How is Bonnie Plants getting a monopoly in all the big box stores? They all used to stock a few vendors from which to choose from.
I can only speak about the local big box contracts here in my area but imagine they are pretty much the same all over.
They are able to undercut the per plant/container prices most of we local suppliers need to even break even given the sharply rising overhead costs.
Plus they are willing to eat most of the cost of the damage/loss caused by the poor care the transplants get once supplied to the vendor. The big box stores insist on that but smaller growers can't afford to do that.
Up until about 2 years ago Bonnie's would buy from local growers for redistribution. Now they have their own regional growing and distribution centers so the small local growers aren't needed.
We used to be able to recover some costs by growing/supplying some of the more unusual and heirloom varieties. But now they are expanding their varietal selections to include those as well. Small local growers developed the market demand for those varieties, Bonnie's capitalized on it.
Then there is the problem of the buying public where quality always plays second fiddle to price.
Small local grower associations have had to shift their market to other venues like farmer's markets, co-ops, farm and feed stores, school sales, etc.
Actually, I find Bonnie's prices pretty high. Just an example, I bought a Mortgage Lifter for $3.65. With tax added up to 4 bucks for a 6" seedling. Then I bough a similar size plant (Japanese Black Tr.) for $1.95 from Kroger. So I don't think it is the price. I may be wrong.
Bonnie's doesn't sell direct to consumers so they don't set prices. They are a wholesaler. They agree to sell their plants wholesale to HD or Lowes or Walmart or whoever. It is that seller that sets consumer prices you pay.
Then there is the problem of the buying public where quality always plays second fiddle to price
It takes a little more time, effort and money to support local producers, but if we want them to survive and be available, we need to support them. It's like the Walmart story. They come into a community and undercut everyone else, killing most of the small businesses and paying their employees so little that they have to survive on food stamps and Medicare. You pay taxes to support their employees and don't realize that the cheap stuff they sell actually costs you more than the price tag suggests.
I agree the prices of Bonnies at big box stores in my area seems pretty high, about 3.50-4 dollars per plant as I recall. I start my own but realized it would not be cheap to go purchase a dozen or so plants.
I understand the reasons why the big box stores do not buy from "little guys". What I don't understand is why they do not buy from more than one of the large growers besides Bonnies?
In the southeast and up the east coast and inland to the Mississippi no one else has the size of operation, equipment, and the number of distribution centers to compete with them for vegetable transplants.
They have some 75 growing and distribution centers scattered all over the US. But the biggest concentration of them (all but 18) is the eastern 1/3 of the US.
It's only when you get to the west coast that there is any real competition for them from anything even close to their operational size.
Even the largest regional growers can't compete with Bonnie's scale of production. And from a business POV what BBS corporate headquarters is going to want the contract hassles of multiple growers when they can get everything they care about getting from one source for one flat rate? They all went to school in Sam Walton's class.:)
Metrolina, a major mid-state NC grower, sells some tomatoes to the big box stores (most of what I see with their name on it at the bbs is annuals/perennials). IIRC, their tomato plants tend to be 1-3 gallon and/or gimmicky (big pot with built-in inadequate plastic cage, etc.). At a guess, they account for less than 5% of our local Lowe's and WM's tomato plants (I don't go to HD often enough to have any idea if they offer tomatoes besides Bonnie's).
A regional high-end grocery chain sells small tomato seedlings; I don't know who the jobber is, but not Bonnie; the tags are generic printed plastic without any origin. Our Ace Hardware has a sizeable plant area, but I haven't been there when the tomatoes were out. The "hippie" grocery has tomato seedlings from a small seed company not too far away. Local nurseries evidently start their own.
I haven't been too impressed by any of them, even the best local nursery.
Who prices Bonnie's plants? Dave said it is the BBSs. But I doubt it. I have noticed that almost all identical Bonnie plants are priced EXACTLY the same at HD and Lowes. Probably Bonnie tell the BBS this:"You just sell our plants as we price and if they are not sold , we will take them back". So then the BBS acting like consignment shops. They may more money on higher priced items. I used to get 4 packs for a couple of bucks now a single plant is selling for 4 bucks.
