Millennials are already the butt of many modern day jokes, being blamed for ruining things like beer, golf, restaurants and even cereal. And it now appears the laughter coefficient is about to ramp up a notch, with Bloomberg reporting that increasingly more lonely millennials are becoming friends... with houseplants.
In addition to providing comedic material to the masses, the newfound obsession has actually boosted the economy, resulting in a revenue bump for the houseplant market. U.S. sales have surged almost 50% to $1.7 billion over the last 3 years, according to the National Gardening Association. In fact, plants are gradually becoming the new "pets", as many millennials choose to delay having kids and seek to fulfill their desire to connect with nature.
Plants are mostly still being purchased from big, evil, capitalist corporations like Home Depot and Walmart, because they carry inexpensive varieties that are tailored to novice buyers. But there are some startup companies that are targeting this newfound demand. Upstart company The Sill sells most of its plants online and offers care advice, free returns and a slogan for plant-care novices: “Can’t Kill It. Just Try.”
Hipsters in places like Brooklyn also have shops like Tend, Tula and Soft Opening to graze for new "friends". Eliza Blank, The Sill’s founder, said: “We are talking about an antiquated industry that hasn’t changed and a consumer that has. Millennials don’t want to go to Walmart to buy their plants.”
The houseplant industry last saw a boom back in the 1970's when hippies accounted for purchases of spider plants that they crafted custom hangers for. Today, millennials are buying plants like the monstera deliciosa and fiddle-leaf fig that have become so popular that many owners consider them children and give them names.
“If we don't have a fiddle-leaf fig, it's a missed sale,” said Joe Ferrari, owner of Tend. Darryl Cheng, whose runs House Plant Journal on Instagram said: “I know what people who buy plants feel like.” He has answered thousands of questions on plant care on Instagram, many times under the hashtag #plantsofinstagram, which aggregates 2.7 million posts on plants.
Social media has been the catalyst for the ongoing plant craze, spraying buyers to sits like Etsy and eBay. Even Amazon has benefited from the craze, opening its own dedicated site for plants. Instagram, which recently added a shopping feature to its app, could be next to try and cash in.
Bloomberg says "the industry is ripe for disruption" because its supply chain hasn't changed much in the last 50 years. Growing is mostly done in Florida and operations are widespread throughout Latin America. Many growers, who work with a network of wholesalers, brokers and retailers, don't even have cell phones and often have zero contact with consumers. As a result it's tough for them to shift what they are growing based on industry trends.
The variegated monstera, a mutation whose leaves are a blend of green and ghostly white, is among one of the sought after plants that's difficult to grow commercially. Costa Farms, a major grower whose plants are found in places like Amazon and Walmart, employs “plant hunters” who look at distant places like Tanzania to find new varieties to grow.
Often times, it's difficult to get growers to switch varieties. Kay Kim, co-founder of Rooted, a plant company based in Brooklyn said: “It’s hard to convince a grower to do something new. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem.” This can lead to volatility in pricing and availability of some plants. Variegated monsteras sell for $200 on Etsy and monstera deliciosa seeds have more than doubled in price over the last 12 months.
Florida grower Matt Metzler said he had “never seen anything like this.” Grower Maxwell Sherer said simply: “It’s a good time to be in plants.”
The Sill has closed $7.5 million in venture funding and its sales quadrupled last year.