Glee 2014 has come and gone. This is not, as some may believe, the latest series of the thinly-disguised rip-off of the 1980’s TV show Fame, but the annual event held at the NEC in Birmingham for those passionate about the garden and leisure industry.
Hoards of visitors made their way to the hallowed NEC halls, where not only could all things horticultural be seen, but also a large array of supplementary issues, including advice on catering options, with seminars on “how to create a destination restaurant to rival the high street” and “capitalising on the growing gluten free market: How to make sure your café isn’t being left behind!”
This is the third year at Glee where catering has been recognised as a significant part of the show, in recognition of the enormous growth of garden centre catering venues across the country.
If we look at the traditional garden centre, once upon a time we were dragged along by our parents to stock up annually on daffodil bulbs and John Innes compost, with the unsubtle bribe of a Fab ice-cream if we left the fish alone.
Today, garden centres are big business. According to exclusive research from the Local Data Company, horticulture is a £4 billion market, with garden centres accounting for approximately £1.7 billion within that figure and the market “has grown from 7,982 units in 2011 to 8,379 in 2013, an increase of 5% … garden centres have increased by 19.3% over the last three years.”
Glee has constantly capitalised on this trend and this year, focused heavily on the opportunities available to the catering within garden centres, with delightful food displays but more importantly perhaps, advice on the latest advances and regulations in food retailing.
People now spend quality time at a garden centre and its role has changed: it is now a leisure venue. The single ice-cream freezer just before the checkout has transformed into a licensed restaurant, with a huge choice of high quality, sustainably sourced cuisine. There are even trampolines in the play area and the gift shops sell DVDs!
Let’s go back to that seminar mentioned at the beginning, “how to create a destination restaurant to rival the high street!” The title itself has enormous ramifications for the garden centre industry. But it’s not outside the realms of both common sense and convenience. After all, shopping centres have been custom designed to include eateries that entice us in for a well-deserved break.
However, changing a café into a restaurant is not as easy as it sounds. We at AC Services (Southern) recommend not only investing in the best oven but in the most reliable one, as a priority. And that has to be Rational. And make sure that you have support from companies such as ours, who can come out to you either as part of a service agreement or on an ad hoc basis if anything goes wrong.
The market is quite literally ripe for garden centres to take advantage of a market that can only expand; as the report points out, spending on gardening is driven heavily by the over 50s age group with higher disposable income. If you want part of it, plan ahead.