Dual promotion designed to boost Mr Fothergill's Seed sales

Seed company takes unified approach to promote Fleuroselect flower and vegetable of the year for 2016 to drive up sales

Cosmos and tomato: joint display stand unveiled at company's trials
Cosmos and tomato: joint display stand unveiled at company's trials

Mr Fothergill's is hoping that a unified industry approach to the Fleuroselect 2016 flower and vegetable of the year - cosmos and tomato - will help sales next season.

Retail marketing manager Ian Cross showed Fothergill's revamped brand Johnson's new joint cosmos and tomato display stand at the Suffolk company's trials last week. He said 2015 flower of the year the sunflower has sold well, particularly at new Mr Fothergill's stockist Wyevale Garden Centres.

Cross explained that the idea is to get consumers to try new varieties in the 31-packet selection. Cosmos is the number two best-selling flower seed behind sweet pea. Tomato is the number three best-selling vegetable seed after carrot and lettuce.

The trials included 150 tomato varieties, with 'Sweet Aperitif' coming top in taste tests. Cosmos 'Xanthos' is a new yellow bipannatus, while Cosmos 'Hummingbird Pink' is a new pink variety. Sweet Pea 'Emilia Fox' is a new variety bred by Dr Keith Hammett.

Tomato 'Red Bodyguard' F1 has been bred by Simon Crawford and is linked to Ron Levin's new book, The Red Bodyguard: The Amazing Health-Promoting Properties of the Tomato. 'Tomtastic' is another new variety.

A "design-led" range of 47 Jekka McVicar herb seed packets is also new from Johnson's. Cross said Fothergill's now supplies 2,500 outlets and has been particularly pleased with bigger retailer wins this year.

He added that the new simplified Johnson's packaging is "essential" because most garden centres cannot spare experienced staff to sell seeds next to stands.

Cross warned against saying growing is simpler than it is and told of how "one buyer wanted a range of veg that required no work and assured success. The answer to that was go to the grocer and buy it. They're missing the point. Most people want to grow as a hobby, not as a way of feeding yourself."

He said some vegetable growers have given up because they were not saving money as they had been told they would. "The main thing is it's rewarding and fun, gets you outside and is a de-stresser," added Cross.

Johnson's ranges are arranged alphabetically with organic seeds mixed in. Broadcaster Bob Flowerdew, a guest at the event, said he believes organic ranges should be separate and that would create more sales.

He added that some starter kits are "rubbish" and said he "would not touch them with a bargepole", including a window sill kit with beetroot.

The company launched its GroTray propagation systems at the event, designed to go with its GroBox and GroMat collections.

Also at the event, Mr Fothergill's donated £19,000 from its RSPB range to the society for its Give Nature a Home campaign and £15,000 from Poppy 'Victoria Cross' to the Royal Hospital Chelsea to make it £40,000 in two years.

Sales have reached 160,000 in two seasons, including 60,000 in 2015. The variety is Fothergill's best-seller by three to one, with Beetroot 'Boltardy' next.

The Capel Manor College propagation award went to former advanced diploma student Dee Parry, now at Ham House, a career changer who was an accountant.

Company results: Customer wins reported

Joint managing director John Fothergill said 2015 was not a bad season with some good customer wins in retail, notably at Wyevale, and a "reasonably robust" underlying performance.

Mail-order seed sales showed growth of 19 per cent. Fothergill also highlighted a cost reduction. Returns are yet to be calculated.

The overall seed market is down 3.3 per cent in value and two per cent in volume this year, according to GfK, after a late start to the season. But Fothergill said increased share meant the company has not suffered and will be ahead if returns are normal. He pinpointed a north-south divide with sales stronger in the south.

Exports were solid to Australia and launched at 59 independents in New Zealand as well as at Bunnings, Palmers and Oderings. But exchange rates and the Russian market have been challenges, said Fothergill.

Deliveries into garden centres began this month. Mr Fothergill's will be at the Four Oaks Trade Show and Glee next month.

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