Spring bedding to be held back by retailers

Huge wastage and returns earlier this year mean that retailers are likely to stock spring bedding a fortnight later in 2014.

Retailers look set to stock spring bedding a fortnight later in 2014 after huge wastage and returns this spring.

Easter is two weeks later in 2014 with Good Friday on 18 April, which could help growers. Ornamental Plants sales director Ian Howard said: "Between the three retailers we currently deal with there is an element of them wanting spring bedding later by a couple of weeks.

"Easter is later and it could be something to do with that. We're looking at the end of March/beginning of April. We saw last season, after the bad spring, pent-up demand and it all went very quickly after that."

He added that growers are asking retailers not to stock too soon "and retailers, after their experience and wastage last season, are taking that on board". But Howard said growers are "very late ordering, which could be retail buyers hedging their bets".

British Protected Ornamentals Association (BPOA) chairman Ian Riggs said: "Easter being late is always a good thing. But when retailers take plants depends on the weather. Some people are hooked on Easter."

Nevertheless, garden retailers are still struggling to understand growers' needs, said delegates at the recent HTA Seasonal Plants Focus.

One attendee, Tillington plant buyer and Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker, said: "Lack of retailer engagement is a huge concern because if they're talking about what I prefer to call the triangle rather than the chain - breeder, grower, retailer - then everyone is saying 'work closer' but not many are doing it.

"The conference was called 'Collaborate, Innovate, Succeed' but there were only about three retailers there. So if you're talking about that chain you're not getting that message across."

He added: "I think we need to be producing slightly hardier bedding for March," with an emphasis on primula and improved Bellis and Mysotis possibly helping early sales.

Derek Jarman of Hayloft Plants said: "Retailers have to understand that growers aren't making any money. Retailers have to get their heads out of the sand and pay higher prices if they are not going to take full contracts."

He criticised Hillview Group chief executive Boyd Douglas-Davies, who said in a pre-event talk that growers must take the risk, rather than retailers. "That was wrong," said Jarman. "I don't think these events have moved the issue on. Someone, either the NFU or HTA, has got to bang together some garden centre heads."

Jarman suggested two nursery price lists - "one for people who are going to take it all and a higher priced one with the option not to take a proportion".

Douglas-Davies said: "Getting all parts of the supply challenge to work together is a major issue that the industry must face up to. Paying lip service to it really isn't good enough - action is the only solution.

"It was disappointing to see so few retailers at the conference, which was good but would have benefited from a larger attendance. The HTA is ideally placed to drive the discussion bus, it just needs to get everyone on board."

Dobbies' Katherine Poulter was due to speak at the event but pulled out. Homebase's Martyn Hill attended, while The Garden Centre Group's Nicky Roeber spoke on click-and-collect.

The BPOA's October Code of Good Trading Practice for Plants & Flowers was not mentioned at the conference, though the BPOA and HTA met before GroSouth last month to agree to work together in the future.

HTA horticulture head Raoul Curtis-Machin said: "There's an openness on both sides. No-one wants to see skips full of bedding plants again. But retailers are less keen on formal contracts."

He defended Douglas-Davies's "reiteration" of his comments at October's HTA Garden Futures event on retailers not wanting to take risks on plants.

Homebase Non-committal on launch dates

Growers have said they will be supplying retailers later next spring, but a Homebase representative did not want to give away launch dates.

"It is too early to say which week we will launch our spring bedding range at the moment," he said. "Our aim is to ensure we are offering our customers stock of the right quality when they want to buy it, so we will launch the range according to what the weather is like."

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