How can the industry maintain veg seed sales?

HW polled staff at the Mr Fothergills open day in Newmarket.

"With vegetable seed it is vital the customer gets the right product. If you are prepared to pay a decent price for a plant, you will get your reward. So we should be going for better quality, the right products and giving the customer as much information as possible.

"I'm finding more interest now than a couple of years ago when it comes to vegetables. I give talks at gardening clubs and the industry is getting better at informing. But we don't want to be too hi-tech.

"Having said that, it can be amazing what some of the allotment holders believe. So I don't think we're there yet."

Brian Tolman, trial ground manager

"For us, the main concern is keeping new gardeners interested after their first attempts. In the past couple of years it's been a real surge, but it's important customers stick with us so we don't encourage them with gimmicks.

"We want people to learn, rather than convincing them they can grow anything at the first attempt. That means giving them good information about what is easy to grow.

"We are also breaking up our ranges a bit because they are so large they can be confusing. That means developing sub-groups and mini-ranges. We are also investing in point of sale."

Ian Cross, retail marketing manager

"In our case, we've addressed it by expanding the range. For example, we've done a massive expansion of our pea and bean range. We now have a whole stand of just peas and beans.

"In mail order, we're looking at giving a little bit more space over to vegetables. We find they sell perfectly well with the space they have - they're roughly 60 per cent of catalogue sales against 40 per cent flowers, but the space allocation is the other way around.

But, importantly, we have to retain new gardeners by keeping talking and maintaining interest through the website and promotions."

Tony Dixon, direct marketing manager

"We're developing what our end consumers are asking for - sometimes to the detriment of flowers. A lot of the people who first started growing vegetables in the past year or two need to be kept for another season, in the hope that after two or three seasons they will be hooked.

"We also do a lot with schools and we've just rebranded our children's range. We've benefited from the economic downturn and hopefully the excitement of growing, for young people, will stick with them.

"Retailers predict at least another year of economic gloom, so hopefully we can maintain the grow-your-own momentum."

David Carey, joint managing director

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