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  • Author or Editor: Bridget K. Behe* x
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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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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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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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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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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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Before consumers choose what and how much fruit to buy, they first decide where to buy it. To address the choices of stores for fresh fruits, this study investigated the influence of market attributes and customers’ attitudes toward their purchasing decisions. Data from a web-based survey of 1658 U.S. consumers were used to conduct multinomial logit regression to investigate the factors guiding their choices regarding four types of stores: chain, independent, club/warehouse, and direct-to-consumer. We found attitudinal scales and market attributes have different effects on the choice of marketplace for fresh fruits. Driven by price and convenience, most consumers prefer chain stores when buying fresh fruits, whereas those same factors deter them from choosing independent and ethnic stores for fresh fruits. The supply of local fruits, friendly atmosphere, and access to desirable fresh fruits positively influenced consumers to purchase fruits at local markets. Our findings can provide insight regarding food retailers and farmers targeting fresh fruit consumers. For example, our findings highlight the importance of providing a friendly atmosphere and outstanding customer service to positively influence purchasing behavior.

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Fifty-seven herbaceous perennials were evaluated from July 1996 to October 1997 in USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Plants in this study generally performed better the first year after planting than the second year. Several selections did not reemerge the second year, though some natural reseeding occurred. Still other selections never fully recovered from the winter months or succumbed to stress in the summer. Plants that maintained an attractive foliage display while not in bloom and plants that had a high bloom rating during the bloom season are worth incorporating into a full sun perennial or mixed border in the southeastern United States. Performance of perennials in the landscape may vary from year to year as climatic conditions affect performance. Comparison of results from variety trials at other locations should help increase performance information reliability for perennial selection.

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The U.S. nursery and landscape industry generates 1.9 million jobs and had an annual payroll of greater than $3 billion in 2002, yet little is known about nursery and landscape workers. This lack of information is even more pressing considering that labor generally accounts for greater than 40% of production costs and 31% of gross sales. Labor shortages, immigration reform, and legal status of employees are widely reported as the industry's most critical issues. We hypothesized that relevant data regarding the nursery industry workforce may raise an appreciation of the industry's diversity, increase political power and public awareness, and help stakeholders evaluate policy decisions and plan corrective strategies in a more informed manner. A total of 4466 self-administered questionnaires were sent in 2006, attempting to reach 30 nurseries in each of nine states with 1561 returned (35% response rate). Hispanics constituted 70% of the average nursery workforce, including general laborers (76%), crew leaders (61%), and sales/managers (others) (21%). Across firms, labor retention was less than 51% after 5 years and only 22% of employees understood English, raising questions regarding availability and access to training. Sixty percent of nursery employees had not received work-related training, although 81% of men and 72% of women were interested, and an association between training and employee retention existed. The highest rated training topic of interest was English/Spanish (respective of Spanish/English primary language respondents). There was a positive correlation between developing fluency and worker turnover, making the laborer attrition rate even more unfavorable for employers who not only lost employees with acquired experience, but also with acquired English skills.

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