Burpee acquires Heronswood Nursery

Burpee, the nearly 125-year-old Warminster, PA-based plant and seed cataloger/retailer, acquired Kingston, WA-based Heronswood Nursery Ltd. on June 28. Heronswood, a 15-year-old company, publishes an annual catalog of rare plants, trees, and shrubbery.

Bill Clark, assistant to Burpee president George Ball Jr., would not disclose the terms of the agreement, other than to say, “It was an asset purchase.” No personnel changes are planned at either company as a result of the acquisition. Heronswood co-owners Dan Hinkley and Robert L. Jones will still be actively involved.

The acquisition will not alter the circulation of either catalog, which reach entirely different markets. “The Heronswood catalog costs $8 and features 328 pages of text – without photos – and lists plants by their Latin names,” Clark says. “It’s mailed to between 50,000 and 100,000 buyers, who are serious about their rare perennials, shrubs, vines, and trees.” On the other hand, Burpee’s core catalog is free, full of photos, and mails to a more general audience of 5 million gardeners. Clark would not disclose the sales of either cataloger.

Despite the differences, Clark is confident the books will complement one another. “There are people on the Burpee mailing list who would love the Heronswood catalog, and vice versa,” he says. Therefore, the company hopes to “bring more attention to the Heronswood product line among the Burpee buyers and elicit Burpee inquiries among the Heronswood buyers.”

A broader scope

The benefits of buying Heronswood extend beyond sharing customer databases. “Our acquisition of Heronswood is part of a broader strategy to expand Burpee’s development of new plant materials, and new innovations in plants beyond veggies and flowers,” Clark says. “We’ll be taking a look at our back-end operations to see what we can do in the way of sharing call centers, but the catalog operations for both books will for the most part remain unchanged.”

Burpee does not have concrete plans to acquire other gardening catalogs, but Clark says that the company is exploring its options. “We have our sights on developing more internal catalogs as we develop the merchandising mix for our four stores,” he says. “We may launch a general merchandise catalog that’s geared toward gardeners and the gardening lifestyle.”

In addition to its comprehensive catalog, which mails in the spring and the fall, Burpee publishes the Burpee Heirloom seed catalog, which sells aged, open-pollinated varieties of vegetable seeds.

Has Walnut Acres bought the farm? While it’s true that the 54-year-old organic foods cataloger has suspended sales, the company insists that it’s only a temporary measure.

On its Website and on the outgoing phone message of its 800-number, Arlington, VA-based Walnut Acres says that it is has opted to suspend sales while it redesigns its product offering and brand assortment. In addition, a press release says Walnut Acres will cease manufacturing operations at its Penns Creek, PA, location effective Aug. 19: “…the remote geographic locations of the plant is detrimental in relation to the source of ingredients used in products and the ultimate consumption points of finished goods.”

Walnut Acres did not return calls, but a spokeswoman for its public relations agency, MJ Marketing, echoes the press release. No alternative manufacturing site has been revealed, says MJ’s Mary Jo Klein, and the company will not say when it will resume accepting sales, other than “sometime this fall.”

Walnut Acres completed a $4 million equity financing deal in August 1999 with David C. Cole, former president of AOL Internet Services. The agreement was expected to breathe new life into the organic foods purveyor, which faced increasing competition in the dot-com environment.

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