Fall is for … Preserving?

Oct 12, 2012 11 Comments

I am delighted to report that there has been a welcome upturn in the conventional garden business. In other words consumers are buying flowers, veggies and lawn food again – hooray for that. There was a moment in July when it looked like the American householder had forgotten that their yard, garden or patio traditionally involved buying, replacing or maintaining some type of plant! Most retailers I know had “horrible” Summer numbers, not just in sales figures but, more worryingly, in transactions or register rings (some people call it “Customer Count”). This was not just a local thing in one area with bad weather, it seemed national in scope with comments like “No one showed up” or “Business dropped off the cliff from mid June”.  So to hear that September was up substantially in sales figures, on an admittedly poor 2011,  pretty much across the country in all retail channels is nothing but good news.

What would be even better news would be knowing what is driving it.

To some extent there is no choice for many homeowners.  After 4 years when spending on the garden and patio was pushed down the priority list in many households, they can see that their biggest asset, their house, is starting to look tired and less attractive to a buyer. So at least that will drive people to a store to buy flowers, a few containers and some lawn food, maybe even some pruners to attack those tryphid-like shrubs. Consumers realize that the least they have to do is to protect and preserve what they already had or owned.                                                                   

Is the home-grown, fresh veggies boom driving some traffic?  

I think so, especially in areas of the country where (if you know how) you can get a late crop of all sorts of fresh greens, winter squash or root veggies and a great start on next spring before Jack Frost arrives.  Also, now that many feel competent about growing a juicy tomato, the intrigue of preserving some of that summer bounty might be catching on in younger generations who didn’t learn it from their parents like I did. When I was a kid in England I was cheap labo(u)r for everything from painfully picking gooseberries to cleaning countless jam jars. From June to October the house always seemed to smell of jam or chutney!

Riding the Trend Wave

Some retailers I am glad to say have encouraged this food-preservation trend with tasting events, classes and supplies, others have not. One garden center owner complained that he couldn’t make money on canning supplies but his store just had a shelf or two of jars and lids sitting there for those consumers who knew what to look for (and probably knew their prices as they bought them somewhere every year). There was no promotion, tastings, eye-catching merchandising, cute signage, themes, events, classes, experts on-hand or items bundled into E-Z success-kits like “Make your own Pesto sauce” or “Preserve your luscious tomato flavor all through the winter” and so on.

It takes some imagination and a bit of work, but if we have managed to win the consumers’  trust to grow their own, we can surely be the credible “How-to” center that helps them keep those wax beans, onions or hot peppers on-hand until next summer. Why not use their own tomatoes for those winter pasta or pizza evenings instead of buying a can?

The fact is that consumers have spent on what made them feel good all through the worst recession in recent times. One of those feel-good themes is eating out. (Have you tried to get in to a decent restaurant on a Friday night lately?) Meanwhile the press coverage of better food for kids and the number of cooking programs on TV continue consumer awareness of eating local and better. What could be more local than their own backyard or better than their own basil?

Here comes a softball…

Retailers should be constantly watching the market looking for new opportunities, doors opening. The door labeled “Food Gardening” just offered yet another chance to re-connect with the consumers who are jazzed by their tomato success but are mystified by tales of preservation, canning or even worse “Putting Up.” It is on-trend, not executed well by the supermarkets or boxes, and a natural extension of the core of gardening. In the constant game of looking for one-more-visit-per-household-per-year, the Lawn and Garden industry just got a nice soft delivery thrown its way.

photo credit: Lisa Baldwin (from our harvest!)

