Beccles: Flower producers Winter Flora goes back to its roots

A FLOURISHING Suffolk-based flower producer is looking to its past to capitalise on a patriotic resurgence in buying British.

Winter Flora, a family-run supplier of dried flowers and home decorations, halted production on 150 acres of its farm in the mid-1990s, as interior design tastes moved on and cheap imports swamped the market.

But a renewed fashion for dried flowers, a rise in customers looking for afforable alternatives to fresh cut flowers and the increasing appeal of British-grown produce – boosted further by the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics – have prompted the 43-year-old company to resurrect production on a small corner of Hall Farm in Weston, near Beccles.

With contracts already agreed with major retailers including John Lewis and Next, restarting production in the UK was a chance for Winter Flora to build upon a period that has been its “biggest and best”, said managing director Richard Seppings.

“In terms of timing, it doesn’t come any better than 2012, with the jubilee and then the Olympics,” he said.

“We have just had our third conse-cutive year of really good results, and we thought it was time to begin production in the UK again. There’s definitely a buzz about London, and in all things British at the moment.”

Established in 1969 by Mr Seppings’ parents, Winter Flora was a farm diversification business which became the UK’s first dried-flower producer. After it stopped growing its own around 15 years ago, it continued to import and sell flowers and decorations, having a turnover of �1.8million last year.

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“For the past decade, most product has been imported, so it’s nice to get back to producing things in the UK. It’s very rewarding,” said Mr Seppings. “It has all sorts of other factors such as boosting local employment.”

The company has turned over 10 acres from arable to flower-growing and is using much of its original equipment, including flower driers and transplanters from the 1960s.

Despite the tentative approach in the first year, Mr Seppings believes there is potential to scale up production next year – leading to the creation of new full-time posts.

“Times of recession have not been times when we have seen a decline in the past,” he said. “We felt it was time for a revival of our traditional English flowers, so we did our market research and presented the idea at exhibitions. We had universally positive feedback.”

He added: “It’s been a market-led revival, started by the trend in ‘shabby-chic’ and less minimalistic, more floral fashion.

“Fashion is always going to play a part in the industry, but different customers move through fashions at different rates and, for many, the English garden look is one they have never moved away from.