The resolute rose

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The rose market is on the rebound. Find out how breeders plan to pique the consumer’s interest with this classic crop.

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May 3, 2017
Kelli Rodda
The new rose consumer has different needs compared to the traditional gardener of the past. Consider growing and selling roses that do well in containers for small-space gardening.
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

With market consolidation, engaging marketing campaigns, and pointed breeding efforts, the rose industry may be on the verge of a revolution. It won’t be an easy battle, but industry players are honing their strategies.

One of the key components to a healthier rose market has been a push toward regionality. Star Roses & Plants took the regional plunge this year after years of making selections based on the plants’ performance throughout the country.

“We took a look at some of our really good genetics and decided to take a more regional approach for both Knock Out and Drift Rose brands,” says Jacques Ferare, rose program director at Star Roses & Plants. “For years, many roses weren’t added to the Knock Out or Drift Rose series because they did not perform consistently throughout the country. But we had roses that were exceptional performers in specific areas.”

This year, Star Roses & Plants announced three new color additions to The Knock Out Family of Roses—The White Knock Out Rose, The Coral Knock Out Rose and The Peachy Knock Out Rose. Although White will be marketed throughout all of the U.S. and Canada, Coral will be sold only in the South, Midwest and Ontario. Peachy will be sold only in the Northeast, Midwest, Ontario, and Quebec.

Hybrid tea rose sales have stabilized. Princesse Charlene de Monaco is a fragrant selection from Star Roses & Plants.
Photo courtesy of Star Roses & Plants

It’s been 10 years since the last Knock Out Rose introduction.

Star Roses & Plants is also adding Lemon Drift to the Drift Rose series. It will be sold in the western U.S. and western Canada.

“I believe this is what consumers have been waiting for,” Ferare says. “And regional plants are really getting traction with the retailers. It keeps the momentum going for the brand and it gives consumers more choices.”

The new regional selections will be available to growers this year with consumers getting their first taste of the plants in 2018. Growers will have until July 2018 to use up old tag and pot inventory. After July 1, 2018, the varieties can be sold only under the new names, and only in the regions where allowed, says Ferare.

“We need the industry’s help for this program to stay true, and ensure the customer is happy with their regional choices,” he adds.

The consumer factor

Minnesota-based Bailey Nurseries has a long history of growing roses, starting with tea roses. Bailey also founded the Easy Elegance roses brand in 2004. Currently, Bailey sells more than 400,000 container roses and almost 1.5 million bareroot roses to the industry.

To stay current and competitive, Bailey conducted consumer research on roses in 2014, and discovered a few surprises. The two focus groups in Minneapolis/St. Paul and the two in Atlanta were broken into two groups – the novice gardener and the enthusiast. Interestingly, shrub roses weren’t considered “real” roses, but more of a flowering shrub within the focus groups, says Natalia Hamill, brand and business development manager at Bailey.

Climbers are good options for patio gardening. Snowgoose is from David Austin Roses.
Photo courtesy of David Austin Roses

“People thought if you had roses in your garden, you must be a master gardener” she says. “Roses were considered the gold standard to have in the landscape, but avoided by the majority of gardeners because of their perceived difficulty to grow. They were in love with the idea of roses, but intimidated by them.”

Based on the research, the Bailey team created an Easy Elegance text program. Consumers sign up for timely texts that help remind them how and when to take care of their roses. The texts drive consumers to the Easy Elegance web site and social media channels, which are populated with care videos, Hamill says. The first tags with the text program appeared on Easy Elegance roses this spring.

Despite consumers being intimidated by roses, that crop continues to make a lasting impression.

“I’ve been doing this for 22 years, and it’s the only flower that I look at and still have an emotion about the flower,” says Christian Bedard, the research director and licensing manager, for Weeks Roses.

“I don’t know any other flower that generates such an emotion in people,” Bedard says. “When people see a rose, they put their nose in and smell it, and get excited about it. There’s just something about roses that people love. The fragrance, the style, the big blossom — everything. It could be an impulse buy, but it’s also an American tradition.”

Another marketing strategy to help sell-through with roses, is to market them with other landscape plants.

“You don’t have to have just a rose garden,” says Rebecca Reed, U.S. sales executive at David Austin Roses. “Market your roses with boxwoods, or any other woody shrub — even with other people’s roses,” she suggests.

