Peat-free sales to consumers can only rise through the introduction a quality standard, Defra's peat task force chairman Alan Knight and Westland managing director Edward Conroy have said.
Knight called for the standard on You & Yours, the BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme, on 7 September.Conroy told HW that official quality levels were the way forward at the opening of a new plant by TV gardener Diarmuid Gavin last week.
Peat-free sales were 12 per cent of the market in 2000 but only 11 per cent in 2010/11, according to GfK.
Westland said it was 45 per cent peat-free and aimed to hit the Government peat-free 2020 target by using more wood fibre, bark and coir, but not "unreliable" green waste.
Westland technical director Jamie Robinson said research showed consumers did not understand what the Growing Media Initiative was. He suggested using Knight's quality "stamp" instead.
Robinson said there was a "huge future" with West+ after 30 trials including at Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants this year. But Conroy said he needed to make an £8m-£10m investment to create sufficient supply volume.
He added that rivals Scotts, Sinclair and Bulrush were unlikely to invest long-term and imports on "Dutch trucks" meant there was a "window of opportunity" for Westland. He added that price was "secondary" to growers after quality.
Gavin said Westland should use peat-free logos. Dobbies horticulture head Neil Fishlock said he would help to advertise West+'s peat-free properties.
Garden & Leisure operations director Carol Paris said the £6.99, 80-litre product may be too expensive compared with peat equivalents. Conroy admitted that prices were a concern.
Light & Easy - Peat-free product launch
Light & Easy is dyed to look like peat and is a product of Westland's new £3m machinery, officially opened in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, by Diarmuid Gavin last week.
The machinery extrudes Sitka spruce to make it lighter than West+. Light & Easy also includes coir and slow-release four-month fertiliser. It is being promoted as 60 per cent lighter than green waste peat-frees at 8kg a bag.