population may be less willing than a younger population to install and remove a live, fresh-cut evergreen tree in their home for Christmas celebrations. An alternative to using traditional, large, fresh-cut or potted Christmas trees could be forcing these evergreen species in a small (≈1-L) container that could be displayed on a tabletop. We initiated this study to determine consumer preferences and marketability for six evergreen tree species produced for tabletop display and used three decoration themes and three price points. We constructed a web-based survey in which 331 participants were compensated with a $5 e-coupon for viewing 27 photographs of tabletop trees and providing preference and use information. The conjoint model accounted for 91.2% of the variance and showed that consumers valued tree species as the most important attribute (61% of the tree value), with decoration color/theme the second most important feature (27%) and, last, price (12%). Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca var. densata (Moench) Voss) was the most preferred species overall, and red was the most preferred decoration theme. Logically, the lowest price point was the most preferred. However, price was the most important attribute for participants younger than 25 years. The importance of price decreased as participant age increased until age 60, when price became a more important component. With a cost of production of $5.45 and decoration and shipping estimated at an additional $4.00, the product could be a profit generator priced at any of the tested price points ($14.95 and above).

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Bridget K. Behe, R. Thomas Fernandez, Patricia T. Huddleston, Stella Minahan, Kristin L. Getter, Lynnell Sage, and Allison M. Jones

Eye-tracking equipment is now affordable and portable, making it a practical instrument for consumer research. Engineered to best analyze gaze on a plane (e.g., a retail shelf), both portable eye-tracking glasses and computer monitor–mounted hardware can play key roles in analyzing merchandise displays to better understand what consumers view. Researchers and practitioners can use that information to improve the sales efficacy of displays. Eye-tracking hardware was nearly exclusively used to investigate the reading process but can now be used for a broader range of study, namely in retail settings. This article presents an approach to using glasses eye tracker (GET) and light eye tracker (LET) eye-tracking hardware for applied consumer research in the field. We outline equipment use, study construction, data extraction as well as benefits and limitations of the technology collected from several pilot studies.

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

Currently, one of the most widely discussed topics in the green industry, which is promulgated by consumers exhibiting greater degrees of environmental awareness, is the issue of environmental sustainability. This has led to a desire for products that not only solve the needs of consumers, but are also produced and marketed using sustainable production and business practices. Consumers increasingly place a greater emphasis on product packaging and this has carried over to the grower sector in the form of biodegradable pots. Although various forms of these eco-friendly pots have been available for several years, their marketing appeal was limited as a result of their less-than-satisfying appearance. With the recent availability of more attractive biodegradable plant containers, a renewed interest in their suitability in the green industry and their consumer acceptance has emerged. The objective of this study was to determine the characteristics of biodegradable pots that consumers deem most desirable and to identify distinct consumer segments, thus allowing producers/businesses to more efficiently use their resources to offer specific product attributes to those who value them the most. We conducted a conjoint analysis through Internet surveys with 535 valid observations from Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana. Our results show that on average, consumers like rice hull pots the most followed by straw pots. Our analysis identified seven market segments and corresponding consumer profiles: “Rice Hull Likers,” “Straw Likers,” “Price Conscious,” “Environmentally Conscious,” “Carbon Sensitive,” “Non-discriminating.” Idiosyncratic marketing strategies should be implemented by industry firms to market biodegradable containers to the identified consumer segments.

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Lucy K. Bradley, Bridget K. Behe, Natalie R. Bumgarner, Charlotte D. Glen, Joseph L. Donaldson, Ellen M. Bauske, Sheri Dorn, and Gail Langellotto

Consumer horticulture (CH) programming can result in outcomes and impacts at the individual level, such as money saved by reducing inputs, greater return on the landscape investment, healthier plants, and improved quality of life. It may also lead to community-level impacts that provide public value, such as water quality protection, water conservation, and protection of biodiversity. In addition to documenting such outcomes and impacts, it is important to quantify their economic value, connect the value to actions taken by extension audiences, and demonstrate to extension’s stakeholders a return on investment. However, it is difficult to document the economic contributions of consumer horticulture and even more difficult to document the economic impact of consumer horticulture extension programs. CH reaches individuals and communities directly and indirectly through personal gardens and landscapes, indoor flowers and plants, school and community gardens, and horticulture therapy. The economic contributions and benefits of consumer horticulture are challenging to quantify, but can be evaluated using several different strategies, including measuring the consumer dollars spent and the economy driven by consumers’ purchase of gardening supplies and landscape services. A second strategy is to examine the value of consumers’ gardening actions on environmental ecosystem services that support soils and plants, provide food and raw materials, and regulate functions, such as pollination, storm water catchment, water quality preservation, green waste reduction, and wildlife habitat and diversity. A third strategy is to focus on cultural, social, and health system services, such as education, recreation, and therapy, that result in exercise, nutrition, health, and happiness. Using a combination of these strategies, workgroups of Tennessee extension professionals are balancing the feasibility of data collection with the usefulness of the data gathered by developing realistic and robust outcome indicators that will form the basis for local and statewide reporting.