Adding value for the grower

As growers will know, the collapse in the value of the pound following last June’s EU referendum pushed up the price of imported goods and many of the raw materials needed to make horticultural pots and trays. However, key UK-based suppliers have been making a concerted effort to minimise the impact of these changes – or are informing their customers about those products that offer maximum long-term value.

Adding value for the grower

Shaun Herdsman, former sales manager for Modiform UK and manager of Modiform’s new retail and industry division, describes the firm’s approach to the aftermath of the UK’s referendum result as “simple and long term.” He says: “When the announcement of Brexit happened we decided to hold fast with our prices until the new year or until it was clear what would happen. Even when the pound dipped we wanted to remain steady for our customers because their costs were rising all around them.” Arguably, Modiform’s decision to update its classic bedding pack range was also helpful. At a time when many growers have had to deal with uncertainty, the Universal Bedding Pack (UBP) range,  launched last year (2016), fits 20 (rather than 18) trays on a single trolley shelf – more than 5,000 more packs per acre. Herdsman says: “Customers’ reactions to our new Universal Bedding Packs was sheer amazement. We aimed the new range at the budget market for growers, growing for the garden centre, market and wholesale trade. The growers in this market were always used to buying and using very low quality bedding packs, which cracked, didn’t de-stack well and sometimes sliced customers fingers open because of protruding sharp bits.”

He adds: “Our UBP’s are top quality, the likes have never been seen before in commercial horticulture. We made them out of a stronger type of plastic than the current alternatives and it was great to see the growers’ faces as we challenged them to break the packs at the Four Oaks Show. No one could break them. We’ve seen great forward orders for these products and we can easily see that in the coming years the UBP’s will be the norm for the target audience of growers.”

PG Horticulture’s sales and product development manager James Avery also notes that growers can benefit from the high quality of its stocks, particularly its range of Herku trays – which it sells as the UK partner for HerkuPlast-Kubern GmbH. He says: “The cost of importing continues to fluctuate, but the benefit of choosing trays with properties that match specific growing requirements, aligned to tray quality, strength and durability, can easily outweigh the initial cost.” He points out, for example, that if it is an option, then reusable trays are worth growers’ serious consideration. “The QuickPot range of rigid trays from Herku has a life of at least ten years with normal handling, with some growers still using these trays 15 years after purchase. Even the Herku range of medium weight trays offers a life of up to three years.”

Avery adds that, when it comes to tray selection, there are several factors that contribute to success or failure. These include cell fill, cell volume, rooting development, drainage, air pruning and being able to easily remove the plug from the trays without damaging it. “These factors combine to help deliver high quality plants with minimum waste,” he asserts – adding that PG Horticulture now even sells some trays with “legs” to aid air pruning and air flow. He also reveals that HerkuPlast has developed a QuickSearch app to help growers find which tray out of its 150-strong selection they need. PG Horticulture is now also supplying the AirPruneRack, which enables propagation trays to be raised off the floor, allowing for better air circulation.

Technological innovation

As the development of the QuickSearch app suggests, the pots and trays arm of the horticulture sector is certainly always embracing the latest technology. This investment in new technologies not only helps make the growers’ job easier – it also improves the quality of their plants and minimises the sector’s impact on the environment. Herdsman reveals, for example, that Modiform is this year due to launch commercial products for its Eco Expert pulp range. This follows last year’s trials on these environmentally-friendly products, which are made out of recyclable cardboard pulp.

Emerging from  more recent research by Soparco’s research and development team comes a new technical range, the SX container. Launched as a high quality and reliable product the SX container offers a multi level bottom and six channels for efficient drainage.

The range has a reduction in material weight whilst keeping good mechanical characteristics and an opacity guarantee. In line with other manufacturers reported here Soparco, through their low energy consumption press machines and fully recyclable  materials, offers the container as an eco-responsible product.

The SX range now has 13 bright and trendy colours with 4 G2 slot boxes in 2L, 3L 4L and 5L, including blue and white (except in 4L). This new range of containers offer a total solution in production and marketing by being compatible with the Sopafix support, label stakes handles and printing. Soparco claims the largest range of off-the-shelf colours. 30 trendy and vibrant colours will be found in 6 product ranges and 17 product references in their catalogue.

