2023: A Millbrook year in numbers

It’s January and as always a good time for us to look back over the year that's just finished, to look forward to 2024 and think about what our aims and aspirations are for the coming months. Personally I love coming back to work after Christmas, seeing all the plants and gardening products arriving as we turn back into a garden retailer and can start looking forward to the longer, warmer days of Spring. 

Millbrook, like most garden centres, has certainly evolved over the last few years. I’m always amazed at the variety of products and services that we offer and we're constantly looking for new ideas to take our business forward. A big focus for us recently is improving our sustainability - looking at what we sell, where it comes from and what our overall impact on the environment is. Most of our decisions over the next few years will be driven by this. 

Good quality plants

At our heart we're still a garden retailer and in 2023 we sold over 301,000 plants, the majority of which came from British growers.  Increasingly we're working with local nurseries to source our plants. A good example of this is Staplehurst Nursery - last year we bought 17,500 plants from them including Christmas poinsettias, Geraniums, Dahlias and Cyclamen.  We're hoping to source many more crops from Staplehurst this year including Pansies and Violas in the autumn months. I firmly believe that planting more plants has the most positive impact on our environment. If we all chose to plant a tree or shrub in our gardens this year the benefits to wildlife, air quality, carbon reduction and not forgetting our own well-being would be substantial. 

Looking after wildlife 

Prominent in the news is the decline of wildlife in the UK. Britain is sadly one of the most wildlife depleted countries in the world. As gardeners there is a lot we can do for wildlife and at Millbrook we're encouraging and educating our customers to think about this when they shop. In 2023 we sold over 50 tonnes of wild bird food, so there are already plenty of bird friendly gardens across Kent, but there is a lot more we can do to help the bugs and beasties.  We're one of the first garden retailers to stop selling synthetic pesticides and to encourage our customers to garden in a more wildlife friendly way. There are more and more products and techniques available to keep your plants strong and healthy without needing to reach for a bug killer, so just ask our knowledgeable team in-store for help. Keep an eye on our emails, blogs, social media and Millbrook Growers talks to learn more about this important topic in 2024. 

Going peat-free 

Last year we sold over 50,000 bags of compost – that is 1.6 million litres of soil - and for the first year ever all of these were completely peat-free. We are one of the only independent garden centres in the UK to have ditched peat completely, and this year we will be supporting our customers to grow better peat-free plants with new products such as Ecofective's Organic Superfood. The perfect partner for peat-free compost, developed and made in the UK.  We also offer compost bag recycling at both our centres so simply bring your empty bags back to us and we'll do the rest.   

Championing local

The fastest growing departments last year were our Food halls and the Butchers at Gravesend.  We brought the butchers in house when Rooks went into administration in March 2022 taking on two of their butchers, both conveniently called Steve, who came with a wealth of experience.  One of our specialities is our homemade sausages, all of which are made on site. Last year we made over 40,000 ranging from our favourite Millbrook sausage to cheese and marmite flavour (yuk!).  We are pleased that all the sausages served in our restaurants are handmade at Millbrook, and customers can pick them up at our Gravesend store to take home. 

We have been focusing on finding lots of local food and drink producers and we're really lucky in Kent to have such a huge range to choose from.  We now have 47 local suppliers serving everything from high quality wine, cider, beer and gin to chocolates, biscuits, jams and chutneys.  With so many great producers it is hard to focus on just one but we are excited to be working with Wise Owl Cider – a family run business based in the heart of the Kent countryside making award winning artisan craft cider. They epitomise the kind of producer we're proud to support.  Our bestselling local wine last year was the Biddenden Gribble Bridge Rose; here’s to looking forward to long warm evenings and a nice glass of local rose this Summer!   

Hard work and home baking

Our catering teams have been working really hard and like so many other restaurants we have struggled to recruit which has made it challenging.  Amazingly and in-spite of these challenges we have served over 125,000 cups of coffee and our bakers behind the scenes have made over 28,000 scones.  I’m really proud that we make all our meals from scratch, and that all our scones and cakes at Gravesend are baked in-house.  Peep through the glass window in the Mill to see Charlene and the team hard at work baking delicious treats, and don’t forget to try them when you pop in for a visit!

Striving to be greener

Regular customers to The Mill may have noticed that we added lots of solar panels to the roof last summer.  So far they have generated 22,156 kWh of electricity. We hope that these new panels, together with the existing ones, will contribute 37% of our total electricity supply in 2024.  We have plans to add more panels to Gravesend over time and hopefully to Staplehurst later in the year in our aim to become carbon neutral.  Between 2022 and 2023 we managed to reduce our carbon emissions by 27.5% by really looking closely at everything we do as a business. We've worked hard to reduce and recycle more waste, reduce water usage by investing in new plant tables and now opt to travel by train rather than flying for our buying trips. We know there is so much more that can be done and our team of passionate sustainability champions are helping us decide what we tackle next.  

Supporting charity

Finally we’ve been delighted to support Greenfingers charity in 2023. With the generous support of customers and staff we raised over £27,000 towards the new hospice garden at Demelza house near Sittingbourne which was completed in November. Several members of our team loved helping with the planting of this wonderful garden and we look forward to the official opening this Spring. 

We're lucky as an industry that Garden Centres are seen as positive places to visit. We have lots of space, free parking, good coffee and lovely plants which give us a real point of difference over high street retailers.  In spite of the challenges and world issues that affect our business I’m optimistic that with our team of positive people we can have a successful 2024, continue to help our customers grow their gardens and do our bit for the planet at the same time. 

Happy New Year!

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