So I feel like Bonnie is cornering the market and they are coming out with all kinds o heirlooms and hard to find varieties. It is time that we support small local growers.
From what I was told by a Home Depot plant manager, Home Depot sells the plants but does not actually own them, the plant company brings in the plants and collects them if they are unsold. (from what I see the small plants are frequently Bonnie, the citrus come from a local supplier)
Bonnie's has the advantage of size now, but I'm sure it was not always so.
If small growers make a systematic business plan as Bonnie no doubt did, they might compete. There are all sorts of stories of new companies coming in and leaving those in the forefront, in the dust.
If that is not done, small growers will have to be satisfied with finding niches that Bonnie doesn't occupy, and if those niches are profitable, be ready for Bonnie to come in and take over in the future.
Here is a suit against Bonnie which details the consignment nature in one of the deposition answers
Here is a link that might be useful: Lawsuit
This post was edited by lucille on Sun, Jun 8, 14 at 10:31
If Lowe's and HD both buy Bonnie's tomato seedlings, and then both sell them at the same price ... well, after all, they're each other's main competitors.
When HD wanted to build here, they put their store just half a mile from Lowe's. (And I'm sure it would have been even closer if they'd been able to find that much space nearer to the Lowe's.)
So where do you find the local growers? I found late in the game that there were a few varieties I wanted to grow but hadn't started myself. It was a bit late to start from seed at that point. So I went looking for the varieties. Tried the couple local nurseries. Didn't find what I was looking for, let alone interesting varieties. It seems like where I'm at that most of the nurseries carry the same couple of common varieties that the big box stores offer. I was not happy. I didn't wind up able to find any of the ones I was after, and it's not like I was looking for anything super rare.
A person can't buy from the local growers to support them if they can't find them. Also, why go out of the way to buy from a nursery if all they are providing is the same handful of common varieties the big box store offers.
This post was edited by Hopeful4ky on Sun, Jun 8, 14 at 13:34
FYI: As a former employee of Lowes in PA working in the Outside Lawn and Garden dept. All Bonnie plants at Lowes stores are on consignment. The plants are all owned by Bonnie. Lowes does not buy them up front and makes nothing until the plants are sold.
Agree. Everything at Lowe's and Home Depot are priced the same or nearly the same for that reason - primary competitors doing price matching. It has no more to do with Bonnie's then it does with DeWalt Tools, Glidden Paints, GE Appliances, or any other manufacturer.
The consignment agreement is not between Bonnie's and the BBstore. It is between Bonnie's and their local/regional wholesale distributor.
He takes X number of wholesale priced plants on consignment from Bonnie's and distributes them to the regional stores Bonnie's has contracted with for the wholesale price agreed upon in the contract (and with the understanding that he accepts back what isn't sold).
That store then sets the retail price for them and sells them to the public. The local distributor eats the wholesale cost of any lost sales and is paid a commission based on his total annual sales minus any expenses he has charged to the company.
Although the take back clause is not always included, that is the way wholesale vs. retail licensing works with any product. Wholesale licensed distributors are prohibited by law from setting retail prices or selling directly to the public.
Our family nursery business has to have both a wholesale and a retail license as we deal with both although it is primarily retail now. But the pricing restrictions/guidelines are totally different and so are the accounts and the record keeping, taxes, etc.
There are many reasons to find fault with the Bonnie's operational methods but claiming they set retail prices in any way other than by eliminating competition isn't one of them.
How to find local growers? Online and the phone directory. There is a national register of wholesale suppliers but they can sell directly to the public. But if there is one locally they will tell you where to find their plants. The link below will take you to the list of the 33 wholesale growers registered in KY and many have links to their websites.
Dave could you post the link? It didn't wind up showing up in your post.
Oops! Sorry. Here you go. I should add note that not all of them do vegetables, some are trees, some grasses, etc.
Here is a link that might be useful: Wholesale Nurseries in Kentucky
Walmart is supposed have cheaper prices. But even their prices were exactly same. SO Bonnie is dictating price.
I dug out the only three Bonnie plants I planted month ago. Absolutely no growth i the month. The roots have not grown at all and I think it is because of the paper/mache pot, even though i ripped off part of it.
