Market in Germany also sees more consolidation

Consolidation was a big theme at the IPM Essen nursery trade show in Germany last month, with exporting seen as a way of increasing customer bases as bigger growers and retailers get stronger.

FitzGerald Nurseries: display at IPM Essen trade show - image: HW
FitzGerald Nurseries: display at IPM Essen trade show - image: HW

Harald Braungardt, managing director of German trade body INDEGA, said the German market is consolidating, as in the UK, because of a lack of successors to family businesses. One consolidator, Dummen Orange, plans to double turnover in the next three years and "you can only do that through buying other companies", he said.

Fairweather's Nursery owner Patrick Fairweather said there should be "more ambition" to export because UK growers have fewer channels to sell into as independent garden centres get taken into groups. With Seiont and New Place being bought up, that might mean opportunities for independent young plant suppliers, he added. The loss of West End and Northern Liners makes a challenge of making sure "the diversity and richness of our horticulture is maintained".

Fairweather said he has increased sales by specialising in agapanthus exports over the past three years. He took a cut in margin of eight per cent because of the weak euro and exports increased by 30 per cent, with France a strengthening market. Exports are now 15 per cent of turnover.

David Austin Roses project manager Robert Corbett said Russian trade is still at the mercy of the rouble. "The rose market has been over saturated for the past two-to-three years but we've seen production levels reduce 30-40 per cent in the past two years, so we're hoping it will rebalance in the next 18 months to two years," he added. Bankruptcies of rose traders and potters have the hit market hard and growers selling cheaper product have skewed the market, he said.

Harkness Roses owner Philip Harkness said IPM was more buoyant than he had seen for three or four years, with a more positive attitude from visitors. Clematis grower Raymond Evision said the US market is good and his firm, Guernsey Clematis, is taking on New Leaf as a brand grower.

But Commercial Horticultural Association chairman Pat Flynn said UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) funding for exports is on hold, "causing a lot of problems". Fairweather agreed that funding from UKTI is lacking.

Royal Flora Holland general manager Lucas Vos said European growers and retailers are "losing the battle for the consumer", with European consumers spending less and less on flowers and plants but with countries such as Turkey and China increasing spend off a low base. Spending competition comes from sales of beer and chocolate, he said.

FitzGerald Nurseries owner Pat FitzGerald said: "In the context of major changes in the European market, in particular consolidation, buyout and cessation of specialist propagators, FitzGerald continues to work with other reputable young-plant companies and breeders' agents." FitzGerald has a new management partnership for its tissue culture laboratory with LowesTC from Australia.

FitzGerald said he has increased exports by making his range more defined with Evercolor grasses, My Plant, Irish Primroses and Beotanics ranges spotlighted. Sweet potatoes are his largest growing line and growers and retailers need to look differently at consumers, he added. A complaint from the industry is how it cannot get to the younger market - they do not spend much "but they certainly spend a lot on blueberries and raspberries".

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