Garden centres still expected to have biggest seed potato season ever despite snows

Garden centres are gearing up for their biggest ever seed potato sales season despite being a fortnight behind and up to 60% down because of the snow.

Suppliers expect sales to rise 15-20% in 2010. Taylors Bulbs marketing manager Adam Taylor said: "Seed potato sales were up 25% up 2009 and we expect to be up in 2010. There's plenty of time yet."

Taylors had 150 tonnes of seed potatoes stuck in Scotland during the snows. Taylor added: "Lorries couldn't move and inspectors couldn't inspect and issue certification numbers."

Main varieties such as Pentland Javelin, Desiree and King Edward are available but Annabelle and Bonnie were delayed.

Taylor, who supplies the Garden Centre Group, Dobbies and Klondyke, said: "[Everything was going extremely well] until snow kicked the first two weeks of this month into touch. But the momentum of grow-your-own is still going. Last year garden centres sold out of seed potatoes early so there is still the potential to sell more than last year."

He said new starter packs of 10 seed potatoes were ideal for beginners or those without gardens.

Last month, wholesaler Solus predicted sales to rise by 15% in 2010 after going up 50% in 2009. During 2009, Thompson & Morgan (T&M) saw a year-on-year growth of 36% of seed potatoes in the retail sector. That looks set to grow even further in 2010, with early indications already showing a year-on-year growth of 20%.

T&M vegetable product manager Colin Randel said the company is selling 42 different seed potato varieties through retail outlets this year. All 42 varieties are available in 2.5kg carry-fresh packs with planting instructions (2kg for the salad varieties). In addition, 15 varieties are sold in 1kg carry-fresh packs to allow the consumer to purchase smaller amounts of tubers and try different varieties. The same 42 varieties are also available in bulk 25kg sacks.

Randel said 2009 was a record year for seed potato sales for T&M and that the Sarpo series of blight-resistant potatoes will drive further sales in 2010.

He added: "I expect this year to be bigger than last year and would predict that growing in containers is going to be the big trend of 2010. Container growing will be very big — it got started last year but I think it will really take off in 2010.

"Also interesting is that there is an increase in centres stocking loose seed potatoes, which could be about consumers wanting more choice now. The main varieties sold loose tend to be the allotment favourites, such as Cara, Desiree, King Edward, Arran Pilot, Estima and Charlotte. People who have been growing for some time know what they are doing now and don't need the packaging and also know how many they need for a row on the allotment, which for them is better than the pre-packed potatoes."

Buckingham Garden Centre horticulture manager Chris Day said: "Excellent sales of seed potatoes have kept the shop buzzing and with our Potato & Apple Scion Exchange Weekend coming up on 6-7 February it will be all systems go for the start of our grow-your-own campaign at the garden centre."


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