by Cynthia L. McGowan
Industry groups band together to make sure retailers have the
know-how to comply with rules on marketing container plants.
Some long-standing rules governing labeling of container plants
have come into the spotlight lately, and it’s important that the
floriculture industry pay attention.
Some state and local weights and measures officials, in response
to the rise in sales of container plants as well as a consumer
complaint in Pennsylvania over an allegedly inaccurate label,
have increased their scrutiny of the industry’s compliance with
advertising and labeling laws. This has served as a wake-up call
to many in the floriculture industry, who “had no idea” that
they possibly were in violation of the Uniform Weights and
Measures Law and the Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulations,
says Terry Humfeld, vice president of the Produce Marketing
The rules will require many retailers and vendors to rework
their labels, advertising and signage regarding container
plants, if they want to be in compliance. Says Cindy Rapshus,
vice president, floral merchandising, for Albertsons, Inc. and
chairwoman of PMA’s Floral Council: “The verbiage required for
compliance is much different from today’s normal label
To help retailers and vendors with compliance, several industry
associations jumped into action. The American Nursery &
Landscape Association (ANLA) took the lead and gathered expert
help from the PMA’s Floral Council, OFA—An Association of
Floriculture Professionals, the Society of American Florists (SAF)
and the North American Horticultural Supply Association (NAHSA)
to produce an eight-page Industry Guide to Marketing Container
Plants, which was released in December and is available for free
at each of the association’s Web sites.
The guide spells out, in easy-to-understand language, what is
required of retailers and their suppliers. “The guide was
created as a way to help interpret the regulations in such a way
that there can be some consistency across the industry,” Mr. Humfeld says.
According to the guide, the purpose of the law is to assist
consumers “in comparing similar products by using uniform and
consistent price and quantity information on the product package
or in advertising and signage.” The law applies only to retail
sales to consumers and not to transactions between retailers and
suppliers. All information on labeling, signage and advertising
must be accurate, and it must be easily accessible to consumers.
Stores may choose to put the information on in-store signage or
individual plant labels, or both. If they use both signage and
individual labels, the information must agree.
THE BIG THREE
Three kinds of information are required.
1. The Declaration of Identity
This is the name of the plant. The description may be the common
name and/or botanical name. Signage or labels on containers with
more than one type of plant may say “mixed annuals” or “mixed
2. The Declaration of Net Contents
The quantity of the container must be stated in either
dimensions or volume, and the law requires that quantity
declarations be given in both U.S. and metric measurements. For
consistency across the industry, Mr. Humfeld says, the guide
recommends expressing the quantity by volume using liquid
measure (fluid ounces, pints, quarts and gallons in U.S.
measurements, and milliliters and liters for metric). In
addition to consistency, using volume measurements will reduce
the amount of information required. If container dimensions are
listed, the top and bottom diameters and the depth must be
listed, in both U.S. and metric measurements. That means six
numbers on a label rather than just two if the volume
measurement is used.
3. The Declaration of Responsibility
This provides consumers with the location of the grower,
distributor or retailer of the product. The company name, city,
state and ZIP code are required. If the container plant material
was grown by the retailer on the premises, the declaration isn’t
required. The declaration also isn’t required on advertising—it
is required only on labels and signage.
Examples of acceptable declarations of responsibility provided
by the guide include:
• For production by the retailer off the premises: “Grown by ABC
Garden Center, Washington, DC 20005”
• For production by others: “Grown for ABC Garden Center,
Washington DC 20005;” or “Grown by ABC Growers, Anytown, MD
NEW WAY OF TALKING
Ted Campbell, vice president of sales and marketing for Kerry’s
Bromeliad Nursery in Homestead, Fla., says that, for the floral
industry, the rules are “a change in the way everybody thinks
and talks. We’re all used to saying, ‘This item comes in a
6-inch pot.’ Well, according to the statute, that’s no longer a
6-inch pot because it’s not perfectly 6 inches from top to
bottom. Pots tend to taper, or they have an outer rim that’s
bigger than the base.”
Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery has already come into compliance with
the rules, and that’s why Mr. Campbell served on an audio panel
in early April sponsored by the PMA to discuss the rules and how
to comply with them. Mr. Campbell stresses that the rules are
manageable. “We can be compliant without going crazy over it.
It’s not hard to do. The label requires three things: The name
of the plant, which we’re probably doing already; the size of
the pot, in imperial [U.S.] and metric liquid measure, which you
can get from a pot manufacturer or your supplier, in most cases;
and a statement of responsibility.”
The next step is getting the required information onto the
labels, signage and advertising, in the correct format. “What it
boils down to,” says Mr. Campbell, “is everybody’s going to need
a bigger label just to accommodate the level of information
The guidelines go into detail about the law’s requirements for
different types of labels, including standard labels (those
typically found on a consumer package, including hanging tags
and stake tags), spot labels, stickers and container embossing.
The main constant for the different types of labels is that the
declaration of identity and the declaration of net contents must
always be in close proximity, and the net contents must be
located in the bottom 30 percent of the label or sign. The law
offers more flexibility on the placement of the declaration of
responsibility. For details on label variations, including
placement of labels, consult the guidelines.
Mr. Humfeld, Ms. Rapshus and Mr. Campbell agree that industry
compliance will require cooperation between retailers and
vendors. “Retailers will work closely with their vendors to make
sure that their products are accurately labeled and that they
have the proper information that they can use for their ads and
for their in-store signage,” Mr. Humfeld says. “They’re going to
be expecting their suppliers to provide a lot of this
Says Ms. Rapshus: “The suppliers will have to comply with how
the retailers want the products labeled according to the
The labeling laws, although they are federally mandated, are
enforced by state weights and measures officials. Because of
that, enforcement will vary tremendously across the nation. Some
states will pay close attention, and others might not.
Penalties, too, for noncompliance will vary; they might range
from stop-sale orders to fines. The National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST), which published the rules in
its Handbook 130, will serve as a mediator if a dispute arises
between a retailer and a state agency. The industry
organizations that devised the Industry Guide to Marketing
Container Plants worked closely with NIST to ensure the
guidelines were accurate, Mr. Humfeld says.
Although the laws have been around for years, he says, the
industry has been given an unofficial grace period to come into
compliance. But, he says, by the end of this year—or spring 2006
at the latest—regulators will expect the industry to be in
The industry shouldn’t ignore the labeling rules, says Mr.
Humfeld: “It would be irresponsible to think this is just going
to go away.”
You can reach Cynthia L. McGowan at
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (800)
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