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Written by Caroline Marshall-Foster
The UK flower growing industry may be still considering the best tactics for an assault on the market but one company is even now leading that charge.
The Butters Group already provides a series of products for Waitrose and proudly boasts that 75% of the flowers are UK grown.
But the Spalding-based company isn’t prepared to draw the battle line there – and have plans to extend the number and variety of UK grown flowers it supplies.
Butters Flowers, a division of the company, is currently working with a grower in Boston to produce locally grown tanacetum parthenium (a variety of chrysanthemum) to use in bouquets for Waitrose – a bloom which is normally imported from Holland.
Next year they hope to extend trials to extend the UK growing season for agapanthus so UK flowers can be used for a longer period of the year rather than relying on imports from Columbia or Kenya.
Both projects are being spearheaded by Butters technical manager Tracey Thomas – who has also been running trials for the Cut Flower Centre to help product development.
And it is this joint working that Butters believes lies at the heart of the solution for reinvigorating the UK growing sector.
Jo Pearson, the group’s business development manager, is passionate about UK flowers but understands growers cannot invest in their operations until they get commitment from buyers.
“The solution lies in retailers giving long-term commitments to selling UK flowers because without that growers cannot invest in their crops or their business,” she said.
“At Butters we are passionate about getting more products from UK sources on the shelves. Anything we can do to advance the UK growing sector we will. We want to work with growers to create new and alternative products and improve the quality.
“The support from Waitrose has been instrumental in helping us to do that. They are committed to selling UK flowers and that has helped enormously.”
And the company – which packages and distributes nearly 3,500 bouquets a day from its centre in Lincolnshire – is hopeful that commitment to British blooms can extend to other customers.
The products it distributes on behalf of Interflora, Flying Flowers and Moon Pig still top many competitors for the amount of UK sourced flowers – topping 20% on average – but the company accepts there is room for improvement.
However it may be consumers, rather than suppliers, who hold the key. To win that battle the current campaign to encourage people to buy British – with the inclusion of the Union Jack on the labels of UK grown flowers – has made some gains.
Jo believes the campaign needs to increase its bombardment on the public consciousness to have any chance of victory.
She points to the positive work done within the UK food industry to raise the profile of individual suppliers, farmers and producers as an example of what can be achieved.
Interflora and Waitrose have already made strides in this direction, she says, but more can be done by the industry as a whole.
“The concept of the Union Jack labelling is right but the execution needs to be stronger. The more we can do to promote the flag the better. We want to be waving it as proudly and as visibly as possible,” she said.
But, however the campaign progresses, Butters is determined to be a staunch ally for UK growers.