  1. Bob Sickles
    Oct 15, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Canned tomatoes make great Christmas presents Ian, almost as good as fresh Favas!
    My now deceased Aaunt Julia used to can everything. Her peaches and pears, and strwberries put Delmonte to shame as they were canned at peak ripeness instead of hard and unripe. Mom carried on the tradition but she did more freezing, especially with veggies (corn for Christmas!), peaches, strawberries, raspberries and more. Home canning is an almost lost art that is slowly gaining traction again along with pickling and other food arts (think cheesemaking, charcuterie, smoked fish etc). It is less for the economy of it then the fact that the results are way better then what is commercially available. Many of the finest specialty foods available today are out the preserving tradition which was just the ordinary folks way of preserving the harvest so they did not starve in the winter.
    More power to you and Lisa. Are you making potato chips with those fine spuds yet?

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      Thanks Bob, great reply, does that make us trend setters or just the last of the old line?! But did you mean chips as in my old country (with fish don’t forget the vinegar), or chips as in my new country? Either way the answer is no, still enjoying the Yukons as mash or baked 🙂

    Oct 15, 2012 at 10:57 am

    makes me hungry looking at the goodness

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 15, 2012 at 10:21 pm

      Yums the word John!

  3. Richard Wentworth
    Oct 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Homemade Salsa, canned beans,homemade pickled beets. Foodies love the idea and it’s fun entertainment with a glass of wine in your hand, not work in the kitchen. They make great holiday gifts and then when they are served it’s even more fun with the stories. Planting, tending, cooking, canning and sharing.Fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Work, no way.

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 15, 2012 at 10:32 pm

      Richard, well said, especially the bit about a glass of wine. You can just see two jars of Lisa’s beets at the front left of the picture above and they are tasty! Now if we could just make a Petite Sirah to the same standard…..

  4. dottie warner
    Oct 15, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I feel very fortunate to have grown up canning,freezing pickling, making jellies and jams, and 4 of 5 daughters do now, to varying degrees. One also does a lot of dehydrating, another has a smoker. I have probably tried more odd-ball recipes, like Indiana Pineapple, and jelly from discarded peach peels and pits. None of us has ever spread food poisoning, but I am reluctant to be the teacher for beginners. The local county extension agents don’t seem to instruct in these areas any more; they sell the Ball ‘blue’ book on preserving instead of the old free bulletins. There are lots of vague recipes and questionable directions on the internet. Suggestions for a reliable instructor, who won’t charge more than the students spend in the store?

    1. Ian Baldwin
      Oct 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      Dottie, nice to hear from you and congrats on spreading the gospel on preserving to your daughters. Lisa’s Mom was a Hoosier and was an avid canner of beets and cucumbers, freezing tons of corn, beans and asparagus that they grew commercially on the farm in Michigan. For speakers you might have to go into towns nowadays and look for modern foodies who are re-discovering almost-lost country skills. Enjoy the Fall!

  5. Maureen Murphy
    Oct 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    When I was raising my family, I canned all our jam, salsa, tomato sauces, etc. Now my daughter is doing it as well. She just finished with the plum butter. I see her and her friends all starting to do this now that they are having children. Any way we can highlight and emphasize edibles seems like a smart move.

  6. Ian Baldwin
    Oct 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Maureen, good comments! Maybe encouraging that passing on the baton within the family should be a strategy going forward for the industry. We have many many loyal and participative consumers over 55 who may now want to share their skills with kids who suddenly have grown up and become head of their own family. I think this is an opportunity to use social media to connect with the younger generation and say “Let’s help you learn how” while talking to the Boomers with a “Let’s help you show your kids how” message.

    Once again, another chance to get one-more-visit-per-household-per-year, this time as a multi-generational unit to learn the magic of preserving – as long as it isn’t a “canned” presentation!


  7. Ian Baldwin
    Mar 11, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Well, it’s already March 11th 2013 and I just planted out onion seedlings tonight, bought at The Greenery in Turlock I should add. Already through from seed are red, and gold, Beetroot and Fava Beans with Leek and Carrot thinking about appearing. Oh and we are still eating last year’s Swiss Chard, still a melt in the mouth veg when quick sauteed in olive oil and garlic, yum!

Comments are now closed for this article.