Retail seed: crowded market for 2018

Thompson & Morgan is refocusing on the garden centre seed market, hoping to win back business from Mr Fothergill's, which has expanded during T&M's long sale process.

Image: HW
Image: HW

T&M retail sales and marketing head Neil Sharpe says "the focus is back on the core business of seeds" after multi-channel leisure group BVG bought the business in March. "Before we were looking mainly at add-on product. Now we're going to focus on what we’re known for and what we're good at."

He admits: "I half expected more diversity." T&M has brought out a compost and looked towards the online plant sales market in recent years. Turnover reached £33.8m before Primary Capital and other owners sold after more than 15 years of ownership.

Sharpe says: "When we were bought [in March] it was not a fortuitous time to launch for Glee," which has led to little new product development so far for 2018.

Commercial head Chris Wright says T&M has the route to market on the retail side and BVG spent £2m in six months on a new website, seed machines and ranges. "BVG looks at everything in detail and if there’s a return on investment, we’ll do it," he adds.

Sharpe says the seed market is "static", adding: "It's about gaining market share and developing the brand and strategy going forward." T&M has not got any garden centres back yet, he adds. "Because we were up for sale for so long I understand people get a bit nervous, but BVG is moving it forward."

Some people may see T&M's online expansion as "perhaps a negative, but the publicity to bring products to the attention of the consumer is immense", says Sharpe. "Certain garden centres may see us competing against them. I don't see that. I think it's supporting the market and we support any of our customers who want to trade online." He adds: "It's nice to be able to plan for the future rather than for a sale."

Chilli pepper and marigold

Next is year is Fleuroselect year of the chilli pepper and marigold, and T&M and Mr Fothergill's have ranges around that. Mr Fothergill's has used its relationship with Bunnings in Australia and is now established at Bunnings-owned Homebase, which was previously in Suttons.

Mr Fothergill's has appointed Matt Jackson from Briers as business development manager and signed up agents for Seasol, an Australian product, as well as buying tools brand Darlac. New ranges are Optigrow — seed priming for the hobby market — and David Domoney seeds. Mr Fothergill's is also now supplier of the RHS seed range and covers all the marketplace, from cheap Country Market brand through Mr Fothergill's to DT Brown premium.

The company is also happy to do own-label with Wilko and owns niche sectors such as Woolman Chrysanthemums. Weaker is mail order/internet plants and using its database of customers to sell more diverse products looks to be a focus.

The Suffolk seedsmen are alomost 10% up this year after two or three static years because of good weather this spring. Fothergill's has gained lots of business, including Wyevale, and is aiming for more retail growth.

Westland has sold its seed potato business to JB to concentrate on all-year-round product. Its Unwins brand is launching Beautiful Bouquets and Seasonal Seeds ranges.

David Coop, formerly of Westland, has become research, development and marketing director at Elsoms Seeds in Peterborough. Elsoms is a big supplier of seed into the garden packet seed trade via brands such as Unwins, Marshalls, T&M, Suttons and Mr Fothergill's.

Franchi says edible flowers and sprouting seeds have done well this year. A range of microgreens will be new for 2018. There will also be a Planet Organic 100% food waste digested compost.

Suttons has 80 new product introductions for 2018 including 25 new flowers and 27 vegetable varieties and has added to TV botanist James Wong's seed range, which focuses on health and nutrition. Wong's range has eight new introductions including Beetroot 'Red River', Carrot F1 'Night Bird', Carrot F1 'Octavo', Kale 'Black Magic', Lettuce 'Lollo Rossa', Nasturtium 'Gold Jewel', Squash 'Uchiki Kuri' and Tomato 'Red Zebra'.

The new "Fun to Grow" children's range includes a tape measure for sunflowers, stickers and magnifiers. It also features alien eggs (nigella), dragon flower, dancing plants (mimosa), caterpillar plant (scorpiurus) and pasta plant (squash) among the 20-strong range. Suttons' Dobies range, promoted by TV allotment gardener Rob Smith, focuses on improved breeding and down-to-earth pricing.

Suttons saw profits rise in its latest accounts from December 2016. The company won best in show at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 with Morus 'Charlotte Russe'.

Kings Seeds' Andrew Tokely says homegrown vegetables are still selling well but Brexit and the euro will affect prices "because we know it is already but we still try and keep as competitive as we can". He adds: "The consumer is still looking for something different to grow so we're introducing sweet potato and edamame to the range 2018."

Tokely, formerly of T&M, says: "The retail garden centre is a hard market so we concentrate on smaller independents rather than the multiples." He adds that Mr Fothergill's is "becoming a massive player" and is picking up sales staff from rivals, which could win new accounts. "It's all about relationships in this business."

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