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  • Author or Editor: Bridget K. Behe* x
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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.

Free access

Controlled environment (CE) food crop production has existed in the United States for many years, but recent improvements in technology and increasing production warranted a closer examination of the industry. Therefore, our objectives were to characterize historical trends in CE production, understand the current state of the U.S. hydroponics industry, and use historical and current trends to inform future perspectives. In the 1800s, CE food production emerged and increased in popularity until 1929. After 1929, when adjusted for inflation (AFI), CE food production stagnated and decreased until 1988. From 1988 to 2014, the wholesale value of CE food production increased from $64.2 million to $796.7 million AFI. With the recent increase in demand for locally grown food spurring an increase in CE production, both growers and researchers have been interested in using hydroponic CE technologies to improve production and quality. Therefore, we surveyed U.S. hydroponic food crop producers to identify current hydroponic production technology adoption and potential areas for research needs. Producers cited a wide range of technology utilization; more than half employed solely hydroponic production techniques, 56% monitored light intensity, and more than 80% monitored air temperature and nutrient solution pH and electrical conductivity. Additionally, the growing environments varied from greenhouses (64%), indoors in multilayer (31%) or single-layer (7%) facilities, to hoop houses or high tunnels (29%). Overall, producers reported managing the growing environment to improve crop flavor and the development of production strategies as the most beneficial research areas, with 90% stating their customers would pay more for crops with increased flavor. Lastly, taking historical data and current practices into account, perspectives on future hydroponic CE production are discussed. These include the importance of research on multiple environmental parameters instead of single parameters in isolation and the emphasis on not only increasing productivity but improving crop quality including flavor, sensory attributes, and postharvest longevity.

Open Access

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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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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The strain on potable water supplies heightens the competition for water resources and potentially reduces the demand for outdoor plantings and landscaping. We conducted an online survey with 1543 respondents in 2016 to ascertain their water conservation and plant expertise, their involvement in water conservation and plant issues, and the importance of plants and landscaping. We also collected demographic characteristics. Cluster analysis results identified two key market segments comprising ≈50% of the sample each: those who are Actively Interested in Water Conservation and those who are Disinterested in Water Conservation. The Actively Interested segment was younger, had more adults and children in the household, and had a higher household income. In addition to having a higher mean score for water conservation involvement and expertise, the Actively Interested segment had a higher mean score for water conservation importance and impact, as well as plant expertise and involvement. The Actively Interested segment scored higher on select components relating to horticultural importance, including aesthetically beautiful landscapes, active landscape enjoyment, desire for a low maintenance landscape, and response in drought, compared with the Disinterested segment. The Disinterested segment scored higher on the Non-Landscape Use with no enjoyment. Findings suggest that pro–water-conserving attitudes are found among consumers who value outdoor landscapes and those individuals who spend more on plants. Results suggest that producers and retailers should focus marketing and communication efforts on low water use cultivar selection and operationalizing water-conserving behaviors more than convincing consumers that plant purchases and landscaping are important.

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Activity level, or the amount of action/interaction with a product, can be an indication of interest in a product category and influences purchases. Our goal was to assess the overall market for landscape plants using consumers’ activity level from the active/passive continuum proposed by . An online survey instrument was administered to invitees from a national online panel from 7 to 13 Sept. 2016 yielding 1543 useful responses. Factor analysis of 23 items adapted from a previous study revealed five factors, including one active factor and a separate passive factor. These two factors were used in the present study as a basis for a k-means cluster analysis. Two clusters emerged and were labeled “Active Engagement” and “Obligatory Passive Engagement” in landscape activities. We compared cluster means for all five factors and found the Active cluster purchased more plants of all types as well as had greater landscape pride and desire for a low (water) input landscape. Members of the Active cluster were from higher income and education households which were slightly larger and more likely to have Caucasian residents compared with the Passive cluster. In practice, retail employees and landscape professionals might initially ask about consumers’ activity level desired in the landscape as a screening question. Subsequent assistance in design and/or plant selection/purchase could then be tailored toward the desired activity level.

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Online advertising is becoming a mainstay business practice to reach firms’ customer bases. Yet, the adoption and use of online advertising in the green industry are topics that have not been adequately researched. Using a national survey of green industry firms conducted in 2019, this research uses a double-hurdle model to investigate factors that impact firms’ adoption of, and amount spent on, online advertising. Our results show that one-third of the companies invested in online advertising. Of those investing in online advertising, the average percentage of online advertising as a share of all advertising expenditures was 46%. Small businesses were less likely to invest in online advertising compared with larger businesses; however, once they invested in online advertising, the percentage of investment was 25% higher among small firms when compared with their larger counterparts. Increasing years in operation as well as trade show participation was related to a 3% decrease in likelihood to use online advertising. Business owners who perceived hiring competent employees as a barrier to business growth invested 19% less of their advertising budget in online channels, which may indicate a lack of human resources to advertise online. We also compared the industry results with data from a 2014 survey and found the amount invested in online advertising increased ≈3% to 5% between studies. The percentage in wholesale sales influenced the amount spent on online advertising in 2014 but not in 2019. Being a small firm in 2014 increased the amount spent on online advertising, but the effect was 14% lower in 2019. In 2014, firms located in the Pacific, Southcentral, and Southeast U.S. regions invested more in online advertising compared with other regions, but in 2019, the only geographic difference was that firms in the Great Plains spent less on online advertising. Despite their lower adoption rates, the increased expenditures on online advertising implies that smaller firms that implement online advertising receive value through that channel and are willing to allocate more resources to leverage its reach. Firms contemplating adopting and investing in online advertising should consider their resource availability and marketing goals related to reaching different customer groups through online advertising.

Open Access

The landscape service sector is an important part of the environmental horticulture industry. However, research addressing factors impacting its business and marketing practices are scarce. This manuscript uses data collected via online and mail industry surveys in 2014 and 2019 to investigate U.S. landscape service firms’ advertising and marketing practices and different factors that influence their business strategies by firm type and size. Product mix, advertising method, and the importance of different business factors were impacted by firm type. Landscape service only firms had the most diverse product offerings, while firms with wholesale production had the least diversity. Landscape service only firms primarily used in-person and telephone advertising, while firms with wholesale production used a broader swath of advertising medias to reach a more diversified clientele. Overall, weather and labor-related factors had the most impact on landscaping firms’ business practices. Larger firms perceived labor factors as more important than smaller firms.

Open Access

Plants native to the United States, defined as those being present before European settlement, have aesthetic and environmental benefits. In 2018, only 10% of plant sales were native plants, a plant category that tends to be underrepresented in many residential and commercial landscapes. Although earlier research indicated that consumers find native plants less aesthetically appealing relative to introduced species, more recent research reported a growing demand for native plants. Thus, a better understanding of consumer perceptions would facilitate their marketing. We used an online survey of 1824 participants representing five geographic regions (West, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northwest) to classify adopters based on their purchase of native plants. A double-hurdle model was used to estimate factors influencing purchasing native plants among US homeowners, and the factors influencing the amount spent on native plants in 2021. Demographically, metropolitan, college-educated, and younger participants were more likely to be native plant adopters; they also spent 80% more on plants compared with nonnative plant adopters. More native plant adopters agreed that native plants were better for the environment than exotic plants (68%), are readily available in their area (67%), and are better adapted to difficult sites (75%). Marketing efforts should capitalize on the environmental benefits to stimulate purchases.

Open Access

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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