How Growers Are Overcoming Major Shipping Challenges in E-commerce

The new 90,000-square-foot e-commerce facility at Costa Farms in Miami, FL is filled with plant varieties and transport containers. The warehouse is cleared out for shipments each week. Photo: Janeen Wright

Editor’s notice: This is the primary installment of a three-part print and digital collection on e-commerce. Watch for an article subsequent month on labor challenges and options.

In a world the place know-how creeps into each facet of life, horticulture is not any exception. Some growers throughout the nation have engaged in e-commerce gross sales since 2010, whereas others jumped on the bandwagon when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. The post-COVID world exhibits extra clients than ever earlier than have an interest in shopping for crops on-line. They desire the convenience and comfort of getting a plant delivered to their doorstep.

When the pandemic started in 2020, backyard facilities scrambled to promote their crops on-line somewhat than in-store and got here up with contactless, drive-thru pick-up plans. For the final two years, retailers and growers had been compelled to revisit how they promote their crops. Many discovered that on-line gross sales are the best way of the longer term, however not with out their challenges. Growers notice that climate and supply issues might affect buyer satisfaction, in order that they put together for the worst earlier than crops are shipped.

“More harmful than the climate typically is the man carrying the packing containers,” says Tom Watson, Director of Marketing and E-commerce for The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, MD.

E-commerce Revenue on the Rise

Growers are reporting a rise in their income and variety of orders by way of e-commerce platforms. Bert Hucks, Vice President and General Manager of the E-commerce Division at Costa Farms in Miami, FL, says the corporate’s e-commerce division has doubled its income on common yearly for the final 5 years. Costa, which has 48 million sq. ft of controlled-environment manufacturing, sells crops wholesale to retail channel companions and direct to shopper through

From 2012 to 2020, Bonnie Plants’ e-commerce division has grown 50% to 100% per yr, in response to Sid Phelps, Director of E-commerce Operations and Fulfillment. From 2019 to 2020, the onset of the pandemic, Phelps reported e-commerce progress of 600%. Bonnie Plants, headquartered in Union Springs, AL, makes use of a direct-to-consumer enterprise mannequin and drop transport for its retail companions. Its crops can be found on The operation homes 15.9 million sq. ft of controlled-environment manufacturing.

Watson says 5% to 10% of The Perennial Farm’s income comes from e-commerce platforms. It ships 500 to 700 on-line orders per day for direct-to-consumer achievement. The Perennial Farm’s crops can be found on Watson says all the operation’s clients who place orders on-line are outdoors of its typical supply space. He says crops are shipped to impartial backyard facilities, panorama firms, and homes in rural areas, providing an alternative choice to the client as an alternative of constructing a protracted drive to a backyard middle.

Packaging at Groovy Plants Ranch

Co-owner of Groovy Plants Ranch Liz Hughes says clients spotlight their wonderful packaging when leaving opinions on Etsy. Photo: Groovy Plants Ranch

Liz Hughes, co-owner of Groovy Plants Ranch in Marengo, OH, ships crops direct-to-consumer. Orders could also be positioned on and Etsy. Groovy Plants ships 300 to 600 packages per week. Shipping crops isn’t a brand new idea for growers who promote uncommon crops, Hughes says, as a result of a selected agave or succulent, for instance, isn’t sourced regionally.

The growers use the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx to ship their on-line orders. Costa Farms, Bonnie Plants, and The Perennial Farm additionally promote crops on Amazon.

Weather Poses Challenges

No matter their measurement, growers are studying to beat challenges posed by Mother Nature. Hughes of Groovy Plants Ranch, which has 20,000 sq. ft of controlled-environment manufacturing, says that the largest challenges concerning transport crops are weather-related. The best option to overcome these obstacles is to organize in advance and mitigate the dangers to the crops. She mentions the wide selection of temperatures crops might expertise in Ohio, noting a latest change from 17°F on a Monday to 70°F on Wednesday.

It is commonplace for growers to make use of warmth packs that final for one to 3 days in packing containers to maintain crops heat till they attain their vacation spot. They are for use sparingly, nevertheless, so crops don’t overheat.

“If you ship with a warmth pack and it’s too heat, it cooks the plant in the field,” Hughes says. “They arrive trying like wilted spinach.”

Growers report solely transport Monday by way of Thursday, so crops usually are not left sitting on vans on weekends. This minimizes their publicity to chilly temperatures, and they’re much less prone to dry out.

E-commerce groups additionally have a look at the climate in advance. Growers like Costa and Groovy Plants Ranch use software program to evaluate the temperature of various areas by ZIP code to find out if their crops want warmth packs. Watson notes that his staff makes use of chilly packs to maintain crops cool in sizzling, dry areas. His enterprise has 500,000 sq. ft of controlled-environment manufacturing.

Prep Plants for Transit

Aside from the climate, there are a myriad of different obstacles growers keep away from when transport their crops. For instance, crops are left in a field for a number of days throughout transport however should be uncovered to air. The Perennial Farm makes use of packing containers with airholes to permit the plant to breathe.

“There are plenty of issues it’s important to be careful for in terms of the climate and taking a stay good and placing it in a field, primarily sealed hermetic, when your product needs to breathe,” Phelps says.

Despite the care growers present on the greenhouse, growers can not management what occurs to the crops throughout supply. They put together for the worst by packaging as finest they’ll. Companies reported going by way of a number of iterations of packing for a number of years till discovering the appropriate mixture. To shield the soil, roots, and foliage, growers wrap their crops in plastic wrap, encompass them with crinkle paper and depart no empty house in the cardboard packing containers.

Watson mentioned the shake take a look at used at The Perennial Farm. Packers are required to shake the completed field. If the plant strikes, they have to pack it once more. Bonnie Plants makes use of a drop take a look at to refine any weak areas in the packaging. Phelps says Bonnie Plants’ clients name their packing containers a mini greenhouse as a result of it really works as a protecting clamshell for his or her crops.

One of a very powerful ideas to think about in a rising e-commerce market is invasive crops, ailments, and pests. Hucks says Costa is cautious to not ship crops to states the place they aren’t permitted as a result of they’re harmful to the pure habitat. Growers have to be diligent about solely transport correctly grown, inspected, and licensed crops into different states. Costa’s Senior Brand Marketing Manager Justin Hancock notes that the record of invasive crops modifications yearly.

“We don’t need to put a state’s ecosystem in danger. We additionally don’t need to make life onerous for the agricultural inspectors throughout the nation,” Hucks says. “It’s a brand new factor for us to ship crops one or two at a time into states. We don’t need to abuse that privilege as an trade.”

Mason Day, Director of Growth and Development at JR Peters, partnered with Seth Reed to create the DevelopIt! App in 2014, which provided shoppers info on potential plant purchases. Day says transport crops is simpler than anticipated and clients are prepared to pay for a high-quality product.

“Consumers can pay for that comfort. Sure, they’re not going to spend $20 on transport for a pack of petunias, however they might pay $20 on transport for a $150 houseplant in a ravishing pot,” Day says. “It’s not one thing that’s out of the realm of potentialities.”

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