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Non-specialist and online horticultural sales

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Findings and Recommendations

  • For this project we contacted retailers selling plants online as well as non-specialist retailers of plants (those retailers where plants are not their main product type). This included supermarkets, DIY stores and lifestyle stores. We were able to interview four large non-specialist retail chains but also collected 100 survey responses from online plant retailers. All interviews and survey respondents were from businesses based or operating in Scotland

  • Biosecurity is often stated as a low priority for many online businesses. However, long-lasting relationships are often formed between retailers and suppliers that include internal biosecurity discussions and audits. More than 70% of survey respondents sought information on pests and diseases and checked plants on arrival (although 20% didn’t). However, fewer than 50% had a biosecurity policy.
  • Knowledge and concern around pests and diseases are largely related to those already present in the UK, such as ash dieback and Phytophthora ramorum. There appeared to be less concern about potential threats not yet present in the region or country, such as Xylella fastidiosaActual incidences of pests and diseases were very low. 
  • Online retailers can have minimal contact with both the product (plants) and the customer, which has implications for awareness and responsibility for biosecurity. Within large businesses, knowledge and responsibility for biosecurity is potentially distributed across several roles, which amplifies the difficulties of targeting dialogue around risk.
  • It is difficult to distinguish between the concept of high quality and biosecurity (i.e. pest and disease free). Most survey respondents were more comfortable discussing quality (the most frequently high-ranked characteristic in a supplier was ‘quality stock’) and there is a potential for using this concept to drive biosecurity messaging. 
  • Over 70% of online retailers were either participating in, or willing to participate in the Plant Healthy scheme which aims to ensure a high biosecurity standard among suppliers. The most commonly reported barriers to taking increased biosecurity actions were being unsure of what actions to take and wanting to see other businesses adopt similar practices first.

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