A closer look: Vegging out

The buzz: The percentage of Britons who see
themselves as comfortably off has fallen from 64 per cent of the
population in 2006 to 51 per cent this year, according to research
from Mintel. Rising fuel and food prices combined with higher
interest rates have made making ends meet a lot more difficult,
so it should come as no surprise that the notion of
self-sufficiency is gaining popularity.

The consumer media are urging readers to return to the
“grow your own” and “make do and mend”
mentality of post-World War II Britain. The Guardian,
for instance, on 21st July ran an article on the
“joys” of making your own jam-“tasty, thrifty
and easy to prepare”. Local governments are receiving a
flood of applications for allotments. Manchester City Council
recently appointed a new allotments officer to update waiting
lists due to the community’s “renewed interest”,
while Exeter Council is no longer accepting applications because
the waiting list is already so long.

Meanwhile, sales of fruit and vegetable seeds are rising, much to
the joy of gardening-supplies merchants.

The facts: John May, chief executive of seed and
plant cataloguer Thompson & Morgan, says that the grow-your-own
trend has actually been about a decade in the making, with sales
of vegetable seeds and plants increasing gradually during that
time. When May joined the company 10 years ago, flowers accounted
for 60 per cent of sales and vegetables for about 40 per cent. Now,
he says, it’s vegetables that generate 60 per cent of sales,
although sales in both product categories have grown.

“It is a general fact that vegetable seeds are outselling
flower seeds for the first time,” says Jonathan Couch,
marketing manager for cataloguer Harrod Horticultural. “In
fact, in a report I was recently reading, one seed supplier said
that they are selling more than it had in the immediate aftermath
of World War II, which had been its peak!”

Couch believes that the popularity of celebrity chefs such as
Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, with their emphasis on
garden-fresh ingredients, has contributed perhaps as
significantly to the popularity of vegetable gardening as the
flagging economy has. “I think all people in general are
much more aware of health and environmental issues than they ever
were before,” he says. “However, the lifestyle of
this 35-plus market is such that they lack specific gardening
knowledge, time and space, so the key is tailoring the marketing
approach, both message and range, correctly to engage this

Harrod and Thompson & Morgan have expanded their product ranges
to target young families as well as their traditional audience of
mature consumers. Thompson & Morgan, for instance, now sells
potatoes that are grown in barrels and easy-to-use kits that
enable vegetables to be grown in patio pots.

What it means to you: People are holding on to
their money and making what they spend go further. And it’s not
just gardening suppliers that can capitalise on this. For
instance, Argos recently reported that sales of sewing machines
have soared by more than 50 per cent this year as more people turn
away from disposal fashion toward DIY fashion.

The trick for marketers is to balance the economic benefits with
less tangible feel-good benefits. The increase in sales of
grow-your-own veg, after all, is due at least as much to the
promise of tastier, healthier foods as it is to the desire to
reduce grocery bills.

A recent email from apparel cataloguer/retailer Wall, which sells
what it calls “luxury essentials”, strives for that
balance: “We can’t afford cheap clothing anymore. Wall
is… dedicated to making beautiful yet comfortable clothing that
will last a lot longer than ‘just after the first time you wash
them.’” The copy proceeds to discuss the environmental
benefits and greater comfort of quality fashion, but the appeal
to the purse strings is evident from the opening paragraphs.

And consider this message, from online beauty-products marketer
HQHair.com: “Save 20 per cent on our top-selling brands to
help you beat the credit crunch. A girl shouldn’t have to suffer
to look good.”


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