Tulip growers should focus on flower head size and clear, bright, distinctive colours to drive sales in a difficult market, Waitrose's flower buyer has advised.
Emma Coupe told growers at a recent Horticultural Development Company and National Cut Flower Centre Forced Tulip Flower Event that the market was difficult and the week 52 position was in decline.
"We had a very strong Mother's Day but Easter was more of a struggle," she said. "The picture is a bit gloomy, but there are opportunities to drive sales."
Speaking at Winchester Growers' Nocton site, she said growers should work to ensure that flowers have the right head size and clear, bright colours.
"There is potential for parrots, doubles, frillies and lily-flowered tulips, but customers don't know them. French-style tulips are still a real opportunity. They are something we're going to need to get in front of customers for a long period. Customers also go absolutely nuts for anything scented."
She added that tulip breeding and production cannot keep up with changing tastes and fashions.
"The current trend in our straight bunch business is for clashing, contrasting colours, but that doesn't translate into bouquets, where pastel colours are still as popular," said Coupe.
However, bright and vivid colours are increasingly more popular than pastel colours, she said.
"The colours have changed over the past five years. In 2011, 58 per cent were on the bright and warm spectrum, and that's now pushing 70 per cent."
Coupe suggested that this could be down to changes in Waitrose's customer base. "As a business we've changed in recent years," she said.
"We've been trying to attract a broader church of customers than we've had before and we've been successful in attracting younger customers."
She said buckets have to tempt customers to buy multiple bunches by displaying bold blocks of colour rather than a mix.
"Customers perceive colour as choice. If you have 14 colours they will see a choice of 14, but you don't get that with 14 varieties, so colour is very important to us."
She added that customers favour British-grown flowers, but it is hard for Waitrose to increase what it offers.
Tulip success How hydroponics cuts costs and boosts yields
Winchester Growers is now producing all its tulips hydroponically, improving the yield and cutting costs, the company has said.
It will have grown 52 million tulips by the end of the season, about 10 per cent more than last year, in response to rising demand. Most are grown at the company's site in Pinchbeck, near Spalding, and the rest under glass at its 2.6ha Nocton site.
Executive chairman Gordon Flint said: "Prior to Winchester Growers coming here (to Nocton), everything was grown in peat on the site and this year we have switched to hydroponic. Hydroponics gives a better yield and it's cheaper."