Low prices lash UK poinsettias

Many firms are growing poinsettia mainly to keep skilled staff and plug seasonal production gap.

The UK poinsettia market is continuing to suffer from low prices fixed by large retailers, growers have warned.

Growers attending last week's Poinsettia Group meeting said growing the plants was less about making money than filling a gap in production at this time of year to maintain relationships with customers and retain skilled staff.

Bordon Hill Nurseries grows 400,000 poinsettias a year. Company representative Pete Barratt said three-litre pot production has increased by 15 per cent this year, and 13cm pots have also risen slightly, but said prices had to go up.

"We surveyed consumers about how much they would pay, and the responses went up to £8 for a 13cm pot," he said. "The industry in the UK is shrinking because of lower prices at the big retailers."

He said growing the plants was more about turning over the work to keep skilled staff needed for the spring.

Roundstone Nurseries has upped poinsettia production to 200,000 this year. Technical director Chris Need said. "We now have more suitable glass in which to grow them and there is of course demand for them."

"We wouldn't do it if it didn't make us money, but we are using facilities we already have and it is good for building customer relationships because we can work with them the whole year round.

"The reasons for growing them are more than purely financial. You wouldn't build a nursery for poinsettias, but if you have the facilities, it makes sense," Need added.

Peter Eastwood Plants owner Peter Eastwood said: "There is a supermarket price and a garden centre price. A supermarket might sell huge numbers of them for £2.50. If they lose £2 on each one but the people going in for them are spending £100 each, they are happy with that."

Beekenkamp UK sales representative Sirekit Mol added that poinsettias from the Netherlands were never as strong as those grown in the UK. "You can't beat British-grown plants," she said.

"I hope retailers will recognise that and put up prices. Prices are low and it's a real problem. Poinsettias require so much labour."

Future varieties Targeting lower cost and longer life

Breeders should focus on producing colder-finishing, lower-maintenance poinsettias, growers have said.

Growers discussed the important features of potential varieties at last week's Poinsettia Group meeting, with many growers interested in early varieties that can be grown at lower temperatures, saving energy costs. Large bracts, high disease resistance and low maintenance were also desirable qualities, the growers said.

Dummen chief business development officer Perry Wisemans said poinsettias could grow at 12 degsC, but high humidity was a challenge in the UK.

"Heating lowers humidity, so with a colder finish you have to control that," he explained. "The colder the finish, the less control you have, but the more control you have, the easier it is to have uniformity."

He added: "However, colder varieties do last longer in the home."

Bordon Hill Nurseries started growing cooler varieties last year to reduce energy costs.

Roundstone Nurseries technical manager Chris Need said: "A cold finish results in much better shelf-life for the consumer. We don't spend a huge amount on heating. If it gets really cold there's a problem, but last year was quite conducive to poinsettia production."

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