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Plants labeled as 'pollinator friendly' attract consumers, UF/IFAS study finds

APOPKA, Fla. — If you’re browsing plants in a nursery or home-improvement store, labels such as “pollinator friendly” will likely influence which plants you end up buying, according to a recent study by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

Postdoctoral research associate Alicia Rihn and assistant professor Hayk Khachatryan co-authored the study, which appears in the journal HortScience. Both Rihn and Khachatryan are researchers in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, Florida.

Rihn and Khachatryan wanted to know how labels such as “pollinator friendly” would influence consumer attitudes. “We wondered, which pollinator insect related labels are the most effective and which do consumers prefer?” Khachatryan said. “At the time of our study, these topics had not been addressed.”

The researchers surveyed more than 900 people from across the country who recently bought plants and measured their responses to several pollinator labels.

“When developing these test labels, we wanted a variety of options — some that were pollinator specific (for example, bee attractive, bee friendly, butterfly friendly, etcetera) and others that were more general (for example, pollinator attractive, pollinator friendly, plants for pollinators),” Khachatryan explained. “By covering both levels, we could determine if people were interested in helping pollinators (in general) or just specific types of pollinators (bees versus butterflies).”

The researchers found that people preferred general labels over specific ones, ‘pollinator friendly’ being the most preferred overall.

Given recent media coverage of bee health and population decline, the authors were anticipating more interest in bee-related promotions. However, consumers preferred ‘pollinator friendly’ labels over more specific bee-related labels.

“These results indicate that people want to benefit and attract all types of pollinators, not just insect pollinators,” Khachatryan said. For example, hummingbirds are pollinators but not insects.  A catch-all phrase such as ‘pollinator friendly’ lets retailers promote a plant in terms of its total — rather than specific — benefits to pollinators, he added.

The study suggests that pollinator promotions could help plant nurseries and retailers build consumer satisfaction and trust.

“Providing consumers with a product they support and want to purchase in order to do their part and help the pollinators is one way that companies can better serve their clientele,” Khachatryan noted. “In turn, this has potential to increase the availability of pollinator friendly plants in the landscape and assist in improving pollinator health.”

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones