“ Italian seeds. „
~What is Seeds of Italy~
Seeds of Italy is a UK based website, supplying specialist Italian seeds (although not only Italian varieties) and is the licensed UK internet mail order distributor face, of the famed Italian seed brand Franchi Seeds. Although unclear from the website, they are a branch of the same company, and are officially called "Seeds of Italy Franchi Sementi S.P.A".
In case you have never heard of Franchi Seeds, basically they are a world famous seed company, with origins dating back to the late 18th Century. So they know a thing or two about producing quality seeds.
~Background to Seeds of Italy~
To an Italian, cooking, and eating well, are an ingrained part of the culture. Consuming freshly picked herbs or vegetables from the garden or allotment, are almost part of every day life, and certainly not uncommon even in today's society, which is self-obsessed with convenience.
For many Italians which emigrated to other countries, maintaining this cultural aspect was becoming increasingly difficult. Certainly I can remember suitcases packed with seeds, vegetables, and sometimes plants (although probably illegal at the time).
Fortunately however, in the last twenty years the popularity of Italian food blossomed with increasing tourism to Italy, and the rocketing demand from the British public to try and welcome new tastes. Seemingly at the same time, and certainly recently, the British interest in 'growing your own' also took off. Seeds of Italy became soon established to cater for this need, and for many years remained quite a hidden goldmine for the keen gardener, and cook.
I was first introduced to this website by a Chef friend of mine several years ago, and up until that point , my belief was that the only chance of getting vegetables such as Radicchio, or fresh Borlotti Beans was to pay inflated prices for imported produce.
Obviously, this soon caught on in culinary circles and it wasn't long before the well known Celebrity Chefs such as James Martin, and Jamie Oliver were among the long list of celebrity customers, who often reference Seeds of Italy directly on television.
My first impression of the website, really didn't inspire confidence. If it wasn't for the fact that my friend recommended it, I really would not have trusted this website at all.
The homepage is just to plain in appearance, it is poorly centred and appears squashed into a central column. Further the information displayed on the homepage is just cluttered. It looks so passionless, and frankly unItalian.
I am not sure who thought of the colour scheme, but it is incredibly dull. Just a plain grey background, a navy blue navigation box on the left, and various font colours used randomly, which all seem to clash into an unpleasant visual experience.
Despite this, and quite strangely once you get used to the initial disappointment, it actually starts growing on you. Rather like those old Villa's in Spain or Italy, that look cracked, rugged and dilapidated on the outside, but suddenly take on a rustic charm once your accustomed to them, so does this website.
For General Appearance, I would score this website a lowly 4/10.
Just as the homepage is rather simple looking, so is the navigation.
There is nothing confusing here, it is just a case of a main navigation, and member options menu, along the top row, and browsing menus for the product range down the left hand side.
To sum it up in a nutshell, it is pretty much the same tried and tested formula as seen on countless other websites, just to be honest, it really lacks any pizzazz.
It isn't all bad news though, despite the abundant simplicity and lack of passion, the left hand menu is cleverly formatted, with all the product range well organised and easily navigable. In addition there is a useful search function, and in my opinion it would be very easy to find whatever you were looking for. Although strangely this search box is only available from the homepage, so once you dig down into the product menu, you have to return to the homepage to do a search. Just a minor point thought.
For ease of Navigation, despite the simplicity I would score this 9/10.
Ok, now this is where Seeds of Italy truly excels. This is where the passionless homepage, the over simplistic navigation menus, the bland colour scheme are all forgiven.
To someone who likes food, and doesn't mind growing some of it, this is quite simply nothing less than gastronomical pornography.
As an example take the humble Courgette, how many varieties can you think off, don't be embarrassed if its probably none. Although that isn't surprising. If like most people you buy yours in a supermarket, they are just nameless green ones. Who knows what they are. The supermarket bosses assume nobody cares about food miles or taste.
However Seeds of Italy boast 18 types of Courgette! Ranging from the 'Genovese' light greens, to the jet black looking 'Nero's di Milano;, there is so much choice, you could almost spend a lifetime trying them all. There simply wouldn't' t be room in a review to discuss the different tastes and textures.
If your interested why this is being touted as so impressive, lets compare this to one or two of the large competitors. Well 7 courgette varieties can be found on the quite popular Sutton Seeds website, and 8 on the Marshalls Seeds website.
