Seed company hopes for potential growth in sales

Possible sales expansion with Homebase is being tempered by uncertainty over Brexit for seed company Mr Fothergill's, according to joint managing director John Fothergill.

Mr Fothergill’s: improvement in weather helped sales - image: HW
Mr Fothergill’s: improvement in weather helped sales - image: HW

A flat year in like-for-like seed sales has been helped by gains such as the Tillington Group and late-season mail-order sales as the weather picked up. Rival Suttons is moving into more direct marketing, while Thompson & Morgan is believed to be returning to profitability but is up for sale again.

Fothergill said the Suffolk company is "lucky to have a long-standing good relationship with Bunnings in Australia" among its 20-25 per cent of export business. Bunnings' owner Wesfarmers bought Homebase for £340m in January 2016.

"We work hard to support them," he added. "They expect a lot from their suppliers but they are fair. There's clearly an opportunity for them in the UK." Fothergill said Bunnings is "dominant" in Australasia but Homebase "moving away from private label is good and moving away from seasonal sales and promotions to everyday low pricing, their brand message in Australia, makes sense".

New owner Wesfarmers is "bringing a greater sense of confidence to Homebase", he said, while Brexit means a possible "impact on consumer confidence and export opportunities" and "uncertainty that no one likes", especially with trading relations with European seed suppliers, the single market, tariffs and phytosanitary regulations.

Industry questions include moves from full stock credit to stock swap. Mr Fothergill's said its Jekka McVicar herb ranges have been successful, while products such as salad Pot Toppers and Microgreens have appealed to those with small urban gardens.

- Scotts Miracle-Gro also has a strong relationship with Bunnings in Australia and has high hopes for more business in the UK. Scotts is launching a Levington Essentials range to match rivals in the competitively priced market at Glee.

A value 20 per cent cheaper Levington Essentials range, along with a premium Black Magic range of hydroponics-inspired compost and fertilisers for the urban gardener, are new for 2017. Extended are the Gro-ables seed pods, which sold out 500,000 units in 2016. New are Gro-ables salads Patch Magic-style 250g products. PotShots six-month plant food cones are also aimed at the urban gardener.

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