Fruit and veg segments gain momentum as produce prices soar

by | Jul 14, 2022

As the price of iceberg lettuces skyrocket to over $12 per head and many other produce prices begin to follow suit, Australian consumers are now looking for the best way to cut grocery bills and save money by making the most of their back-yards.

Fruit and veg prices soar

The soaring prices might also explain why the vegetable segment is seeing the most growth and activity within the garden category this year, as Australian consumers start to prepare the vegetable patches they created during COVID for the upcoming season. 

And it seems this popularity is only set to increase when considering the steep growth in the cost of living over the past few months, Hardware and Building Traders (HBT) Indoor/Outdoor, Rural, Plumbing & Pet Category Manager, Marcella Indries said.

“You cannot go wrong with vegetable and herb seedlings. Fruit plants are also proving to be popular even though they can take some time to bear fruit. We are finding that customers are happy to have their veggies ticking over in the patch during this time, particularly low-maintenance veggies.”

HBT’s Indoor/Outdoor Category Manager, Marcella Indries said winter gardeners are happy to have their veggies ticking over in their patch.

“The lettuce issue now has consumers questioning why they do not grow their own, particularly considering it is a very low maintenance product to grow. I think there will be a lot of interesting behavioural changes from the consumer due to the price rises this season,” Ms Indries said.

Potted colour is also always very popular in spring as consumers look for a pop of colour in the garden and it is a beautiful reminder that spring is here, while updating outdoor living spaces is also expected to be popular this season.

“Consumers still want to update or add to their outdoor spaces as they entertain at home or go out less to try and save money. How well sales go within this space this season all depends on where a lot of people are sitting with their incomes when considering inflation is expected to continue rising throughout 2022,” she said.

Ms Indries said that the majority of stores should be preparing now for their spring season, particularly in the north because their spring arrives a little bit earlier than the southern states.

“This is the time when stores should be looking at forecasting their outdoor furniture, and barbecues and thinking about what they want their stores to look like going into spring. They also need to forecast their veggie seedlings, and their potted colour—all of this should be locked away now. 

“Greenlife supply can be tricky because suppliers need time to forecast, particularly their raw components. Greenlife takes at least eight weeks to grow and for the nursery to nurture and grow products, which is why retailers need to be on top of their ordering now for spring. It is so much harder to be nimble in this space,” she said.

While the supply of greenlife, indoor and vegetable seedlings has been quite good so far, given the expected demand for these products in the upcoming season, it is better to remain organised, she said.

“You only need to go to the supermarket to see where the shortages are particularly in products such as coriander which will not be in stock for weeks. This is also why customers are more likely to purchase and create a herb garden from their local hardware store—so they have a backup in their own backyard.”

When it comes to most other gardening components, including fertilizers, there are always opportunities for retailers to change to another supplier if their usual supplier is out of stock, because most garden products are fairly similar, Ms Indries said.

“While many gardening products are made in Australia, components of products are often imported. For example, a lot of the fertilizer components come from Russia and Ukraine, so this can affect supply as well.”

Looking at the popular indoor space, this has been driven by consumers who want greenery in the house because it is so calming and brings nature indoors, according to Ms Indries who says this is particularly important as consumers continue to work from home.

“Indoor plants are easier than ever to maintain as consumers have micro-breaks at home and give their plants a quick water. While the indoor plant category continues to fire quite well within the industry, all of the bolt-on products that go with this category continue to sell well including decorative pots, training stakes and coco fibre stakes,” she said.

Utilising social media channels to market garden products to customers is more important now than ever, with one HBT member, The Lakes H Hardware Timber and Building Suppliers, showing how well it can be done after substantially marketing its Yellow Door Garden Centre on Instagram.

“The Yellow Door Garden Centre has positioned itself as a unique, boutique gifting store and it continues to entice customers with new ideas for their home.”

“I always encourage members to make their garden centre a gift-giving space by adding homewares and decorative products, which is exactly what The Yellow Door Nursery has done by remaining nimble in this space.”

