Changes made at the top by retail seed company

SE Marshall managing director Frank Keenan has left the business after three years running the Westland-owned retail seed company. The company trades as SE Marshall, which owns the brands Marshalls (80 per cent of turnover) and Unwins (20 per cent of turnover).

Image: HW
Image: HW

Westland bought Marshalls/Unwins in 2004 and annual turnover has increased from less than £2m to well over £10m.

However, the retail seed industry has matured as well as growing more crowded following the end of the grow your own boom in about 2012. Industry-wide seed sales up to June 2015 were down 3.3 per cent in value, according to figures from industry analyst GfK. It reported sales were down 7.7 per cent in the peak month of March, mainly because of colder weather. Average packet prices fell from £2.03 in 2014 to £1.88 in 2015.

Among Marshall's rivals, Suttons Seeds had a management buyout from owner Vilmorin in 2014 and Thompson & Morgan owner Primary Capital is trying to sell the company for around £12m. At Suttons, turnover had dropped from £19m to £15m in five years, while at T&M turnover is now £31m after reaching £41m in 2012.

Kings Seeds launched a broader range in 2015, while T&M launched its Van Meuwen brand in the retail market. Mr Fothergill's relaunched its Johnsons brand and a Jekka McVicar herb range. Suttons extended its James Wong range. In 2016, most of the industry is looking to promote the Fleuroselect year of the tomato and cosmos with stand-alone ranges. Charity ranges are also prominent, encouraged by World War One poppy seed sales.

Keenan came from, where he was category director at the e-commerce retailer, having previously worked at Woolworths and Dixons. He succeeded Martin Harvey at Marshalls and his second year with full profits responsibility ended on 31 August.

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