The rose industry has experienced some consolidation in the last couple of years, which will also change the way roses are marketed. Ball Horticultural Co. acquired Conard-Pyle (which later became Star Roses & Plants) in the summer of 2015. Ball brought a large marketing machine to the table with that transaction. And in 2017, Ball obtained the exclusive rights to sell Kordes garden and potted rose varieties throughout the U.S. and Canada. Rose grower and retailer Mark Chamblee of Chamblee’s Rose Nursery in Tyler, Texas, says this development is a boon to him because of the increased marketing and advertising of Kordes roses to North American consumers. He has a wholesale and a mail order division, as well as a retail store.

Bailey Nurseries’ Easy Elegance roses are bred for disease resistance, including its All the Rage selection.
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

Rose R&D

The biggest challenge the rose faces is its own reputation, thanks in part to consumer perceptions.

When focusing on areas of research and development, Bedard prioritizes anything that makes gardening easier for the average gardener. Self-cleaning roses are attractive to consumers who enjoy roses but don’t want to do the work of deadheading.

“They can be lazy and still have a great garden with roses that perform in every area of the country,” Bedard says.

Older varieties used to fade to different colors, like yellow roses that would fade to white long before the petals begin to drop. Bedard says today’s roses offer better color stability.

Downy mildew had traditionally been a problem with roses, especially in wet climates. However, many new varieties are resistant. Pretty Lady Rose and Violet’s Pride, from Weeks Roses Downton Abbey Collection, are downy mildew free, even in Portland, Ore., he says.

Weeks Roses has private, no-spray test grounds in New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Oregon.

Easy Elegance launched a text program where consumers can receive timely texts for rose care.
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries

“If you’re a grower, you want to grow them in the greenhouse or outside in the can yard and you want the plant to be perfect when it gets to the garden center,” Bedard says. “If they do well without spraying, they’ll do amazing for any gardener, because we don’t do any spraying.”

Another breeding focus is clean, well-behaved habit. Bedard says newer rose hybrids require less maintenance because they naturally hold a tighter habit.

“If you look in the production field, you can almost go with a laser over one row,” he says. “It’s pretty flat.”

The cumulative improvements should make it easy for growers, landscapers and retailers to branch out.

“It’s a night and day difference between from 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s to today’s roses and those that came out in the last five years,” Bedard says.

Trend watch

Bailey research revealed that consumers are enamored with a variety of colors, including reds, salmon and white. Yellow is also a much-desired color in shrub roses, Hamill says. Heat tolerance – pointing back to regional needs – has become a priority for Bailey, and the company performs trials at Louisiana State University and Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, she adds.

Fragrance continues to be an important trend in rose breeding and marketing, says Reed.

“Customers are looking for fragrance, and all David Austin Roses offer fragrance,” she says.

David Austin Roses is getting attention from brides. The company also sells cut roses, and many brides are using them in bouquets. But beyond the big day, some of these brides are going to retailers looking for the same brand, Reed says. A specialty trend includes tree roses, which could command a high price point in the supply chain, she adds.

Reed and Ferare both pointed to the trending patio gardener, who only has a few square feet for planting.

“The climbing varieties are becoming popular for smaller properties,” Reed says. “You may think of a climber as this large rambling rose, but it grows vertically and takes up very little ground space. Climbers are great for containers.”

Coral Knock Out is a new regional selection that will be sold in the South, Midwest and Ontario.
Photo courtesy of Star Roses & Plants

Star Roses & Plants has been looking for the proper selections to release for patio and container gardens.

“We’ve got some good potentials and we’re looking for the proper genetics such as compact growers and everblooming varieties,” Ferare adds.

In terms of generational trends, Chamblee was surprised to see more millennials buying roses.

“We were pleasantly surprised that we’ve had a really good number of millennial customers,” he says. “They’ve generally done their homework before they come in. We found they want some personal education, too,” he says. “They also want instant gratification — what looks good, smells good, and makes them feel good. They want it to be hardy, disease resistant and do well in the landscape. They’re realizing they can get that with roses, and it’s been encouraging to know that we have a population that will continue to want roses.”

For more:starrosesandplants.com; baileynurseries.com; weeksroses.com; davidaustinroses.com/us; chambleeroses.com.

Matt McClellan, managing editor of Nursery Management, contributed to this story.