While marketing a garden centre should remain a top priority, Ms Indries said it is also important to continually use key suppliers within this space, to help update knowledge.

“I tell members to tap into key newsletters from suppliers such as Yates and Evergreen, that all have detailed information around the pests of the month or popular seeds or seedlings or how you take care of roses. They are great knowledge bibles that are easy to read in the lunchroom, while also gaining knowledge for the upcoming season,” she said.

“I personally want to work with members more closely on pests and diseases, vegetable planting calendars and articles on gardens and what aspects a consumer might be looking for and how a retailer can plug into this. The calendars are an important quick reference if a customer is asking when they can grow a certain product, and the team member can quickly refer to this to give the customer the right advice—making it as easy as possible for customers to access this knowledge when they do come in-store.”

“A lot of our stores are family operated who know their local towns well and are looking to service customers as best as possible and find out what customer’s need on an on-going basis so they return to the store in the future,” Ms Indries said.

Looking ahead, upcoming seasonal trends will include garden walls as backyards continue to shrink in size and it becomes easier for consumers to grow a substantial amount within a smaller space. 

“You could have a really nice garden wall full of herbs, lettuces and cherry tomatoes. As long as the fertilizing is undertaken correctly, it would work well. Even normal plants can be used in a green wall because it just puts greenery into a space, particularly if a person’s house does not have a lawn or garden where they can plant greenery you can add into a space on a wall.”

“Holman have an innovative range of green walls with integrated irrigation so it is quite low maintenance if you connect the house to the irrigation system. They also have timers and rain sensors, so they only water plants when they are dry—their systems are incredible. Smart Technology is becoming a big thing in the garden because having the ability to run things via an app is so handy. It also comes back to water-saving and understanding the moisture content in your garden, even lawn mowing can be done via an app as well,” she said.

For now, HBT expects the healthy sales within the garden space to continue because most of the gardens that were created during lockdowns will be refreshed and improved as soon as the warmer spring finally arrives.

Barrow and Bench Mitre 10 grow greenlife online

Barrow and Bench Mitre 10. Image credit: Gurr Media (Connor Gurr).

Growing food at home is just one of many trends that soared to unprecedented levels during COVID, as consumers searched for projects to do at home during lockdown. It seems these trends are showing no sign of slowing down with veggie patches and herb gardens now becoming the way of the world, Barrow and Bench Mitre 10 co-owner Amanda Stewart said.

Barrow and Bench Mitre 10 is a store that is well known throughout the Independent Hardware Group (IHG) for its online innovations and stunning Instagram images that consistently give customers fresh ideas on what they can instill within their own gardens, from indoor planters to plant food. While the store’s innovations have grown greenlife sales for many years, the challenge now is to maintain supply.

“We are constantly selling out of fruit trees and while we are able to re-order some of them, not all of them are available because the growers have also sold out. But we are seeing a high volume of long-term sales within the ‘grow your own’ fruit and veg segments,” Ms Stewart said.

“While we did pick up a lot of new garden customers throughout COVID, the flow of new customers coming into the store has also continued. Although many customers have never gardened before, they often start off with growing something easy such as salad greens. Many of our customers are also growing a lot of plants in pots still, which is great, because if they live in a small home they are not precluded from gardening and they can grow what they want from their pots,” she said.

While Ms Stewart says it can be a little frustrating not being able to source fruit tree varieties, which are currently in high demand, growers are now limiting the supply they send to stores in order to be fair.

“Trees that sell out quickly include apricots or any tree that is part of the bare root tree season. Our avid gardeners are onto these sell-out products at the moment and if we sell out of something that a customer wants, they are often happy to purchase an alternative plant.”

“Our customers are very understanding when it comes to supply issues because they know that this is out of our control. If COVID taught us one thing it is to be patient and our customers understand this much more than they have in the past. We keep our customers up to date with what products are available via social media, so often they know what is or is not in stock before they come into the store,” Amanda said.

