The Internationale Pflanzenmesse (IPM) show in Essen, Germany, will look to cement its position as the world's biggest horticulture event over four days next week.
Its main rival, Amsterdam's Horti Fair, dipped to around half the size of two years ago on its last outing in October, though a major revamp and rescheduling should go some way to turning the show around this November. By contrast, IPM has held steady at approximately 1,500 exhibitors and 60,000 visitors over the past four years.
The reasons debated for the shows' diverging fortunes have ranged from the relatively high cost of exhibiting at Amsterdam's RAI exhibition centre and the appearance of rival Dutch events to IPM's scheduling at a quieter time in the trade calendar.
In contrast to Horti Fair, IPM remains a significant launch pad for new plant varieties and for the fourth year running a winning plant introduction will be selected from the Plant Innovation Showcase.
Schneider UK sales manager Brian Miner says: "Almost all the big growers will go to IPM." The Dutch young plants supplier will use the show to launch a new series of F1 hybrid trailing viola, available as young plants in the summer. "Schneider has a sizeable market share in Russia and other new markets as well as the Netherlands and Germany and the show is well situated for those markets," he adds.
The show is divided into four themes - plants, floristry, technology and sales. Within these, the trend towards national pavilions will be extended, with 14 countries represented, including cooperative areas of exhibitors from as far afield as Canada, Japan and Costa Rica. The international horticultural forum on eastern Europe will focus on Bulgaria this year.
Messe Essen managing director Egon Galinnis says: "Due to the rescheduling to the weekdays last year, we have been able to raise the internationality of our exhibitors considerably." The Commercial Horticultural Association (CHA) will once again host around 18 British firms at the show. Association manager Stuart Booker explains that this rescheduling from the traditional Thursday-Sunday slot to Tuesday-Friday suits international exhibitors and visitors.
"It was a bold move by the show's organisers because it meant a drop in overall numbers," he says. "But it went down well and the drop-off was less than expected. Last year, they forecast visitor numbers would drop to about 55,000, but they were more than 57,000. I think that shows it's moving in the right direction."
For the first time this year, the CHA has taken space in Technology Hall 3 and Nursery Hall 10. "Last year, some UK growers took advantage of the exchange rate to exhibit, rather than pursue a long-term export strategy. But manufacturers have made up for that this time, especially as IPM becomes more international," says Booker.
Among these is Aberdeenshire-based plant netting supplier Wondermesh, a first-time exhibitor at the show. "We exhibited for six years at Horti Fair, but the client base has changed," says company partner Mike Fearn. "It was the CHA who suggested IPM to us. Wondermesh is multi-use and is of interest to a range of customers. The CHA also gives us good backup and helps guide people to our stand. We'll see how it goes."
Meanwhile, VertiGarden, part of Ball Colegrave, will be showing its innovative modular green wall system at the fair. "VertiGarden has only existed for three years, but already we are seeing interest internationally - more so than in the UK," says sales and marketing manager Kathy Goldfain.
"That's partly down to showing at IPM last year, when we got a lot of interest. There seems to be more understanding of vertical gardening on the continent. The format suits home use as well as big landscaping schemes and it is already being sold at retail in France and the Netherlands."
Other innovative features of this month's show include a showcase for small, young companies, supported by the German government. Several international organisations will also use the show as an occasion to meet. These include the European DIY Retail Association; Union Fleurs, an international association of flower and plant wholesalers; and plant breeders' agency Plants for Europe.
Careers in the industry will be promoted on the Wednesday, while at the teaching show, several research institutes will present findings on energy efficiency and the practicality of alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic and geothermal - hot topics after the sharp rises in conventional fuel prices this winter.
Where: Messe Essen, Norbertstrasse, 45131 Essen, Germany
When: 25-28 January, 9am-6pm
Entry: EUR20 per day