The UK-based manufacturer and supplier Aeroplas also prides itself on its green credentials as it makes its horticultural products out of UK-sourced, recycled materials. Sales and new product development manager Alex Everett says: “I am really pushing the fact that we are a UK manufacturer, so we do not have to factor in the uncertainty of the exchange rate.” Everett notes that Aeroplas’ range of slotted pots, which enable a label to be inserted into a slot in the pot, “are now more popular than ever.”

Chris Breed, marketing and area sales manager for Desch Plantpak, says that there’s a trend in the market for more pots with label slots to ensure label security for the retailer. He adds: “Recycled products continue to be as important as ever for the environment and are preferred by retailers which is why 99% of our products are made from recycled material. A greater amount than ever is collected by us from growers and used to make more pots and trays.”

He divulges that Desch Plantpak has two new bedding packs in the pipeline, a four and a six cell, which fit 24 per Danish trolley shelf. These were due to be in production this month (February) and include lock label and handle slots. Additionally, the firm’s new 9F and 10.5cm injection-moulded pots (with lock-in label slots) have been well received and orders are already being fulfilled. He adds: “We will be launching a Danish trolley full-shelf watering tray in early spring. This is designed to create a water reservoir on each shelf to make it easier to water the plants on the trolley, whilst greatly reducing the amount of plant and compost debris that falls from the trolley in the retailer.”

Clearly, in a competitive marketplace, great consideration is given to the quality of the young plants to ensure they are grown to an acceptable standard. Breed reveals that the new designs of its Desch range, which last year replaced the Zed range, are selling well. “Carefully placed holes and channels ensure free and evenly distributed drainage across the pot base. The stronger pot rim has also been well received.” Growers may also want to take note of the fact that, last autumn, Pöppelmann TEKU expanded two of its ranges, namely its VTG and its MXC plant pots. It introduced an 11cm version to its VTG plant pot series (which includes sizes 9cm, 10cm, 11cm, 12cm, 13cm and 14cm). The pots in the VTG series also boast an improved shape and smaller diameter at their base, which reduces the lower volume of the pots and therefore reduces growers’ substrate costs. The popular German brand has also updated its MXC plant pot range, to include a new 5.5cm size. A representative for the company says:The excellent irrigation and drainage properties of its multi-hole profile bottom allow for a rapid and healthy growth. Moreover, highly opaque colours also block light from penetrating the pot walls. This prevents the deterioration or damage of the root system. There are no internal stacking ridges, which is an additional benefit, allowing the roots to grow undisturbed.” Both new sizes are available from UK stockists.

Looking great on the shelf

Attractive labels, as well as coloured and cover pots, also remain an important consideration for the horticulture sector as its products strive to catch the eye of the consumer. Breed says: “Coloured pots continue to sell steadily although this remains a niche market.” Both Everett, and Simon Godfrey – sales representative for Aeroplas stockists Brinkman UK, note that Aeroplas’ new 25 cm hanging basket, which is available in a number of different colours, is proving to be popular. Additionally, Keith Berners, area sales manager for supplier LBS Horticulture, observes that: “The commercial growers in my area are very much creatures of habit and the range we stock in pots and trays tends to reflect this. If anything, there’s been some movement in increasing size from 9cm to 10.5cm (with trays to suit), which produces a better plant in both size and rooting ability. Any sign of change, however, is more with the colour of the pots.” He adds: “Colour actually enhances the presentation of the plant and, whilst the coloured pot is more expensive, the return when sold at retail more than covers this expense.

The best example I have is a customer, who sells at RHS plant fairs, who was positioned opposite another grower selling the same plant. The customer had grown his in a 5.5ltr square round pot in burgundy while the grower opposite had the same plant in a 3ltr black pot. The price differential was £19.99 against £28.00 and the customer’s heart sank thinking he was in for a bad day. By the end of it he had completely sold out while his opponent had a much quieter time. I am now in the third year with this customer who has purchased six pallets of these pots each year, amounting to 18,270 pots.” Fargro’s range of quirky and colourful pots and containers, sourced from across the globe, also continues to delight consumers. The firm’s representative Sonia Marshall says: “We supply many leading brands such as CTi, Lamela, Pasquini & Bini alongside our own designs of baskets, willow and tin metal and wooden containers. Ideal for both grower/retail markets these are supplied in a variety of colours, finishes, shapes and sizes.”

Evidently, the power of presentation should not be underestimated. And despite the unpredictability of the exchange rate, an increasing number of pots and trays to choose from should help growers to look forward to producing some stunning plants and displays this year.

Reported by Rachel Anderson.