Big spend for William Sinclair Horticulture

Company aims to reposition itself as a manufacturer of high-quality consistently good products with £28m of expenditure.

Ellesmere Port: William Sinclair Horticulture strategising for future
Ellesmere Port: William Sinclair Horticulture strategising for future

William Sinclair Horticulture says a £28m of expenditure on marketing, products and its Ellesmere Port site will propel it from being seen as an agriculture business reliant on peat harvesting to being a "manufacturer of high-quality, consistently good products".

Chief executive Peter Rush said the move was necessary "because peat is not going to be around forever", though he believes usage has risen in 2014 and will not fall in 2015.

A 2015 deadline for councils to end peat use is not likely to be met by many, he suggested, and Sinclair continues to invest in its Scottish bogs to supply its nursery market, which makes up 20 per cent of business, having fallen from 25 per cent. German and Irish manufacturers had taken market share.

Rush said: "Our Scottish bogs performed well and there probably will be a similar amount of peat on the market in 2015." Becoming a manufacturing rather than agricultural business means that weather becomes less of an issue, he added.

"Councils' switch on to peat has not been great. The question is how will Defra react to peat usage going up in the past 12-18 months because I think they will see peat usage has gone up. With the economy on the mend and an election in 2015, I'm sure areas like peat will push up the legislative ladder. In Scotland and Ireland usage of peat will diminish."

Rush said he wants to take the peat issue off the table, adding: "Our product road is designed to eliminate without any compromise, without anyone noticing."

Sinclair has relaunched its SuperFyba peat substitute and aims to make it 50 per cent of its multipurpose compost, up from 10 per cent, replacing coir, bark fines and green compost, with peat remaining 50 per cent. Rush said he wants to introduce the change without shocking consumers, so it is not flagged on bags.

The company has trialled compost at Reaseheath College and has given versions of its GrowQube growbag concept to journalists to try out.

Television advertising in spring 2015 will focus on J Arthur Bowers' heritage appeal to the 28-40s. Marketing director Simon McArdle said: "Consumers love buying plants but buying growing media is not a pleasurable experience."

He added that while experienced gardeners make up half the market, inexperienced 28-40s are 30 per cent of the market and a neglected area. The "James Wong" hipster young keen gardener sector "exists but you can't build a business on it. There's not enough of them to be a major part of the market".

Instead, Sinclair is aiming at novices who feel they are poor gardeners and do not go to garden centres through its GrowQube upright growbag, which includes 25 per cent vermiculite.

McArdle said the basic amateur tomato growing market is disproportionate at £15m because people give up if they fail, but GrowQube gives 50 per cent more tomatoes in trials. Deadfast weedkillers are entering the ready-to-use market.

Investment details

£28m investment (£18m spent so far) from £8m shareholder loan and £12.25m from Natural England for Bolton Fell site

£25m in Ellesmere Port site

£0.55m brand positioning for J Arthur Bowers, Growing Success

£0.45m on GrowQube

£2m on marketing, including TV.

Peat-free is 16 per cent of the retail market. Branded business has seen 104 per cent value growth versus own label - a two per cent moving annual total.

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