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Will the vegetable and herb market continue its climb after two years of record sales?

July 19, 2022

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With the onslaught of new gardeners during the pandemic and the interest in growing their own food, independent garden centers (IGC) saw record sales of vegetables and herbs the past two years. The big question is whether that segment will flatten out in 2023.

If you’re serving the IGC market (or considering that market) and/or selling plugs directly to retail growers, it may be prudent to plan for an increased demand of veggies and herbs.

New gardeners are more likely to try something different like Kitchen Minis (pictured) beyond the traditional garden tomato, such as Big Boy.
Image courtesy of Panamerican Seed

Food gardening was the fastest-growing gardening category in 2020, according to the National Garden Bureau. By 2021, fewer IGCs said veggies were their fastest growing area than the previous year, according to the State of the Industry report from sister publicaton Garden Center magazine. However, with the start of a recession, IGCs are bracing for vegetable, herb and fruit sales to be more in demand again.

“When there are times of recession or economic uncertainty, consumers and home gardeners want to have any sort of control over their life they possibly can. And growing their own food, even if it’s just on a patio, can help them achieve some control,” says Josh Kirschenbaum, the vegetable business and portfolio manager at PanAmerican Seed. “So, I do think there’s a good possibility that this trend is going to continue because of the potential recession.”

Out of all those new gardeners the green industry attracted the last two years, there are still plenty who are and plan to stick with the gardening hobby, he says.

“So there’s much more interest in vegetable gardening than there was before the pandemic,” he says.

And those new gardeners seem to be more willing to try new things, so it’s important for growers to look at new and interesting varieties, he observes.

“A lot of the folks who have been gardening for quite some time might have been somewhat hesitant to try new things, just because they’re used to Big Boy or big Early Girl, for instance. But these new folks, which are often from a younger generation that spend a lot of time on social media, are much more willing to try new things,” he says. “So we really try to focus on unique and differentiated products like our new Candy Cane Chocolate cherry pepper. It’s a striped sweet pepper with variegated foliage, so it’s a very nice ornamental edible that also tastes really good. And we found that new gardener market also appreciated our Kitchen Minis, which gives them the opportunity to grow something even if they don’t have a garden or a patio. These can go on a sunny windowsill, and they can harvest from it for several weeks.”

The impending recession could create another surge in demand for vegetables and herbs, much like in 2020. Your customers may be asking for more product to ship in 2023.
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Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,, there was a growing trend in cultivating your own food, whether it was for food independence or the increased interest in plant-based diets, according to Dr. Bridget Behe, a professor of horticulture at Michigan State University. That movement gained even more momentum during the pandemic.

“We need to think about helping people have control by growing fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs,” Behe said during a Cultivate’21 presentation. “It’s about the perception of control. It’s probably not enough tomatoes to feed your family but it gives people a sense of control.”

Even more powerful than the plant-based diet trend, the organic movement or food independence is the local movement, Behe says. Backyard farming can not only help gardeners feel more control over their diets, but also give them feel the satisfaction of feeding their own families right from their own backyards with great flavor and great nutrition.

Kelli Rodda contributed to this article, as well as reporting from sister publication Garden Center.