Plant assortment at British DIY store seems to be improving04 November 2016
In the autumn period of 2016, we organised a study trip to the UK. Several growers visited Milton Keynes and St Albans under the guidance of market specialist Josephine Klapwijk. This is the report of that visit.
The programme included a tour of several garden centres, DIY stores and supermarket chains.
Quick link to:
- Study trip in pictures
- Sales via the supermarket
- Sales via the DIY store
- Sales via the garden centre
- Tips for improving plant displays
There is little sign of the approaching Brexit in the UK. According to our consumer figures, British consumers still buy just as many flowers and plants as before that fateful day in June (23 June 2016). In the shops, we do not see much restraint in their purchasing behaviour. Although the margins are subject to considerable pressure due to the fluctuating British pound, only observant consumers note that there may be one less stem in a bunch of flowers for the same price.
The flower and plant display suffers around this time of year. The shop area normally devoted to flowers and plants has to largely make way for chocolate, candy (Halloween) and other festive articles (Christmas) that appear in the shops earlier and earlier. The first poinsettias have already been spotted in the British supermarket chains, but also bouquets with festive glitter are catching the consumer's eye. And this is a period when we just experienced a very warm late summer. Consumers appear to feel that the beginning of October is too early for this change.
Differences in quality
In terms of quality, the assortment and presentation at Marks&Spencer look the best. A big surprise was provided by the supermarket chain Tesco. Their assortment had been very poor in the past few years and the quality was disappointing, but now we saw clearly that decisions had been taken. The plant display in particular definitely profited; it was attractive again.
The flower and plant display of the competitor Morrisons underwent a radical make-over two years ago. The continuation of the new line does not appear to have been successful in every branch. We old products and empty displays in the morning at the Milton Keynes branch. The branch in St Albans, on the other hand, had fresh products and a well-filled display. A positive element of the flower display at Morrisons was the special labels they applied like 'Bouquet of the Week', 'In Season' or 'Signature Hand-Tied Bouquet', something that the British consumer responds to.
The flower and plant presentations at Sainsbury's and Waitrose seem to have hardly changed, except for the packaging (we saw kraft paper, for example). The biggest disappointment was the supermarket chain Asda: many empty spaces, untidy and hardly inspiring plant display.
In terms of products, we saw many gerbera, alstroemeria, sunflowers, santini and gladioli (British) this autumn along with the usual roses, chrysanthemums and lilies. One striking aspect at Tesco is that we saw a lot of cut flowers that we would normally expect to see in a florist shop, such as luxurious avalanche roses, cut hortensia and cut callas. Concerning plants, we noted the following products in the supermarket assortment: orchids, pot roses, bromelia, Kalanchoë, pot chrysanthemum, Spathiphyllum and Aechmea.
In the past few years, the British DIY stores have rather neglected the plant category. The sale of BBQ equipment does produce more profit than houseplants and garden plants. But more consumers are expressing interest in them, especially in the spring. Recently, the quality has been so poor that sales have stagnated. The cause was a low turnover rate so that too many products were left on the shelf. When we visited the DIY stores this time, we noted that the plant displays looked better and well cared for.
Traditionally, the autumn season in the UK is associated with Halloween. In particular, the garden centres have decorated lavishly with typical autumnal products and orange-flowering houseplants in scary presentations. The autumnal products are cyclamen, chrysanthemum (globe), winter pansies, Skimmia, Hebe and Calluna.
The garden centres are busy setting up the Christmas section, and often the houseplant display is removed to make room for it. This display was not that large in the first place because British garden centres traditionally pay more attention to garden plants and hard materials. Houseplants form only a small part of the assortment. Most garden centres state that they are not interested in competing with the supermarkets in this area. One manager of a garden centre we visited used the example of Phalaenopsis, "We sell 2 stem Phaleanopsis at £9.99 while supermarkets offer them for £3.99, it's a lost cause." But the garden centres should really profile themselves as plant specialists.
Lots of interest in 'pot planting service'
A striking difference between the higher and lower segment garden centres is the focus on the 'pot planting service'. For example, Frosts, Dobbies and Van Hage advertise widely of their service in supplying a plant in a pot. This happens more now than in the past.
There are few garden centres that present the houseplant display as it is meant to be. A lovely, high-quality and attractive assortment of houseplants can only be found in individual high-segment garden centres like Frosts and Van Hage. Garden centre chains could learn from this, with the exception of Dobbies, which pays more attention to houseplants. The chains Wyevale and Notcutts are clearly still searching for a style and often lack inspiration.
What can we do to help the British garden centres elevate the houseplants category to a higher level? It all depends on the purchasing behaviour of the British consumer. They tend to be more 'flower-minded' than 'plant-minded'. But why? One of the reasons is that they often do not know how to look after a plant. Or what benefits a plant has compared with the large number of substitutes they are daily confronted with.
Show us what you've got
According to the garden centres we visited, the solution is simple: "Tell consumers about the features and benefits of plants, like Health. For example the Air Purifying benefits of plants." Thus, aloë vera is currently the best-selling product at garden centres, because the staff provide information about the plant's healing properties. Another suggestion for improvement is clear tips for caring for them: 'When does it flower', 'How big/high is the plant going to be', 'When and how much water does it need'.
The use of symbols on labels is not always handy; they are not uniform, and the average plant-buying consumer does not understand them. Finally, everything that is artificial, fake or processed is 'not done' in the UK. In other words, Dutch plant growers and suppliers, you must show what our plants excel in. If you've got it, flaunt it!
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