Despite global uncertainties, the Dutch garden centre sector is enjoying a period of healthy prosperity, partly attributed to the consumer trend for all things sustainable and the value placed on gardens and green spaces, writes Anisa Gress for FCI.
In an annual snapshot provided by the country’s trade association, Tuinbranche Nederland, the 515 garden centres across The Netherlands recorded a turnover of €2.07bn in 2022, an increase of 3.1 per cent (€1.63 billion in 2019) even though consumer confidence indicators fell to their lowest since 2013. This was mainly sparked by Russia’s war against Ukraine and its knock-on effect of increasing the cost of living. Although fewer items were actually sold through centres during the year, higher prices did help to compensate.
Outdoor living products, such as barbeques, heaters, and furniture, continued to do well, recording sales up by 27 per cent to around €14mn. Accounting for more than half of Dutch garden centre turnover is plants, which, although down in 2022 to €300mn, was still more than the 2019 pre-pandemic.
The majority of centres (372) in The Netherlands are independently owned. The others are run by groups, with the top three being Intratuin, Groenrijk and Welkoop. Between them all, they attract around 60 million customers each year.
During the covid pandemic, shops and garden centres with a high percentage turnover of animal feeds were allowed to remain open. Still, they had to cordon off areas and could not sell from areas with plants and gardening accessories. As special dispensation was not given to trade, garden centres quickly set up online shops to keep customers supplied. “There was a big surge in online sales when centres were closed, but this is diminishing now because people still want to go to the garden centres for the atmosphere and the knowledge from the staff,” says Brenda Horstra, Deputy Director of Tuinbranche Nederland.
One area that has seen sales drop is hard landscaping and paving (-10 per cent), which could be done with a campaign run by Tuinbranche Nederland to encourage more households to get involved and understand the positive links between gardens and climate change.
Horstra explains that Green Climate Squares, dedicated areas within Tuinbranche Nederland member garden centres with displays and information showing how gardening can benefit biodiversity and climate change, have been a huge success. There has also been a big buy-in with local municipalities, which have contributed funding. “Some have been opened by ministers, and one was opened by a commissioner of King Willem-Alexander, which shows how seriously Green Climate Squares are taken and how important they are considered to be,” says Horstra.
There are Green Climate Squares in 60 Dutch garden centres, plus one in Belgium and another one will open in Milan soon. Ranging in size from 9m2 up to 30m2, their aim is to help people understand how they can use their gardens to solve water and heat stress issues and increase the amount of greenery.
Suggestions include replacing hard landscaping for plants, bringing water into the garden, choosing plants which provide food and habitats for birds and insects and installing a green roof. These also tie in with an aim to increase green space across the whole of The Netherlands by 55km². With 5.5 million gardens in The Netherlands, each measuring an average of 236m², this means each one has to convert to green just 10m². Horstra notes: “I think those people who are ‘dark green’ already know what to do in their gardens and know where to get a lot of information, but those that are ‘light green’ who have an idea and want to do something but don’t know what, come to the garden centre for advice.”
She adds that research by Tuinbranche Nederland has revealed that 67 per cent of consumers can do something positive in their garden about climate change. Still, actually, only 30 per cent are doing it.
The campaign has led to other initiatives, including ‘Tile Out, Plant In’. Adopted on a municipality level, regions throughout The Netherlands are competing against each other to see who can lift the most paving and hard landscaping and replace them with plants. Another called ‘Useful Soil Animals’ encourages children to learn about mammals, insects and invertebrates that live on or benefit the soil in some way.
This leads nicely to sustainability, another area high on the agenda for the Dutch garden centre industry, its suppliers, and customers. The industry is currently working to adhere to International Corporate Responsibility legislation which, in future, will become mandatory in Europe. Suppliers will be obliged to understand the impact of their business on several areas, including the environment where, says Brenda, they will need to prove how clean their products are from sourcing through to packaging and recycling.
A reduction in the use of peat in growing media is also on the cards, with campaigns supported by the Dutch government to help suppliers find alternatives and educate gardeners about why they should not be using it. Horstra says: “Garden centres have to talk to the consumers on why it’s different.”
Restaurants and cafes in garden centres are proving to be a lucrative draw. “It’s very good to have one as it makes people stay a while, and it’s an important part of their turnover. It’s becoming more important, and if they don’t have one at the moment, they are getting one,” says Horstra.
One negative, however, and shared with many countries, is the difficulty in finding staff. “Getting good people is difficult,” says Brenda. “And it’s not just garden centres; it’s all retail.”
In 2022, the average Dutch customer spent €30 per visit to a garden centre.
However, Tuinbranche Nederland believes there is still room for growth, especially in the sectors of attracting wildlife to the garden and with products and ways of gardening that help mitigate the effects of climate change.
This article was first published in the May 2023 FloraCulture International.