Burpee Goes Low-Carb with Cook’s Garden

Seeds and plants mailer W. Atlee Burpee & Co. may be more than 128 years old, but it’s hip to the current low-carb diet craze. The Warminster, PA-based cataloger is promoting its low-carbohydrate vegetable offerings. And Burpee has significantly more such seeds to offer than it did a year ago, having acquired Southampton, PA-based The Cook’s Garden in November.

The Cook’s Garden, which specializes in seeds of leafy green vegetables, is an ideal addition to Burpee, which made a name for itself selling “fruited” vegetables such as tomatoes, says Burpee chairman/president George Ball. The Cook’s Garden “has 75 leafy vegetables, comparable to what I have in tomatoes,” says Ball.

Ball intends to keep the two catalogs separate. Burpee seeks to provide the greatest possible assortment of seeds, he says, while Cook’s Garden caters to customers looking for the hard-to-find.

Cook’s Garden cofounder Ellen Ecker Ogden, who still runs the catalog, agrees with that assessment. “I feel the niche of the catalog has always been offering something customers can’t get any place other than their own garden, and I am really pleased that he wants us to maintain that,” she says.

The two catalogs will share mailing lists, with the circulation of Cook’s Garden expected to increase an undisclosed amount this year. Burpee will mine its database for customers who would be receptive to Cook’s Garden, says Burpee executive vice president/chief operating officer Christos Romas, such as those who have bought more unusual vegetables in the past.

The Cook’s Garden mailing list is also incrementally growing, says Romas, due to catalog requests that have been coming into the Burpee Website since the beginning of the year. That’s when the company started inserting an informational postcard in outgoing packages announcing its “partnership” with Cook’s Garden.

Cook’s Garden catalog publishes one 96-page edition annually, which is mailed in mid-December and again in March. Ogden says she expects the page count and format of the catalog, which uses illustrations instead of photographs, to remain the same. “I’m sure we’ll stay within the same budget,” she says. “I don’t think there will be that much change. I think George is very sensible and cautious in that respect. I don’t think we’ll be trying to expand it too much.”

The Cook’s Garden will continue to keep its own Website, which at press time was being upgraded. Ogden says the “wordy” site needed a visual transformation, to make it more of a graphic than textual experience. The company will also use photographs from Burpee’s library of images to spruce up the site. And it is being restructured to allow users to search according to specific categories, such as romaine or butter crunch lettuce.

Another change that Burpee is considering is selling Cook’s Garden products wholesale, just as it sells its Burpee-brand seeds to retailers. If the plans are finalized, Ball says, Cook’s Garden seeds will be available to retailers next year.

Carbo unloading

The leafy green vegetable seeds and plants carried by The Cook’s Garden are perfect for low-carbohydrate dieters, says Ball, and Burpee customers are most definitely counting their carbs. Following a barrage of questions from consumers regarding which vegetables are lowest in carbs, Burpee posted a guide to low-carb vegetables on its Website last year, and the company plans to include it in the 2005 print catalog.

For his part, Ball thinks that vegetable carb counting is “common sense. If it’s light and airy, such as celery, carrots, and cabbage it’s not going to have carbs.” Denser vegetables, such as potatoes, winter squash, and succotash, are more carb-intensive.

Ball gave the company’s call center employees a primer on low-carb vegetables. The company is also developing low-carb vegetable recipes, an endeavor that Ogden may be helpful with: She is currently on a book tour promoting her first cookbook, From the Cook’s Garden.

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