New COVID behaviour hikes greenhouse sales

Saskatchewan greenhouse operators have seen a strong demand for bedding plants this spring. More people are staying at home because of COVID-19 restrictions and focus ing on their gardens, says the Saskatchewan Greenhouse Growers Association.  | Jeannette Greaves photo

The industry has worked with government to identify safe practices that could be implemented at greenhouses

Fears over the transmission of COVID-19 have prompted some significant recent changes in consumer behaviour.

Among those changes is a significant uptick in demand for gardening supplies and bedding plants, including ornamentals and vegetable seedlings.

“People are anxious to buy plants,” said Guenette Bautz, general manager of the Saskatchewan Greenhouse Growers Association (SSGA).

“They’re excited. They’re purchasing plants earlier, even though the weather hasn’t necessarily been co-operating. They have the itch to purchase plants and get some life and greenery into their surroundings.”

In a recent interview, Bautz said restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in more people working from home, cancelling travel plans and reconsidering summer vacation activities.

The SSGA recognized early on that the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to increased greenhouse sales this spring and has been working with the provincial government to identify safe practices that could be implemented at greenhouses across the province.

Bautz said SSGA members anticipated an increase in stay-cations, based on limited access to parks and tourist destinations.

The association also predicted heightened interest in food self-sufficiency due to lingering uncertainties over food security and fresh food supplies in grocery stores.

“We knew there would be more people spending time at home so we felt the (demand) for plants would be stronger this year and we also anticipated an increase in backyard gardening and food production …,” Bautz said.

As it turned out, those predictions were spot on.

“What I’m hearing from my producers is that they’re extremely busy,” Bautz said.

“They’re seeing a lot of interest and a lot of sales going through.”

The SSGA and other greenhouse associations in Western Canada have implemented a series of precautionary measures to ensure that customers can get the plants they want safely and comfortably.

At SSGA greenhouses around the province, wash stations or hand sanitization stations have been installed at customer entry points.

Visitors are required to wash or sanitize thoroughly upon arrival and departure.

Gail Medernach, owner of Gail’s Greenhouse at Cudworth, Sask., said customers who visit her facilities are asked to follow one-way traffic flows and maintain a safe distance from other customers.

“We have a one-way circuit so that the traffic will flow in the same direction,” said Medernach, who also serves as SSGA president.

Operators are monitoring the number of people that are in the greenhouse at one time so as to ensure proper distancing.

Some greenhouses are taking customers by appointment and many are receiving and preparing orders over the phone, for curbside pickup.

Medernach said the pandemic seems to have rekindled an interest in gardening among all ages.

She recently sold bedding plants to a couple who hadn’t planted a vegetable garden in 12 years.

This year, because they’re staying close to home, they decided to plant a garden and share the produce with friends and family.

Medernach said all types of plants have been moving well.

“People seem to really want to seem to make their yards more beautiful this year. They’re not going anywhere and they want to decorate their space,” she said.

“We’re finding a lot more vegetables are being sold…,” she added.

“Maybe this is a good opportunity for people to relearn how to grow their own food.”

Bautz said implementing pandemic-related safety measures at Saskatchewan greenhouses has taken a significant amount of effort and planning.

To accommodate one-way traffic flows, some greenhouses have reconfigured their floor plans, a step that required extra time, labour and expense.

In some cases, extra staff have been hired to monitor customer traffic and ensure proper distancing is maintained.

“Overall, it’s worked out very well,” said Medernach, who acknowledged some stressful moments earlier in the year.

“There’s totally a renewed interest in gardening.

“Life is going to go on and people want to get through this,” she added.

“Growing plants is a natural way to cope.”

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