The 6/4 pack issue is another thing. Used to be I could get 6 pack for less than $3.68+tax I paid for one this year. This year they had only the 4-5". That size plants are much harder to successfully transplant.
Next year my choice will be to find some other nursery or start from seed.
I think that the price tags,are put on Bonnie plans is the same everywhere. When the bonnie's truck delivers, items are already priced. There are not even ONE CENT difference between HD and LOWES. So that is not a competition.
But, why would the BBS want to only deal with one vendor? Seems like they would not want to box themselves in a corner dealing with only one vendor. This gives Bonnie a lot of leverage.
As far as the plants costing more than just a short time ago... most of that is due to the dollar losing its value as the Fed keeps pumping fake dollars into the economy.
I don't buy Bonnie Plants but they are not dictating the prices; that would be the fed with its inflationary phony economy and rising gas prices due to the poor policies.
For those of you complaining about Bonnie prices at Big box Stores and don't have local access to farmer's markets or nurseries to find plants, and for one reason or another can't or dont want to raise plants from seeds,have you considered buying them from certain websites where there are lots of varieties to choose from?
Re- the peat pots. I remove all of them, always, and then loosen the rootball. They don't break down well and plants can get root bound in them.
I hate those peat pots. I tear them off completely; they break down so slowly I actually just add them to my mulch!
And I wholeheartedly second what Carolyn said. You can get some amazing varieties from some of those websites, and even with shipping costs I find it's worth it.
Never thought I'd find myself in a position to defend the wholesale vs. the retail marketplace much less defending Bonnie's. :)
But from a business point of view they do a great job of providing a useful - not great but useful - product to the thousands of average home tomato growers. All those who simply want to grow a couple of tomato plants, those I call (no offense) the stick-it-in-some-dirt-and-watch-it-grow crowd. And they far out number those of us here.
They have no desire to worry about understanding all the facets of the process that we focus on - what the variety name is, whether it is open-pollinated or a hybrid, what its nutrient needs are, how blossoms are or are not pollinated, etc. Bonnie's serves that market well (except for the dang pots).
So if you want to think they are dictating the plant prices rather than blaming the retail stores, fine. I can tell you until I'm blue in the face that it doesn't work that way but believe what you want. But if you believe that then why patronize them? We have other options and should use them.
But, why would the BBS want to only deal with one vendor?
It's the way corporate business thinks. If the price is right, if they have proven they can deliver, and if there is an acceptable profit margin from the one wholesaler and on top of that it is easier than negotiating with multiple sources - go for it. Even small business owners fall into that trap when struggling to survive.
Even we do it individually on a daily basis just on a smaller scale and the recession has only made it worse. We all have some stores we deal with regularly while ignoring others. We all look for the lowest price. Most prefer one-stop shopping when they can get everything on their list over having to spend more time and effort to go to multiple stores.
Some of us will only drive Fords and wouldn't even bother to give a Dodge or Chevy a test drive (much less a Toyota). That is the corporate business thinking when it comes to dealing with Bonnie's.
It's not just the BB stores selling Bonnie around here! The local farm and feed stores are also!
I was at one of them about a month ago and they had a big sign out front saying, please support your local family owned businesses.
I asked the lady why they are selling Bonnie instead of selling plants from the nursery less than a block away. She said they were too expensive!
I told her "I guess that I won't be buying the fertilizer that I came in for, it is cheaper at Wal-mart!"
The look on her face was priceless!
Well Dave's second and third paragraphs in his last comment sums up why Bonnie and the BBS's have been as successful as they've been. Uninformed buyers and gardeners who want tomatoes (or other plants) but don't really care about variety and don't care if they grow to their potential.
When I think of Bonnie, I think of an inferior product. I'm not just saying this based on name alone but because of the fact that nearly every plant I've seen has looked pitiful and unhealthy. They are either too big for the size pot their in, flowering/fruiting at a time when they shouldn't be, or they are stressed somehow from being under/over-watered, because they've been sitting out in the cold for a month before the proper planting time, or some other issue. Now this isn't a reflection of Bonnie so much as it is the BBS's that sell them. I'm sure Bonnie must ship good looking plants out but when they are in the store they look terrible.
