It’s in the Pantry
As with any industry, garden centers are looking for new ways to generate revenue. And despite a projection of $51 billion in revenue to kick off the new decade (IBISWorld, 2020), now more than ever is the time for garden centers to diversify their offerings.
When you’re supplying your store, you typically stock items like the usual green goods, pots and planters to put them in, hard goods, and so on. But a growing trend across garden centers might not be what customers put in their garden — but rather items kept in the pantry.
Marshall Grain Co., an organic gardening and pet supply store, was officially founded in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1946. Since their transition from grain to gardening, the company has consolidated to one location in Grapevine, Texas, and has shifted to a more “modern” approach with their garden center — continuing to place an emphasis on fully organic gardening and pet supplies.
“Now we focus on the urban and suburban gardeners,” said Joyce Connelley, owner. “And we’re continuing to evolve further, trying to attract millennials who focus on houseplants, indoor gardening, things like that.”
When Connelley purchased Marshall Grain Co. back in 2005, the store sold organic gardening supplies, pet products and local, artisanal sodas — known as Dublin Sodas. It was the popularity of these sodas, which garnered a cult-like following in Texas, as well as mixed nuts and candies from a Texas-based company called Vending Nut, that Connelley said encouraged the staff to look at bringing in more local food items for retail.
“We’re always keeping our eye out for types of products that would fit in with our overall branding of natural, holistic-type things,” Connelley said. “So, we expanded on [the sale of sodas and mixed nuts], and started to bring
in things like salsa, pickled vegetables, barbecue sauces … different things like that.”
Enter Gourmet Gardens, a wholesale and private-labeling company out of Jacksonville, Texas, that distributes their products to garden centers and retailers, like Marshall Grain Co., nationwide.
“All of their stuff is natural … no artificial coloring in the pickled vegetables,” Connelley said. “We try to stick with things that are natural, and have just natural ingredients — like preserves, jams, etc. that are sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar.”
Private Labels and Preserves
For over 30 years, Gourmet Gardens has offered smaller garden centers like Marshall Grain Co. the opportunity to create custom branded private labels for any of their products — from their salsa and barbecue sauces, down to the pickled vegetables and dressings.
Sarah Hancock with Gourmet Gardens says that while their wholesaling is incredibly popular, it’s the private-label opportunities for garden centers that she sees as their highest-performing option.
“Over 90% of our customers choose the private label option for their products,” Hancock said. “When it comes to our look, we want it to look ‘old fashioned,’ like maybe they made [the product] themselves. And that’s what they want, too — especially when they hear that [private labeling] is free.”
Started unofficially in the 1950s, Dillman Farms, located in Bloomington, Indiana, is also a regional canned goods wholesaler and private label company. Described as an “all-natural, premium food brand” which started with canned apple butter nearly 60 years ago, Dillman Farms provides retailers with everything from preserves and jellies to salsas and marinades.
“My husband’s grandfather started making apple butter initially,” said Megan Dillman, marketing director. “It eventually turned into people wanting that apple butter — so he learned how to can it. Soon after, he started making preserves by request.”
Like Gourmet Gardens, Dillman Farms also offers their customers the opportunity to private-label their products. But it’s the company’s ability to offer custom-labeling options, providing garden centers more variety and customizability in their labels, that they think sets them apart from their competitors.
Instead of typical private-labeling options, which generally give garden centers their choice of a limited selection of fonts, colors and labels, custom labeling allows retailers to completely customize every aspect of their label — providing each garden center with a unique product.
“A lot of [garden centers] that are going to do private label, we focus on educating them a bit more about doing something other than just a stock label,” Dillman said. “There’s definitely been an increase in the ‘private-branding,’ custom brand experience.”
For Marshall Grain Co., Connelley says that what is selling can depend on the time of the year, as well as what is in stock — but that generally, aside from the artisanal Dublin sodas, their salsa and barbecue sauce collection sells best.
“We have a lot of pickled vegetables … and of course, the Dublin sodas are very big here in Texas,” Connelley said. “But definitely our salsas and barbecue sauces are really popular as well.”
From a distribution standpoint, both Gourmet Gardens and Dillman Farms offer a similar variety of products — and see a similarity in the popularity of the types of products sold in garden centers.
“Depending on the time of the year, our jellies and preserves are really good,” Hancock said. “They will really pick up especially in the fall, with products like apple butter.”
“Obviously, region-by-region, it varies,” Dillman said. “Our preserves do really well — apricot preserves, peach preserves … blackberry, strawberry and blueberry. But our salsas and mustards have definitely picked up momentum in the last five to 10 years.”
Why Garden Centers?
For Marshall Grain Co., Connelley says that, at first glance, garden centers and food items might not seem like a perfect pair. But as Dillman points out, garden centers are the perfect demographic for any natural, private-labeled food items.
“Looking at the demographic of garden centers, [the customers] are already going to these smaller venues to look for garden items,” Dillman said. “These are people that already appreciate the specialty, the all-natural … and we like to tell them our story. We are a family-driven business, and I think [the customers] appreciate that … because that’s generally who is there shopping.”
Hancock also added that while they provide product to many retailers nationwide, it’s the garden center and greenhouse industries that are their biggest demographic, as well.
“As long as I’ve known, [the garden center segment] has been the biggest industry that pursues our offerings,” Hancock said. “Usually, they’re looking to expand their product offerings, and what we offer is a perfect starting point to them.”