Grow your own green shoots

“Grow your own”, like “Make do and mend”,
has become a mantra for the current economic times. That makes
the horticulture sector one of the few to be seeing year-on-year
growth during this recession.

Martin Harvey, managing director of Marshalls Garden Catalogues,
estimates that UK sales of vegetable seeds are up 20 percent from
last year, with new gardeners accounting for about half of that
growth. He believes that the “big four” vegetable
seeds companies-Marshalls, Suttons, Thompson & Morgan (T&M), and
Unwins-are each enjoying a sales rise of 20-40 percent and
“seeing growth in sectors where compact, easy-to-grow,
high-yield-per-square-metre veg predominate”.

It’s not surprising, then, that some marketers are expanding
their offering to take advantage of the gardening trend. Nor is
it surprising that some traditional gardening cataloguers are
tweaking their product ranges and marketing efforts, to better
appeal to novices.

Etailer The Recycle Works launched
earlier this year to encourage food production and healthy eating
among children. Meanwhile Tesco-owned garden centre Dobbies is
reported to have ramped up demonstrations, workshops, and
presentations to customers and schools following an 82-percent
leap in annual sales of its grow-your-own range of fruit and

Long known for its kitchenware, Lakeland in March launched a
96-page spin-off catalogue featuring more than 350 gardening and
outdoor-cooking products. Designed by CHS Creative, the catalogue
was positioned as a logical extension to the Lakeland brand.
“Our challenge,” says CHS’s head of catalogue, Scott
Marlow, “was to make it feel different from the core
catalogues we rebranded over a year ago whilst ensuring its look
and feel was unmistakably Lakeland.”

Lakeland partnered with T&M to sell an exclusive range of its
seeds and even included a pack of easy-to-grow salad-leaf seeds
with its initial gardening catalogues. This tie-up benefits T&M
as well as Lakeland, by helping the former expand its reach. T&M
has formed a number of similar partnerships with newspapers and
other cataloguers; it supplies seeds to gardening etailer
Greenfingers, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times, The
Daily Mail,
and News of the World, among others.
Chief executive John May confirms that T&M is in discussions with
additional cataloguers and online retailers.

T&M also recently bought the GetGrowing online domain name and
plans to make it an ecommerce site selling vegetable seeds.
Although he couldn’t give a launch date, May says the site will
have a community feel and offer handy tips and advice to make
growing your own vegetables more accessible.

As part of its initiatives to capitalise on Britain’s hunger for
home-grown produce, Suttons is a partner in the Grow Your Own
National Campaign, a coalition of businesses including B&Q,
Dobbies, and Sainsbury’s and organisations such as the Royal
Horticultural Society, the National Trust, and the Soil
Association supported by a Defra-funded project team. The
campaign encourages consumers to reduce the environmental
footprint of their diet in part by growing their own. Suttons is
also working to extend its range of vegetable-growing hardware-a
selection of gardening equipment is available on the Suttons
website in partnership with sister company Ferndale Lodge-and is
increasing its off-the-page advertising.

To better appeal to a new, and often younger, generation of
gardeners as well as to fend off competitors, Marshalls
“radically transformed” its catalogue during the past
year. It increased the page count from 124 to 148 and added more
lifestyle photography, planting information, and recipes. The new
Marshalls catalogue, mailed last September, produced a
34.9-percent uplift in year-on-year sales for the period of
September to December and helped the company win an ECMOD Award
this spring.

“Will [increased] competition affect the traditional big
players? It’s a resounding no,” Harvey insists. “Talk
to the boys who are established horticulturists, dyed-in-the-wool
direct marketers, and smart traders, and they do not seem too
worried about what the new players will throw at them-but they do
watch each other’s each and every competitive move.”


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