Earlier in 2020 the first COVID lockdown triggered a massive spike in demand for vegetable seeds. With little to do at home, those with the opportunity to grow their own food in gardens and allotments did so like never before. Initially garden centres were all closed, online suppliers struggled to cope with demand as they were overwhelmed with seed orders. Now, as 2021 approaches, with a third lockdown (Tier 4) in place for Christmas I find myself thinking of seed orders for the coming growing season. But what has become of prices? With a huge increase in demand, you would be forgiven for thinking that seed prices must have increased accordingly.
The 2021 Seed Price Index (SPI) – who sells the cheapest veg seeds?
For a number of years I have put together a notional basket of vegetable seeds and compared the prices per major seed company. Of course not all seed packets contain the same number of seeds so a comparison is not easily done at first glance, instead I have to calculate the price per seed and extrapolate that to 1000 seeds. There’s also the cost of postage and packaging to consider.
I skipped the Seed Price Index (SPI) in early 2020 so have put together an update for 2021. I have also slightly revised the comparison basket choices (to make a more even comparison) and replaced unwins.co.uk who have gone by the wayside (absorbed into Marshalls)
The Vegetable Seed Comparison Basket
My notional basket contains the TEN varieties shown in the table below. In the right column I show the cheapest supplier based on price per seed i.e. the packet might cost more than a rival supplier but it contains more seeds (thus reducing the actual price per seed and plant).
|Seed Variety||Cheapest Seed Supplier|
|Carrot – Fly Resistant||simplyseed.co.uk|
|Parsnip Seeds – F1 Gladiator||sarahraven.com (Tender & True)|
|Swede Marian, Ruby, Tweed||seedparade.co.uk|
|Runner Bean Polestar’ or Firestorm||kingsseeds.com|
|Cucumber (Burpless / Marketmore)||simplyseed.co.uk|
|Sweetcorn Swift F1 or Bantam||simplyseed.co.uk|
|Butternut (Walthams or Sweetmax)||seedparade.co.uk|
|Sweet Pepper (Red Marconi)||kingsseeds.com|
Average cost per ‘000 seeds in the whole comparison basket
On a ‘per ‘000 seeds’ price basis across ten varieties we see that, for the fourth year running, seedparade.co.uk remain the cheapest supplier of vegetable seeds. Indeed the cost of their seeds has even declined year on year since 2018!
Certainly no sign of demand based price increases after the pandemic year. At the bottom of the table Thompson & Morgan remain the most expensive source of vegetable seeds, more than three times the price of seedparade.co.uk or kingsseeds.com. That said, a multi year comparison does show that T&M have reduced their per seed price since 2018, possibly by increasing the size of packet quantities, so they are better value now than they were. The best time to buy from Thompson & Morgan is when they are running one of their ‘every pack £1’ deals, that’s the time I usually buy from them as the range is excellent.
Three companies have increased their seed prices over the past 2 years, Marshalls (+15.18%), organiccatalogue.com (23.66%) and Dobies.co.uk (+3.41%). Interestingly Dobies (a Suttons owned company) bought organiccatalogue.com a couple of years ago which seems to have bought prices up to Dobies levels.
|Seed Supplier||Variance 2019-21||2021||2019||2018|
Cheapest seed vendor by actual packet and postage cost
In practical terms it is not possible to order seeds on a cost per ‘000 basis, since the packets are fixed in size by the sellers. We also have postage and packaging to consider. Shown below is the total cost of ordering the comparison basket of vegetable seeds from each vendor. It doesn’t change the order much at the top end (the cheapest sellers remain seedparade.co.uk, simplyseeds.co.uk and kingsseeds.com). Marshalls drop quite a way down the table due to their postage cost of £4.99 and their packet price (albeit packets containing larger quantities of seeds).
|Seed Supplier||Seeds £||Postage £||Total £|
In summary you could order the same basket of seeds from seedparade.co.uk for £13.69 or go to thompson-morgan.com and pay £31.69 (at standard prices). This does of course exclude any quality comparison, do you get what you pay for? I can only tell you that I have grown seeds from both companies and all have been perfectly adequate in terms of germination and crop yield.
Allotment Association Seed Deals
Some seed vendors offer bulk ordering deals to allotment associations. Kings Seeds for example offer a 50% discount on their seeds for a combined order. Given that they are already one of the cheapest vegetable seed suppliers, 50% off would make them the best deal in town. However, it does require somebody to collate and collect all the orders by hand, and frankly when we tried that it didn’t get off the ground as plot holders tend to buy at different times.
Dobies also offer a 50% discount scheme for allotment and garden associations, it is easier to administer, members simply get given a discount code. However, since Dobies are already more than twice the price of seedparade.co.uk’s standard prices your members would still be better off going directly to seedparade.co.uk.
Supporting unusual seed suppliers
For the most part I must emphasise that seed price is less of a factor for me. I like to place orders for more unusual ‘heritage’ seeds with specialist seed companies. This is in part because I like to zig when others zag, but also because it is important that we support the heritage varieties and keep them viable for future generations. God forbid we find ourselves beholden to three or four major seed companies with the rights to an ever declining portfolio of specially controlled F1 varieties. My favourite seed vendors are realseeds.co.uk, pennardplants.com and Franchi’s seedsofitaly.com. These seed companies are certainly not the cheapest, but they are also usually not the most expensive either.