As the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is in full swing, the UK’s Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) release their monthly market update indicating that the sector is still showing incredible resilience, despite variable weather and global market challenges.
Garden centre sales grew by 1 per cent from April 2022, driven by plant and catering sales, compensating for lower garden furniture sales, and it is hoped that with the better weather kicking in this month and the inspiration of Chelsea, more people will be flocking back to garden centres in the coming months.
Consumer confidence improved for the third consecutive month, despite cost-of-living pressures. Any impact of the recent interest rate increase by the Bank of England remains to be seen, and rising wage bills and the cost of goods sold continue to pressure the industry. Still, businesses are cautiously optimistic with some relief from falling vehicle fuel and fertiliser prices.
Despite a 2 per cent decrease in gardening category sales compared to the considerably drier April of the previous year, sales of plants, seeds (up 30 per cent), and bulbs (up 11 per cent) stood out as showcasing consumers’ continued passion for gardening even in unpredictable weather conditions and perhaps demonstrates that grow-your-own ranges tend to pick up during tougher economic times, not because it’s necessarily cheaper to grow from seed or bulb, but because of the sense of control, feeling of resilience amongst uncertainty that it provides.
Non-garden categories experienced a 12 per cent growth, driven by a 29 per cent increase in catering sales and a 12 per cent increase in food and farm shop sales. While sales of wild bird care were slightly hampered by poor weather and supply challenges stemming from Russia’s war against Ukraine, they still outperformed April 2021 with an 18 per cent increase.
Comparisons with 2021 sales reflect the unique circumstances of that year, with heightened gardening interest during lockdown but restricted catering trade.
Amidst these market fluctuations, the HTA continues to play a crucial role in representing the horticulture sector on the Environment Agency’s National Drought Group, focusing on water preservation and resilience. The importance of water conservation became evident after a dry February, a wet March, and an unsettled April. While some areas of England saw improvements in their water supply compared to last year, parts of East Anglia and Devon and Cornwall still face temporary use bans due to drought conditions. The HTA is actively working to ensure responsible water use messaging in gardening does not hinder participation in this beloved activity.
Fran Barnes, Chief Executive of the HTA, said: “Overall, the HTA’s market update highlights the unwavering passion of consumers for plants and gardening, and this is being perfectly demonstrated at this week’s Chelsea Flower Show. Despite challenges posed by weather variations and market conditions, HTA member businesses remain positive about their prospects, with a third consecutive quarter of improvement in Q1. The industry’s ability to navigate various challenges demonstrates its strength and determination to thrive in the months and years ahead but with caution. Given the increase in Growing Media costs, we urge the Government to review its drastic shift on the professional peat ban, returning to the sector-supported 2030 date, and provide the sector with the urgent clarity needed for business planning and investment.”