Regardless of how the plants look, people buy them. Maybe they buy them because of brand recognition. Maybe it's because they don't know better than to not buy a stressed plant. Maybe they can't recognize a stressed plant or simply don't care. Or maybe it's because they don't know of any or don't have any local places around them. When people buy Bonnie plants the stores stock more, Bonnie gets more revenue and grows, the stores depend more on that one company (Bonnie) for their needs since their product is selling, and other growers get pushed aside creating a monopoly.
P.S. Around here Bonnie plants sell for about 3 times more than what you'll pay at a local place.
P.P.S. That's hilarious, wertach.
I do have to say the Bonnie heirloom selection has grown tremendously. I was impressed to see the variety they were offering this year at home depot. My local, small nursery still has them beat with a better selection and typically cheaper pricing. Also the plants are smaller and better for transplanting.
I'll stick to starting from seed though. ;)
People buy what is available and convenient, not because of the name recognition (for vegetables).
And I agree, Bonnies prices are the highest. The BBS make more money selling them, because they get a percentage. Most Bonnie items are $3.65. So if BBS gets 30%, that is over a Dollar. Why bother to sell something for a buck and make 40 cents ?
About patronizing : Of all the plants that I have purchased this season, only ONE has been Bonnie's and that was a Mortgage Lifter seedling. The rest has been local and small growers products.
I bought some Bonnie tomatoes this year when a late freeze killed some of the seedlings I had started from seed. They were healthy and are growing well.
Maybe it just depends on the area but the Bonnie veggies sold at Home Depot, Walmart, and the local feed store look good and Home Depot and Walmart here take good care of their plants. Maybe they make the salesman/woman pick up the poorly ones?
Bonnie's does seem to have incredible market penetration here in Utah as well.
But I have looked at 5 or 6 locations and they seem to be pricing them differently. I get the impression that they all start at a suggested retail and then discount them from there. Perhaps because I showed up later in the season and they were trying to get them off the shelves....
There is also some difference in the varieties available store to store. maybe because the stores can choose their varieties or because different varieties sold out sooner than others.
I agree with Dave that they seem to be doing an incredible job supplying a huge variety of viable plants to tons of retailers at relatively good prices. and It can't be bad if more folks are growing their own tomatoes/herbs/etc.
I also agree that its good if/when folks support small local growers it seems like at 3.50 a plant there is plenty of profit margin for a small grower to compete. Those of you with good farmers markets that get going early enough in the spring to sell or purchase starts and seedlings should be grateful. There are none in my area until at least June.
I chose to start my own tomatoes this year because i wanted to pick and choose my varieties. Perhaps in future years I will also grow for some friends. I couldn't have found Kosovo or Opalka or any but two of the 8 varieties I grew from Bonnies or any other local supplier.
Ordering online was my first thought, but upon looking into it found shipping on many sites to be cost prohibitive unless I was going to order a large amount of plants. Also several sites think so highly of their tomato plants that they are charging $5-6 per plant, if not more. Totally Tomatoes is charging $6.98 per plant! That IMO is just outrageous. Granted I don't want the basic brands sold in my area, but if I went to a nursery here for them, I could have 2-4 plants for the same price, depending where I shopped.
Walmart is supposed have cheaper prices
And in many cases they do. But not all.
For instance, I love a particular brand of cheese. I can find it at WM (shock!) or two higher-end regional grocery chains. The highest-priced grocery chain consistently sells the cheese for a dollar less per pound than WM; the other higher-end grocery has the highest price of the three.
From what I've read, the bbs' arrangement with Bonnie is that Bonnie waters the plants, not the bbs. If Bonnie owns the plants till they're purchased by the public, that just makes sense.
By the way, I've seen Metrolina Greenhouses staff watering their annuals and perennials at Lowe's. [Lowe's gives them special vests so shoppers won't ask them for store info.]
If the same bar code labels are used on all of Bonnie's plants regardless of which bbs is selling them, that simply means Bonnie supplies the bbs with a computer file which enables the bbs to set their prices for each different bar code.
The bbs would enter that particular bar code (all the same for a particular variety of tomato) and choose the price they prefer for all their stores -- or for a particular group of stores, if jonathanpassey is right about different prices at stores in the same chain (I don't visit multiples of any of the bbs).