This impressive choice continues across the board, with over 50 Varieties of Lettuce! That is not a typo that is 50! In most supermarkets you will see less than 5 on offer.
A ridiculous 7 different types of Basil, and 4 varieties of Parsley.
As well as the expected seeds, there are Truffle trees, Fruit Tree such as Figs, things like Olives etc. Seeds of Italy also sell a range of other items such as Cook Books, Pasta machines, Passata machines, and offer an opportunity for Schools to get involved with a "Seed for Schools" initiative.
For the product range, Seeds of Italy can be scored no less than 10/10!
~Cost/Quality of Products~
In my opinion the prices are favourable and very reasonable. On average ranging from £1.69 through to £2.39 and average packets have something like 400-500 seeds.
Obviously that depends on what your buying, but considering largely these would be considered specialist seeds, I would argue they are cheap and good value even when compared to suppliers such as Suttons or Marshalls.
The quality and germination rates are upwards of 99%, which is pretty much what you would expect from a company in existence since the 1780's. Further to the quality of the contents, the packets are also pretty good.
The majority of the packs are double layers, with foil sleeves inside. The packs are clearly marked with the usual information such as when to sow, harvest etc. Also contain product information in English as well as Italian (and often a few other languages).
For the Cost and Quality, Seeds of Italy are worth a good 9/10.
~Making a Purchase~
By the time you come to make a purchase on Seeds of Italy, the expectation of some high-tec interface has long passed. The Shopping Cart, and secure Checkout facility are pretty much the same box standard secure means of shopping found on other websites, but you know hey it works. It is tried and tested technology after all.
To make you first purchase, you have to register, which will then enable you to create an account. On this account, you can then access a members area with a profile for private information such as name etc, an address book where you can store your delivery address(es), and there is even a order history section, where you have a full list of previous purchases. Which is rather nifty, and not all websites offer that.
Again as most of the website, there is nothing particularly attractive about how it has been put together, but like I said by now, its expected.
From my experience of using this website for years, it has always gone through very smoothly. No glitches or mistakes with purchases have taken place. Credit card transactions have always taken place really quickly. Rather than the worryingly long processing delays which take place, on some checkout facilities.
Upon making your purchase details are sent to your email, and the transaction is clearly visible, and displayed. Together with an estimate of delivery.
For this section I would score Seeds Of Italy 9/10.
~Delivery and Customer Service~
You are given a choice of a 7 day Dispatch, and regular 14 day service, for prices of £2.99 and £1.50 respectively. There is sometimes a 3 day service which costs around £3.99, but I haven't seen that service offered for a while.
Overall in my experience the 14 day dispatch is the best deal. I have made over 20 orders over the years, and my items have always arrived within 6-10 days, which for something like seeds, is perfectly adequate and decent value.
Customer Service are brilliant, and on the rare occasion I have had a product question, I have always recieved a reply the next day. Also unlike many online companies, there are lots of ways of contacting them. There is obviously email, but also a physical snail mail address, and a UK based call centre which can also take orders for those who are still scared of mixing internet websites and credit card details.
For Delivery and Customer service Seeds of Italy are worth 10/10.
It is fair to say that Seeds of Italy isn't the prettiest website out there, it is also fair to say the website definitely appears technologically backwards, and probably it might even have been designed using Windows 3.1.
However once your past that, underneath the plain surface is a huge catalog of specialist seeds, a friendly knowledgeable customer service team which is fully supported by a UK address and UK call centre, and a customer base which includes a fair few celebrities and celebrity chefs.
For anyone who loves Italian cooking, and can stand a bit of getting your hands dirty in the back garden, this website and Franchi seeds in general are truly unbeatable in my opinion.
Overall Score for Seeds of Italy is a strong 51 out of 60, and consequently as the only real issue is appearance, I have given the website a well worthy 5 Star Rating!
THIS REVIEW IS WRITTEN EXLUSIVELY FOR DOOYOO'S USE, NO PERMISSION TO REPRODUCE THIS REVIEW IN WHOLE OR IN PART, WITHOUT MY CONSENT IS GRANTED. IF NOTICED ELSEWHERE PLEASE INFORM ME.