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Hayk Khachatryan and Alicia Rihn

Declining pollinator insect populations has become an important environmental concern in recent years. Despite widespread awareness, consumer perceptions of production practices (i.e., natural and organic) and effects on pollinator health are not well understood. This study assessed consumer perceptions of pollinator-friendly plant production practices in nursery production systems for food crop plants and landscape plants. Understanding consumer perceptions of horticultural production practices related to pollinator health is important because this impacts consumers’ product selection (e.g., landscape and food crop plants), sales, and the availability of pollinator-friendly products in the residential landscape. We used an online survey of 1243 U.S. consumers who ranked the importance of 11 different production practices for both food crops and landscape plants. Results were analyzed using an ordered probit model and showed that plant type influences perceived importance of the production practices. For food crop plants, grown without pesticides practice was perceived as the best production method for pollinator health, whereas grown outside practice was ranked the highest for landscape plants. Grown using synthetic pesticides practice was ranked the least beneficial method regardless of plant type. Results contribute new insights into consumers’ perceptions of pollinator-friendly production practices relative to plant type (i.e., landscape vs. food crop plants) which green industry stakeholders can use as they assess production methods or marketing strategies.

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Alicia Rihn and Hayk Khachatryan

Consumer awareness of neonicotinoid (neonic) insecticides is growing (in part) due to increased publicity and media attention. Environmental groups want neonic insecticides to be banned because of their perceived potential negative consequences on nontarget species (especially bees and other pollinator insects). Several retail outlets and governmental agencies are now requiring the ornamental horticulture industry (hereafter, green industry) to label plants grown using neonic insecticides. Although the scientific value of the mandatory labeling policies are debatable, neonic labeling may negatively influence consumers’ demand for plants. Research on consumers’ awareness of neonic insecticides is limited, and the extent to which awareness influences preferences and shopping behavior is less understood. This manuscript addresses these research gaps by investigating correlations between awareness of neonic insecticides, knowledge about related topics (e.g., gardening and pollinator insect health), and purchase likelihood, using an online survey of 921 U.S. consumers. Results indicate that only 24% of surveyed plant purchasers are aware of neonic insecticides. Consumers who are aware of neonic insecticides are more knowledgeable about plants that improve pollinator health and entomology than those who are not aware. Labels with “neonic-free” wording were the least preferred and influential pollinator-related in-store promotion. However, awareness of neonic insecticides was positively correlated with consumers’ purchase likelihood for “neonic-free” plants. Overall, awareness influences consumers’ shopping behavior, which could necessitate altering green industry pest management strategies as consumers’ awareness of neonic insecticides increases due to the negative publicity surrounding it.

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Benjamin Campbell, Hayk Khachatryan and Alicia Rihn

Certain pesticides are coming under scrutiny because of their impact on pollinator insects. Although most consumers express willingness to aid pollinators, the reasons for consumers’ preferences or barriers to purchasing pollinator-friendly plants and the types of pollinators’ that consumers are trying to protect are less understood. Using an online survey of 1200 Connecticut (CT) consumers, of which 841 had home landscapes, we find that 46% of consumers with home landscapes purchased pollinator-friendly plants to attract pollinators to their landscape. Consistent with past research that focused on consumers’ preferences for pollinator-friendly plants, the data also reveal that some consumers are willing to pay premiums for plants that contribute to pollinator’s health. However, only 17% stated that attracting pollinators was their primary motivation; a finding that suggests labeling alone will likely not motivate consumers to purchase plants. The major barriers to purchasing pollinator-friendly plants included lack of labeling (cited by 28%), followed by high price (28%). Consumers purchasing pollinator-friendly plants were trying to attract butterflies (Lepidoptera) (78%), bees (Apidae) (59%), hummingbirds (Trochilidae) (59%), and other birds (41%). We also find that demographics and purchasing behavior affect barriers and types of pollinators desired. Simply labeling plants has the potential to increase purchasing, but increasing price could be detrimental as many consumers feel pollinator-friendly plants are highly priced. Implications for ornamental horticulture stakeholders are discussed.

Open access

Xuan Wei, Hayk Khachatryan and Alicia Rihn

In recent years, growers in the ornamental horticulture industry have experienced declining revenue and shrinking profit margins due to increased consumer spending captured by wholesale stores bypass, price competition at the retail level, as well as relatively low consumer demand. Maintaining cost-effective production practices is critical for nursery and greenhouse growers to stay profitable. However, a recent trend to impose more restrictive labeling polices on pesticide use (i.e., disclosing the use of neonicotinoids) may impact growers’ already tightening production costs. A better understanding of the cost structure and production decision-making can provide insights for profitable operation. Using a partial enterprise budgeting approach, this research aims to evaluate production costs and profitability for 20 individual greenhouse annual and perennial crop production systems. Three primary economic performance indicators (net income, gross margin, and profit margin) were calculated and a sensitivity analysis was conducted to account for potential risks in production. Our results suggest that production costs vary significantly among different crops, thus implying that producers may have different profitability levels depending on the combination of crops grown. Our partial enterprise budgeting estimates serve as a reference point and can assist producers with reducing costs in specific areas, and aids in selecting and adjusting crop combinations to maximize potential profits. Sensitivity analysis scenarios provide insights to producers for evaluation of their entire operations and aid in making decisions on adopting alternative practices.