Want to lower the price? A single click of the keyboard at the bbs's corporate hq cuts the price of all those getting-long-in-the-tooth tomato seedlings at all the chain's stores, or a particular group of stores.
All done by computer. That's how, when you go to a bbs website, it can tell you whether a particular item is available at your local store, or out of stock.
Furthermore, when the bbs is looking for merchandise, they give preference to the vendors who can provide the database info. [Okay, I don't know that for a fact, but it's long been a consideration with libraries and book jobbers, and I can't believe retail would be any different.]
@missingtheobvious, I meant different prices at different chains. Bonnie's plants supplied walmart, home depot, lowes, cal ranch, and others this year. I agree with the OP that it seemed a bit monopolistic. I didn't see any other suppliers to any chain stores.
As a side note, Bonnies did have several heirloom varieties this year though. Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, maybe others; they seemed to be selling out first so I may have missed some.
We have a spring garden fair in the county seat, with hundreds of local and regional vendors: businesses of all sizes.
Unfortunately, this is another of those years when RL got in the way of my starting seedlings, so I was shopping for more interesting tomato varieties than I can find locally. It was hugely disappointing. Most everything was hybrid, and many older Bonnie varieties featured prominently: either the vendors lacked imagination, or they brought what they thought folks would recognize. Big Boy, Early Girl, a generic Cherry, etc.
I was surprised that the more unusual varieties were scattered among the vendors selling tomatoes: nobody carried more than 2 or 3.
There were a couple of unusual cherry and currant varieties (I wasn't looking for those, and don't remember which they were). They also had one of Brad Gates's multicolored tomatoes, though not a variety I wanted to try (don't remember it either). The two I purchased were Hungarian Heart and Atkinson. I looked in vain for Black Krim (which hadn't been at any of the bbs, either).
Frankly, most of the tomato seedlings at the fair were weedy and seriously unimpressive, with thin leaves.
jonathanpassey, none of the bbs here had Black Krim, unless they had it before the Big April Freeze; I was too busy to go seedling shopping till the second week of May.
A few facts about retailing
1) Bedding plants have always been sold at little or no profit by retailers such as Wal Mart in order to draw customers into the garden shop. The fact is that after paying to purchase the inventory of plants, maintaining them, and taking the loss on all the plants that die there is there is no profit to be made on them anyway. Mitigating this is the profit margin on everything else in the garden shop, which is among the highest in the store. How much do you think it costs to manufacture and market those rocks or bags of dirt?
2) One of the most important items of consideration to the big box retailer is turns. If you have a dollar that you purchase goods with and you sell the goods you can put the profit in your pocket and reinvest your dollar again for another round. An item that sells out every month gives you 12 opportunities per year to take a profit. Or 12 turns. The more turns you generate the more opportunities for profit you have.
3) In order to sell all those highly profitable garden shop items a company the size of Wal Mart must tie up many millions of dollars each year to purchase and maintain an attractive stock of bedding plants. Dollars they could be turning. When a vendor comes along and says I will supply your bedding plants for you. You don't have to tie up any dollars to buy or maintain your inventory. I will only charge you for what sells, and only after it is sold. The very attractive implication is you will have millions of dollars that were previously tied up, free to generate additional turns.
Mike, who ran a Wal Mart for many years back in the day.
I didn't know about turns. Thank you for an interesting and informative post Mike.
I'd like to suggest that you check out Selected Plants, link below, which is owned by Fusion, who posts here.
He has an excellent reputation for plant prices and variety selection.
He ships until the end of June, as the link says, but as he also says, he's two weeks behind on e-mails.
Be sure to check out ordering tomato plants as well as clicking on varieties offered and noting at the bottom of that varieties list if one has an asterisk it means he's still sowingseeds.
If interested, I think calling him after you view the variety list and make some selections, is the best way to go, either for this year or next,
Hope that helps.
Here is a link that might be useful: Selected Plants
Thanks for the link! That is more what I was thinking about price and selection wise. Shame his doesn't come up as one of the links when searching google for tomato plants.
Selected Plants is on page 2, about 1/2 way down the page, of the Google search for 'tomato plants for sale'.
