Letter to Alan: Could you pass the potted shrimps?

Following in the footsteps of prissy party-planning Pippa Middleton, our very own Alan Titchmarsh has signed a deal with the nation’s smartest supermarket, and is hence forth to become the face of the new Waitrose gardening range. The nation’s most famous gardener, has been reeled in by the supermarket chain, to develop and launch their new gardening product line, write articles in their magazine, feature on their website, and to top it off, star in their television adverts. Hopefully, the proverbial full-sized cardboard cut-outs will also be on hand to help guide us through the ever extending maze of delectable deli-counters.

I read Mr T’s news with great interest, and look forward to seeing that smile, adorned in a green apron at our local. However, admittedly the economic power that is, this relationship raises some concerns too.

Respectfully paying homage to a much favoured blog; ‘Letters to Monty (the ramblings of a deluded man)’, I decided to pen a letter to Mr T, regarding this, his most recent of commercial accolades.

Dearest Alan,

Many congratulations on your Waitrose deal, @MrsTitchmarsh must be delighted. That discount card is prized indeed and will hopefully make up for the ban on M&S, Sainsbugs and Tesco’s visits, for the duration of the contract. Glad too, to see that the press are behaving, desisting in any tacky, ‘on the rebound’ remarks, even if B&Q may still be a tad raw, from the very recent end, to your long happy relationship.

As a keen gardener, whom like most, finds it near impossible to refrain from preaching the joys of this delightful pastime, any developments of bringing the world’s best hobby to a larger audience can only be but applauded. Especially now, where horse DNA seems to have found its way into anything edible, is there an urgent need to revert to ones own garden, re-establish a relationship with our soil, grow one’s own and/or source from next door. Coming second only to Lady Gaga in celeb status, your new ambassadorship, will undoubtedly put the Waitrose campaign in good stead.

As you are much involved in this trade, you will undoubtedly be well aware that business has been challenging for our fragmented industry. The recession for one, the incessant rainfall, ever increasing competition from large multiples and steady entrance of new market players, now including your new playmate; Waitrose.

Stubborn growth of the garden market, despite the downturn, is undoubtedly too irresistible a lure for the clever people at Waitrose and fellow supermarkets. That, or possibly, one of your new chums must have overheard my conversation on press day at Chelsea, with a highly respected nurseryman. The good man informed me that, ‘Alan Titchmarsh need only look at our plants for the cash registers back at the office to start ringing’. Such telepathic commercial powers are without doubt, hard to come by. Not sure even super Monty has those….

Impressive as your partnership may be, herein lies my concern. Agreed, my apprehensions may possibly be a tad premature, as we have yet to learn the exact details of the new garden range, and subsequent distribution strategy. However, as our fragmented market is still dominated by small-mid sized, family firms, one can’t help but be concerned that those small, knowledgeable and hence invaluable nurseries, garden centres and providers of all things gardening, are now (even more) at risk. That is, direct competitive risk from the new Waitrose foray into the horticultural industry, but also long term, and potentially higher risk from the ‘me-too’ supermarket strategists, keen to follow suit.

Supermarkets are superbly intelligent commercial beasts, able to source products far and wide, at brutally competitive prices. Does your agreement with Waitrose take this into account? Will the product line, encompass our small market players, or simply marginalise them further? Waitrose are relatively better in supporting farmers, but what of product sourcing? Will it be local, national or will price reign, giving the advantage to our Tulip growing neighbours for the possible sourcing of potential plant ranges? And on an environmental note, where does Waitrose stand in terms of the use of peat and plight of our pollinators? I trust crucial issues such as these, have been discussed chez Waitrose HQ, hopefully over some delightful beverage, toast and potted shrimps.

The Waitrose press release mentioned your desire to help raise the profile of British agriculture and horticulture. As much I would like to see you smile approvingly at me, whilst I make my choices in the dairy section, I can’t help but wonder if you need a partner at all, to do so. In a recent televised interview, Delia Smith, the grand dame of all things cooking, explained that she had reached a stage in her life, both maturely and economically, where all she wanted to do is simply share her knowledge of cooking, teach the nation to cook and wean us off the ready meals. Hopefully she’ll include the odd recipe for lasagna, as that does seem to be a popular (ready meal) choice. I digress my apologies. To teach the nation, Delia is working on her soon to be launched online cookery school; a beautifully designed, efficient platform that will be available to millions, at no charge at all. I leave that idea with you, to do with as you please…

When you are next in Oxfordshire, please do pop round for some tea. I promise to stock up on some of the Duchy’s finest biscuits, the full range of which I know, is available at Waitrose, of course.

Respectfully Yours,

The Oxonian Gardener (x)

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