Barrow and Bench Mitre 10. Image credit: Gurr Media (Connor Gurr).

When it comes to price rises, products such as seedlings have increased slightly but remain great value for money when considering the price of growing produce from home compared with purchasing produce from the supermarket.

For now, Barrow and Bench remains highly active online so customers are always aware of what is on-trend.

“We advertise what looks great today, not what was on-trend three weeks ago, and this always brings the people in. Sometimes, this could be indoor plant stuff which is still trending substantially and is definitely showing no signs of waning. It is a bit of a feel-good thing for people to have plants inside because it just nurtures their heart and their soul, as much as plants do when they are outdoors,” Amanda said.

All of the full-time garden centre staff at Barrow and Bench are qualified horticulturalists so they are highly experienced when it comes to giving customers advice, while Amanda also ensures staff are fully briefed on any new products so they can correctly advise customers when these products come in.

“We also belong to the Nursery & Garden Industry South Australia (NGISA) and they often run training sessions which are available to all staff and are another good way to refresh and learn. It was so important to Paul and me that all of our customers are given the correct advice in paint or hardware, so it makes sense to implement the same values in the garden centre.”

Looking ahead, Amanda says while there will be the usual dip in sales during winter, she also expects to be very busy in spring particularly around the sale of seedlings, fruit and vege, herbs and indoor plants. 

“We are back to following those usual peaks and troughs in sales that occurred pre-COVID. The spring sales are always very weather dependent with gardeners returning to the garden depending on the weather, not the date. We will constantly re-merchandise our space depending on the season including bringing camellias to the front of the store at this time of the year and fruit trees so they are in people’s minds and eyesight,” Amanda said.

Barrow and Bench Mitre 10. Image credit: Gurr Media (Connor Gurr).

“Seasonally, we do freshen up the garden centre to encourage people to keep thinking about what is fresh and available. So we will bring in lots of flowering plants for spring and create an incredible display for the upcoming season. We stick to what we are good at and that is why our store works, which is great,” she said.

Bunnings’ greenery boosts well-being

One key trend Bunnings is finding to be evident in the garden space this year is consumer’s strong emphasis on health and wellness, Bunnings Garden Category Manager Belinda Rakers says, with this focus coming from the popularity of the ‘grow your own’ movement.

“Our customers are incorporating plants as an important part of their wellbeing by creating indoor jungles in living spaces and in bathrooms and bedrooms using indoor pots and plants,” Ms Raker said.

From a decorating perspective, Ms Raker says customers are giving more attention to outdoor verandas, balconies and transitional indoor to outdoor rooms.

“These spaces are being treated as part of the interior and an equal amount of consideration is given to the design elements of these areas.” 

“Consumers’ interest in their gardens remains strong. Over the last couple of years, many customers have put a lot of time and effort into their gardens and they want to keep them looking good and enjoy their outdoor area,” she said.

Bunnings’ garden centres will continue to offer a wide range under one roof throughout the upcoming garden season, including seedlings and bulbs, shrubs, climbers and succulents to advance trees and more.  

“Bunnings also supplies its customers with all of the gardening tools and equipment customers need to grow and maintain their gardens, plus outdoor furniture and landscaping products so that they can create their ultimate outdoor living space,” she said.

“Many of our team are horticulturists by trade and are always on hand along with our suppliers who regularly visit our stores to run demos and provide expert advice to customers. We also invest in training and development with our team and suppliers to ensure they have the most up-to-date information to share with customers.”

“Our ‘perfect plant promise’ reinforces customers’ confidence to shop across our nursery range, which guarantees our plants for 12 months, so if customers are not 100 per cent happy, they can return their plant (with a receipt) and we will refund it. This excludes seedlings, which include flower and vegetable seedlings, as well as potted colour (bloomers) or short-lived plants that are not expected to live for more than three to five months,” Ms Raker said.

In preparation for the upcoming season, Bunnings plans to continually update its range to respond to customer’s lifestyle and design trends, as well as launching a new outdoor pots range.