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Alicia Rihn, Hayk Khachatryan, Benjamin Campbell, Charles Hall and Bridget Behe

A rating-based conjoint experiment combined with eye-tracking analysis was used to investigate the effect of plant attributes on consumer purchase likelihood for indoor foliage plants. The experiment assessed the effects of plant type (Dracaena marginata Lam., Guzmania lingulata, or Spathiphyllum wallisii Regel), volatile organic compound (VOC) removal capacity (high, low, or none specified), price ($10.98–14.98/plant), production method [certified organic, organic production (not certified), or conventional], and origin (in-state, domestic, or imported) on consumer preferences. An ordered logit model was used to analyze the data. Organic production methods, in-state origin, domestic origin, and high VOC removal increased participants’ purchase likelihood. Visually attending to the highest price point ($14.98) increased consumers’ purchase likelihood. Age, gender, child (<12 years), pet, relationship status, education, and ethnicity affected participants’ purchase likelihood for indoor foliage plants. Purchasing barriers for indoor foliage plants are also discussed. Results have implications for indoor foliage plant growers and retailers as they produce, promote, and sell their products.

Open access

Julie Campbell, Alicia Rihn and Hayk Khachatryan

Home lawn fertilizer use throughout the United States is coming under increased scrutiny due to potential negative environmental impacts. A better understanding of how consumer perceptions and socio-demographics impact their choices of types of lawn fertilizers can aid industry stakeholders when marketing products. This research uses a nationwide survey to evaluate factors that impact respondents’ choice of lawn fertilizer brands. Respondents with home lawns selected the lawn fertilizer brands they purchased the most frequently and rated the importance of various fertilizer attributes (e.g., nitrogen–phosphorus–potassium ratio, brand, price, etc.) when selecting lawn fertilizers. Given many lawn fertilizer brands share commonalities, respondents’ answers were grouped into five categories: most popular brand, primarily turf brands, sustainable/organic brands, other brands, and “I don’t remember the brand.” The most popular brand of fertilizer was chosen by 69% of respondents, with the primarily turf brands and other fertilizers being chosen by 25% and 23% of respondents, respectively. This study finds that brand selection is impacted by important fertilizer features, frequented retail outlets, geographical region of residence, and demographic variables. For example, brand importance and purchasing from mass merchandisers or wholesale clubs increased respondents’ selection likelihood of the most popular brand by 6.9% and 20.5% points, respectively. Marketing implications are discussed.

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Alan W. Hodges, Charles R. Hall, Marco A. Palma and Hayk Khachatryan

Economic contributions of the green industry in the United States were estimated for 2013 using information on industry output, value added, employment and domestic/international exports, retail sector lawn and garden product sales, and economic multipliers from Impact Analysis for Planning (IMPLAN) regional economic models for each state. Direct industry output for all sectors was estimated at $136.44 billion (B), and total output contributions, including indirect and induced regional economic multiplier effects of export sales, were $196.07 B. The total value-added contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) was $120.71 B, including labor income contributions of $82.47 B, other property income contributions of $28.91 B and business taxes paid to local, state, and federal governments of $9.30 B. The industry had direct employment of 1,599,662 full-time and part-time jobs, and total employment contributions of 2,035,636 jobs in the broader economy. The largest individual industry sectors in terms of employment and GDP contributions were landscaping and horticultural services (1,105,526 jobs, $54.70 B); greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production (240,809 jobs, $20.36 B); and lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores (217,798 jobs, $12.87 B). The top 10 states in terms of employment contributions were California (245,267 jobs), Florida (197,073), Texas (149,364), Ohio (77,664), Pennsylvania (77,569), Illinois (76,254), New York (73,676), North Carolina (72,014), Georgia (64,066), and Michigan (63,189). Green industry contributions represented 0.72% of U.S. GDP and 1.11% of total workforce employment, and it contributed over 1.0% of GDP in five states, and over 1.25% of employment in 10 states. Employment contributions averaged 0.6 jobs/mile2 of land area and 6.4 jobs per 1000 persons in the U.S. population, while GDP contributions averaged $34,176/mile2 and $382 per capita. Since 2007–08, green industry contributions in 2013 increased by 4.4% for employment and 2.7% for GDP in inflation-adjusted terms. Growth in the industry was highest for wholesale and retail trade, whereas production and manufacturing declined. Although the green industry has grown slowly in recent years, it remains an important contributor to national, state, and local economies.

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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).

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

Some consumers are becoming more interested in and purchasing products that are locally grown and/or ecologically friendly. Market segmentation and product targeting are efficient methods to allocate a firm’s scarce marketing resources to supply heterogeneous markets. This study’s objective was to identify consumer segments, focusing on their gardening purchases, to determine whether there were differences in consumer preferences for provenance and environmental attributes for transplant purchases. Using a consumer survey of U.S. and Canadian consumers, we found that participants who purchased different plant types had distinct preferences for varying environmental attributes and provenances. We profiled nine consumer segments, identifying their plant purchases and preferences for local and sustainably grown products and plant containers. Results provide plant producers and retailers with market segments that can be identified and targeted and provide a basis for customizable marketing communications to enhance profits.