Garden trade resilience despite extreme weather

Comprehensive market update report for December 2023 and full-year state of trade review by the The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA).

Old cash register
Photo by Lydia Gulinkina on Unsplash

As reported throughout 2023, the horticultural sector faced record-breaking weather extremes, from the driest February in 30 years to the hottest June on record. December continued the trend, with mean temperatures and rainfall more than two times higher than in December 2022. Yet, garden centres showcased remarkable resilience, finishing the year with sales up by +2% compared to the previous calendar year.

Despite the delayed start to the gardening season in 2023, with garden/gardening categories finishing -1% down on 2022, notable exceptions included bedding plants, which saw a surge of 12% and catering and food/farm shop sales maintained strong growth, finishing at an impressive +23%.

Focusing on the December state of trade, overall Garden Centre sales were up +2% compared to 2022, with a significant +12% on indoor plants. Catering sales were also up +21% versus December 2022, counteracting weaker Christmas sales (-7%) likely impacted by the current economic climate and still witnessing the effects of COVID-19, which likely altered product replacement cycles on categories like lights, decorations, and artificial trees. ​ Garden centres may also face competition from discount retailers on these products, which may have held a greater share during the current tough economic climate. However, it is worth noting that real Christmas trees were +7% in November 2023 versus November 2022, suggesting trees were purchased early.

Fran Barnes, CEO of the HTA, said: “In a year marked by extraordinary weather events, the horticultural sector adapted to the challenges to maintain positive growth. The dedication of our retailer members and the continued support from customers have been instrumental in navigating the unpredictable landscape.

“The year-end review reveals a nuanced performance across categories. While garden/gardening sales saw a modest decline of -1%, catering sales surged by +23%, indicating a shifting consumer focus. Christmas sales, influenced by economic factors and evolving consumer behaviour, experienced a slight dip of -7%, with notable variations in subcategories.

“Despite lingering uncertainties, consumer confidence showed an overall pattern of improvement throughout 2023 despite remaining in historically negative territory, ending the year 20 points higher than December 2022.

“As we begin 2024 with consumers less pessimistic about their finances, businesses will likely continue planning for extreme weather events more regularly and looking at ways to maintain profit margins amidst pressures on wage bills, shipping costs and interest rates.”

Supplementing this month’s report are some insights from the HTA’s annual consumer tracking survey on access to and participation in gardening. In the December 2023 consumer survey, over 9 in 10 UK adults reported having access to some outdoor space for gardening. Most people (78%) have their own private garden, which has remained stable over the last few years. The number of people without access to a garden has also remained stable. However, with the increased cost of living causing higher rents and mortgages, owning your own home may become more unaffordable for younger generations, which could significantly impact the gardening market.

“As we look to the future, businesses will explore products and positioning that cater to the evolving needs of renters and homeowners alike. With around 13% of individuals having small gardening spaces, portable solutions and low-cost ideas for these consumers present exciting opportunities for innovation”, added Barnes.

Members of the HTA have access to the detailed insights and analysis, including access to the gardening survey results and year-end review.