Despite their close proximity on the shop floor, the vastness and complexity of both the fresh produce and the ornamental plant categories means that these two aspects of the horticultural world are often treated as separate entities. However, as Produce Business UK discovers when speaking to Justin Solly, managing director of flowers and plants retail specialist Zyon UK, part of the Dutch Zyon Group, fruit and vegetable buyers can continue to draw inspiration from fresh produce’s sister industry
Value for money
Admittedly, an olive tree is probably not the number-one item on people’s shopping list when they pop into their local discounter, but this product was in fact one of Zyon UK’s recent bestsellers, reveals Solly. “The retail price of the olive tree was really strong at £10 an item. And so because it was great value it sold.” Solly asserts that good value is at the heart of all of Zyon UK’s best-selling products – no matter where they are being sold. Just as many fresh produce firms supply wholesalers and retailers of all different shapes and sizes, Solly explains that Spalding (Lincolnshire)-based Zyon UK supplies “the discounters all the way to the top end of the market.” Its customers include, for instance, Lidl, Aldi, Morrisons, and Homebase, and the garden retail groups Wyevale Garden Centres and Dobbies. Zyon UK specialises in selling cut flowers, mixed bouquets, potted house plants, decorative planters containing a mix of different plants and bespoke outdoor plants. Solly says: “We sell everything, from tacky and bright to classy, clean and contemporary.” Given Zyon UK’s wide range of products and customers it would be easy to assume that the main requirement of each customer is very different. But this is clearly not the case. “What people are always looking for is value for money. It’s so important. If it offers exceptional value it sells. A product has to look like good value for money. Our products for Wyevale, for example, may have a higher price but they still have to represent value for money on the shelf.”
This spring the National Farmer’s Union released its Fit for the Future report, in which it recommended 34 ‘Options for Action,’ including the need to:
* include multi-siting fruit and vegetables in more places in stores
* re-design food service areas to offer more prominence to fruit and vegetables, and
* the need developing fun-shaped fruits and vegetables for kids.
Arguably, it is therefore a poignant time for the fresh produce industry to take note of Solly’s view on what constitutes an effective horticultural display. He notes, for example, that having a wide selection of products is one the most important considerations when selling a range of ornamental plants. “If I have 20 to 25 products that look as though they go together, like they are ‘talking’ to each other, then the initial impact on the shelf when a customer walks in is far greater – it draws them in. You have to get the customers to the fixture. Once they are there, what they buy is irrelevant. It’s about making the whole range easy on the eye.” The managing director of Zyon UK, which also sells to convenience store operator Blakemore Retail, adds that novelty value “certainly has not got any less popular. A lot of what we have goes on selling year through year,” he says, revealing that mass-market appeal – namely products that feature a little bit more colour and that are less subtle – is also particularly popular, especially with the discounters.
Building good relationships
Solly also notes that the quality of Zyon UK’s products improve when the firm has a good relationship with its suppliers – a fact that will no doubt be familiar to fresh produce buyers. “The better the relationship, the better the product as the better service you will receive.” He divulges that Zyon UK sources its plants from a range of countries, including the UK, Kenya, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland. “The UK growers supply quite a lot of our bedding plants and cold-grown products – pansies, violas, primula.” He adds that the welfare of its growers is obviously important and “a very big part of the industry now.” He says, for example, that he was in Kenya last year and “part of the visit was going into the local school to see how the farm is supporting the local community and the people of that area.”
An efficient operation
Being part of the Dutch family business, Zyon Group, Solly also explains that Zyon UK operates using the same direct sourcing strategy as its parent company – which was founded in 2003 by Leon Eijgenraam. “Leon has been in the industry for 30 or 40 years – he was at the forefront of supermarket supply,” notes Solly. “Holland is a major horticultural hub for Europe so there are lots of agents and specialists. For example, there’s a rose portal and a chrysanthemum portal. But, we don’t use those people on the whole.” He explains that this approach saves costs – as does buying only the exact amount of plants required. The firm also chooses not to have its own transport fleet in the UK – rather, it relies on logistics companies that are conveniently based in Spalding. And so – from the need to have an efficient supply chain to the importance of good relationships with growers – there are evidently many similarities between the way Zyon UK runs its business and the way in which fresh produce firms operate. And given these similarities, fruit and vegetable buyers are likely to pick up a few fresh ideas and even help increase fresh produce consumption if they peer into the other side horticulture industry.