UK: Garden centre sales soar but the heat is still on with inflation, water, and trade concerns

As June 2023 made history as the hottest June ever recorded, with unprecedented temperatures and a mix of heatwaves and heavy rainfall, garden centres experienced a marked surge in sales. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has released its monthly market update, revealing the significant growth in garden centre sales, indicating a strong recovery in 2023 following disruptions in the first quarter of the year.

Strong Growth in Garden Centre Sales
Garden centre sales for June showed a strong increase of 16% compared to the same period last year. This growth can be attributed to favorable weather conditions, attracting more customers and increasing footfall and sales. The sales growth was particularly notable in the garden and gardening categories, which saw an increase of 19% compared to June 2022. Bedding plants were up +31%, followed by hardy plants up +25%, maintaining that stock demand pressure on previous months. Associated gardening products also performed well, with seeds showing an 8% increase and plant care products up by 19% compared to June 2022.

Continued Growth in Average Transaction Values (ATVs)
Average Transaction Values (ATVs) within garden stores sustained growth, reaching £33.25 in June, a notable 4% increase compared to the same period last year. The contribution of price inflation to increased basket value has been a driving factor behind this growth.

Catering Sales and Garden Tools Surge
June also proved exceptionally fruitful for catering, with a substantial increase of 27% compared to June 2022. Additionally, the garden tools and equipment category experienced a surge, with sales soaring by 35% compared to the previous year. These positive trends reflect the gradual return to pre-pandemic times and the increased demand for gardening-related products.

Consumer Confidence on the Rise
June brought encouraging news for consumer confidence, with a 3-point improvement compared to the previous month. This upward trend indicates growing optimism when consumers rated their personal finances and the overall economic outlook for the future. However, concerns surrounding inflation and the state of the UK economy remained prevalent among consumers.

Water Scarcity and Responsible Water Use
With the effects of climate change becoming more pronounced, water scarcity has emerged as a pressing concern. Despite the record-breaking June weather, certain regions, including Devon, Cornwall, and parts of East Anglia, are still grappling with drought conditions and temporary use bans (TUBs) on water usage. In response, the HTA urges its members to continue prioritizing responsible water use and supporting customers in their efforts to conserve water while participating in gardening activities. As part of their commitment, the HTA has issued Summer gardening tips to help encourage and care for wildlife in gardens during the summer months.

A Focus on Resilience and Preparation
The HTA encourages all member businesses to prepare for all possible scenarios and take action to ensure continuity of supply. Key measures include maximizing storage capacity, promoting responsible water use, investing in water recapture infrastructure, and proactively addressing abstraction license requirements.

Ongoing Support from the HTA
The HTA remains dedicated to providing guidance and resources to its members as they navigate the challenges posed by water scarcity and work towards enhancing their resilience. Members can access valuable advice and information on improving water management and increasing resilience through the HTA's website.

Additionally, it's vital that water companies and the Environment Agency provide or support a funding program for horticultural businesses to enhance rainwater capture, construct reservoirs, recapture run-off, and use grey water. The current Water Management Grants from Defra, which are open to horticultural businesses growing or planning to grow irrigated plants, are currently not accessible to all businesses. We're asking that the investment minimum is lowered, as many businesses wanting to implement reservoirs for self-sufficiency don't need them at the current specified scale and cannot afford the initial outlay.

Fran Barnes, Chief Executive of the HTA, emphasized the sector's resilience, highlighting the operating challenges and the importance of support: "The exceptional surge in garden centre sales during this record-breaking June underscores the resilience and determination of both our industry and gardening enthusiasts to quite literally weather the storms. As the Horticultural Trades Association, we are fully committed to supporting our members in fostering responsible water use and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the horticulture sector, which plays a vital role in enhancing the environment, promoting well-being, and enriching the lives of communities across the nation.

However, we must also acknowledge the present and ongoing challenges. Prolonged hot weather has meant more labor required for irrigation, coupled with inflationary pressures on business costs and customers' pockets means June's success cannot be taken for granted. In horticultural retail and the wider industry, we expect new border trade arrangements in the next six months and the risk of expedited peat legislation. We must see the government recognize UK environmental horticulture's economic, environmental, and social value. We aim to enable the sector to thrive while ensuring that costs are not unfairly passed onto consumers. By navigating these challenges together, we can build a resilient and prosperous future for the horticulture sector."

For more information:
Horticultural Trades Association

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