"Food retailing has been all the rage for garden centres for the last five years, the last twelve months have severely challenged this trend," says Ward.
"It used to be pretty straightforward, put some elaborately designed jars of 'stuff' add bit of wicker here and there, put a sign up announcing an intention to buy all things local 'where ever possible' and hey presto - you've got a farm shop.
"Oh yes, don't forget to put this lot at the back of the garden centre next to the toilets, that will get them buying!
"Credit crunch it maybe but a reality check it is definitely."
New opportunities in food retailing...
"We have invested a great deal in the last 12 months researching which consumers buy local food and why. At this year's conference I can guarantee more fireworks as well as identifying golden opportunities that exist for garden centres in food retailing."
On the ‘local' food market...
"The word 'local' is now been used applied to dozens of lines across the UK in supermarkets. Sadly many of these 'local' products are hardly local and rarely live up to their 'premium' price image.
"In fact, at one leading supermarket the words 'Best of XXXX region' are been replaced with 'local choice'. This downgrading is a worrying development that could have industry wide implications on the brand of 'local', says Ward.
"Local is starting to be abused as a marketing term, in the same way that 'natural' or 'traditional' is over used and now lacks credibility," he adds.
What garden centres can do to avoid falling into the same trap
Be aware of four defined buying categories for local food:
1 - Localists: shoppers seeking a convenient, local format that makes buying fresh food an easy pleasurable experience.
Key selling point: Ease of shopping and freshness of products.
2 - Tourists: food evangelists that have a passion to discover a food destination.
Key selling point: Give them a real experience with actual demonstrations of production that they can see, smell and even participate in.
3 - Dabblers: Like the idea of local food, but will buy from where ever they see it available that suits their lifestyle (now targeted by supermarkets).
4 - Constrained followers: passionate about local food, but rarely translate aspirations into actions.
Key selling point: Make it so easy for them to buy and eventually they will buy - ideal for home delivered local food 'box-kits'. But make the purchase easy to understand and painless to pay for.
Each of these categories will be explained in detail, delegates will have an opportunity to debate the existing challenges that they face and will be able to quiz Ward to find out how they can develop and expand their food retail business.