Seed sales revival hopes raised

Retail seed company looking ahead to a brighter 2013 after most difficult year for half a century.

Sweet Pea Chelsea Centenary - image: Mr Fothergill's
Sweet Pea Chelsea Centenary - image: Mr Fothergill's

The most difficult year in half a century led to a 10 per cent drop in retail seed sales in 2012 but 2013 looks brighter, according to Mr Fothergill's.

At a media day last week, veteran trial ground manager Brian Talman had Verbena 'Talman's Fragrant' named after the grower, who found the plant growing at the Kentford grounds he looks after. He said it had been the hardest year weather-wise in half a century.

Mr Fothergill's general manager Tim Jeffries said retail sales were 10 per cent down on average, but mail-order edible range DT Brown was up for the third successive year, by 25 per cent, after wider promotion and he sees mileage in fruit and vegetable sales as food prices rise.

Unwins' specialist edible mail-order range is now being marketed to garden centres too, making DT Brown the last mainstream of its kind. Its stripped down range Get Growing has sold into DIYs and supermarkets. Jeffries said: "I expect to keep key accounts for 2013 and hope to add to them."

Marketing manager Ian Cross said innovation is essential to keep accounts, with retailers not accepting a range that did not change annually anymore. There were no seed trials open to the public this year after Thompson & Morgan cancelled due to the Olympics.

Mr Fothergill's has designated 2013 as year of the sweet pea, with an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Centenary Lathyrus leading its new range of 25 seed varieties.

RHS horticulture director Jim Gardiner, accepting a bouquet at the media day, said sweet peas could have a big impact at spring 2013 garden shows. Dr John Masefield's Essex-based Seedlynx company is supplying the seed from Malta.

The Suffolk seedsmen see the plant as having potential through breeding by Dr Keith Hammett. The pale lavender 'Chelsea Centenary' multi-flora costs £1.99 for 20 seeds.

Suttons is also strengthening its sweet pea range and T&M has sweet peas on the front of its new catalogue. Unwins and Kings Seeds are traditionally strong with the flower and Kings still produces its own seed.

Sales data sharing - Seed companies fail to reach agreement

An initiative to bring seed firms together to share sales data is yet to get off the ground.

Suttons Seeds sales and marketing director David Arnold chaired talks with Unwins and Mr Fothergill's at the table, but Thompson & Morgan is believed to have opted out. The plan was to pool data anonymously to determine market size and trends without data companies.

Meanwhile, celebrities will be to the fore in 2013 seed ranges, with Mr Fothergill's using Sarah Raven for its Butterflies & Bees and Cut Flowers ranges. Suttons has a James Wong range of unusual edible seeds and Alan Titchmarsh is promoting seeds and young plants for T&M.

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