Bonnie took over the Eastern part of Canada too. In the last few years - nothing but Bonnie's vegetables are sold in all BBS.
Bonnie plants are a monopoly. They illegality set the price here in Nashville, Tennessee. The manager at Lowes told me that if he lowered the price. The Bonnie people said they would not let them sell their plants. The stores used to sell 6 packs and 4 packs of vegetable plants at a reasonable price, now they only sell individual plants at several times the price of a 6 pack of smaller plants. Alabama Co Op bought Bonnie Plants several years ago. I believe the people buying their plants are city folks putting out only a few plants. I will not buy any of their plants. I had rather sow my seed in a cold frame and be a few weeks later getting them out.
All of this season I bought just ONE Bonnie plant. But I bout maybe 5 matoes and peppers from other unknown growers' brands at HALF the price of Bonnie's. ( $1.99 vs $3.65)
I think that as a consumer......I have a choice, plan ahead and plant seeds or wait to the last minute and buy plants from BBS. Locals in my are no longer try to compete.I went to locals this spring looking for seeds and was told to go to WM.
I am not going to knock Bonnies or BBS.....the choice is completely mine
They employee a LOT of people and sell some good product. If the product wasn't any good, people would not buy it. It is a success story, staring out as a small family business.
What Americans are supposed to strive for and respect. They do a lot of good with their childrens programs.
I grow my vegetables from seed these days, but when I didn't , I always bought Bonnie plants from HD or Lowes.
Why? Because those stores move a lot of product quickly and for that reason the plants have not been sitting out for weeks or months. Quick turnover = fresh product.
Here is a link that might be useful: Bonnie
This post was edited by DBrown2351 on Sun, Aug 3, 14 at 17:06
Soooo dissappointed to find four Bonnie Fresnos where actually more like "gypsies". I still had time to get them elswhere , but I thought I was set. Looks like some squash were mislabled as a melon, too.
I thought I would add that I planted the majority of plants from seed, bought some from a local nursery, and ordered 16 cross country from "cross country".......but Fresnos are my favorite.
Bonnie plants appeared for the first time at Walmart, here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada this spring (2014). Their selection was decent, but different than the suppliers of previous years. Tomatoes, peppers and similar plants sold for $2.98 each in 4" coir pots.
It was the first time seeing Rutgers determinate for sale in Edmonton so I purchased one plant for seed saving purposes. The tray of Rutgers had a brown band from soil level up a half an inch which reminded me of Damping Off, but the tomatoes we erect and looked healthy. I selected the best of the bunch and it is doing fine.
Home Depot had different plant tags and different varieties here in Edmonton, so Bonnie was not their supplier in this market.
plants are usually labeled incorrectly by a careless shopper, not the supplier.
^Maybe, but FOUR of them?
here on the west coast the bbs carry 4 and six packs early in the season before the bonnies arrive- all big box plant vendors do all the work for the stores; setting up displays, stocking, replacing damaged plants no matter what the reason. rather than having an experienced nursery manager the bbs just let the vendor reps do it. their stock is almost totally uninteresting to real gardeners(that's us) but we arent their market.
Same in my area with Bonnie being the one and only choice in BBS. Just don't like paying $4 per plant when I used to get a SIX pack for $1.80. At $1/lb at summer farmers markets, I'm 4 lbs in the hole months before picking any.
I'm more motivated to start my own from seed now; lower cost and I know I'll get the variety I want.
My local Lowes hosts a Bonnie Plants display with about 100 starter tomato plants and they are the saddest leaf eaten yellowest tomato plants I've ever seen. They are $6.40 with tax each. Too bad, they had some Mortgage Lifters, right next to the 42" tomato ring cages LOL Look around for a local nursery for 6-packs. Bonnie Plants pulls a few good varieties out of the hat these days, but they are reshaping the costs of gardening here with a total monopoly.
I don't think it is working out well and I think we have the highest prices of anyone mentioning their Bonnie prices in the thread because Florida is about as hard as it gets on their consignment strategy. I think they are losing three plants to every one they sell, so in the end it is the home gardener who is paying for their monopoly. Support your local nursery if you can!