The love that French have for gardening is no secret and the numbers prove it: nine out of ten French people have a small corner to cultivate, seven of whom own a full garden. More than one million acres of garden is planted. While each amateur gardener spends on average 290€ per year.
This passion is driven by an impressive production and distribution ecosystem: 1,700 garden centers, 1,733 self-service farm shops and 15,104 florist shops. Not to mention 3,611 French greenhouse companies, the leading suppliers to garden product distributors. (source : FNMJ).
In 2018, distributors specializing in garden and pet stores accounted for close to 3 billion euros in turnover. However, it should be noted that the sector experienced a complicated 2018 fiscal year. The National Garden Industry Federation (FNMJ) reported a negative balance sheet for the sector in 2018. “The garden centers recorded an overall 1.5% drop in turnover, cancelling out the 1.6% increase in 2017”.
Covid-19: A setback at the worst time of the season
Of course, curbing this pandemic requires drastic measures and sacrifices on everyone’s part. Initially, the public authorities (as of March 14th 2020) sanctioned the closure of the majority of public places, including a huge part of French businesses. Garden centers (not including pet stores) were forced to close their doors. This closure comes at the worst of times, spring, which accounts for 80% of annual sales in the gardening sector.
There were several concerns regarding this decision, which of course shook the entire sector, but specifically a significant number of gardening enthusiasts.
Eating “well”, “organic”, ” produce transparency”, “reasonable and sustainable consumption”: all these terms have a very particular resonance with gardening enthusiasts who cultivate their vegetable garden. This dynamic is a fundamental trend driven by the strategies of major food retailers. Planting, growing, harvesting and monitoring one’s own fruit and vegetable production means knowing exactly what is going to end up on one’s plate.
These numerous small stakeholders are also a reservoir of fresh and healthy products. On April 4, 2020, confronted with Covid-19, OMC, OMS and FAO warned against the risk of a global food crisis caused by a lack of manpower in the fields, logistic difficulties, and lack of employee protection in the food chain. Even if France seems to be safe from a food shortage, it is not unreasonable to anticipate the worst by imagining that we will find ourselves lacking food resources. It was also a pity to deprive ourselves of this windfall. Undeniably, gardeners contribute to food security.
Lockdown measures are extremely restrictive. Forbidding de facto the “French gardeners club” to live their passion is undeniably a source of immense frustration in this crucial period for seeds of all kinds and in turn, future harvests.
For a certain number of people, gardening also can assure a small additional income (selling, bartering, gifting) as well as the opportunity to maintain a social link with one’s community (needless to say, apart from the lockdown period).
A breath of fresh air
On Wednesday April 1st, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, authorised “the sale of vegetable seeds and plants, considered as a basic necessities purchase”. However, only outlets that already have their pet store and general food departments open are authorized to sell seeds and plants. From now on, retailers are adapting to welcome their customers, reviewing their organization to respect the barriers, and favoring orders by telephone.
It is also remarkable to see how neighboring countries have accepted in different ways the pandemic constraints. With regard to garden centers, our German, Belgian and Dutch neighbors immediately saw this sector as a basic necessity.
By Thierry Strickler, Altavia Watch, and Laure Barillon, Altavia Nativ