Garden Retail: Chemicals and fertilisers

The withdrawal of one active ingredient has led to a flurry of developments in weedkillers

Garden centre chemical departments are set to change beyond all recognition over the next few years. As this issue of GR went to press, retailers learnt that the European Commission (EC) would no longer be supporting the use of bifenthrin, an active ingredient in a host of best-selling garden sprays including RoseClear 3, Multirose, Sprayday Greenfly Killer Plus and Bug Clear Gun.

By January 2010, a timetable for bifenthrin withdrawal will have been set. Garden centre retailers and distributors will be given six months to sell stocks of bifenthrin-based sprays. At the end of this period, consumers will have a further 12 months to use up supplies. Up to 18 branded products are scheduled to be lost due to the EC directive.

Horticultural consultant John Adlam says the EC's move presents "a major difficulty for consumers", pointing out that products due for the axe represent "the mainstay of pest controls for ornamentals and many food crops".

However, Adlam recognises that manufacturers are moving to find suitable alternative pest controls.

To understand why manufacturers are investing millions of pounds in the garden centre chemicals and fertilisers sector, it helps to look at figures from the HTA's Garden Industry Monitor.

The total spend on chemicals and fertilisers in the 12 months to September 2008 was £25.2m - which is a four per cent increase on the previous year and a 21 per cent rise over the previous five years.

In 2008, of the £25.2m spent, 55 per cent was spent on chemicals, 35 per cent on fertilisers and 10 per cent on houseplant-care products. A further HTA analysis of chemicals sold reveals that weedkillers were the biggest sellers at 50 per cent, followed by insecticides at 16 per cent, fungicides at five per cent and other items such as cat repellents and rodenticides at 29 per cent.

So while television gardening programmes have inaccurately portrayed the UK as already a nation of organic gardeners, the reality is that demand for efficient, easy-to-use sprays has been steadily growing. With consumers increasingly demanding rapid solutions to plant problems, manufacturers are racing to release new products and, in some cases, entire ranges in time for the 2010 gardening season.

Garden product giant Westland is aiming to dominate the chemicals and fertilisers market in 2010 with a huge product roll-out. Heading the line-up will be its Plant Rescue range, to be marketed as a "one-stop shop" for garden pest control. Key lines include Plant Rescue Bug Killer for Fruit & Veg, Plant Rescue Fungus Killer for Flowering Plants and Plant Rescue Bug Killer for Flowering Plants, available in ready-to-use and concentrate formats.

Westland head of marketing Keith Nicholson explains: "Plant rescue looks attractive and engaging on the shelf and embraces a totally new concept which we're calling First Aid for Plants. Consumers will be able send us images of their plant problems - by text from a mobile phone or via the internet - and within 24 hours we will send details about how to control the problem and where to buy products."

Westland has also taken the wraps off Eraza, a new high-performance metaldehyde-based slug pellet brand, which is said to be five times more effective than traditional products even though it uses lower levels of active ingredient. This has been achieved, says Westland, because each pellet contains smaller particles of metaldehyde, making it easier for slugs and snails to consume. The packaging has a child-resistant cap with a "unique" sprinkle system, ensuring pellets are evenly distributed and not left piled up by consumers - a key safety concern. Nicholson adds: "Consumers respond to strong brands and Eraza will bring new metaldehyde technology to the marketplace."

Westland is preparing to spend £1m on a 2010 TV advertising campaign for Aftercut, its lawn feed and conditioner. The product has been given an improved, patented formulation in the form of a dual-layered fertiliser, which is claimed to improve lawn greening and lead to stronger, thicker grass.

The ecological approach

Not content with flooding the market for conventional chemicals, Westland intends to appeal to eco-savvy consumers by expanding its Earth Matters range, which uses natural, sustainable ingredients. With Nicholson pointing out that "one in 10 garden purchases is now motivated by green factors", the new product range includes Earth Matters Natural Insect Control, Natural Weed Control, Tomato & Vegetable Plant Food, Natural Slug Blocker Gel and Natural Slug Blocker Granules.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is similarly upbeat about prospects for the chemicals and fertilisers sector in 2010. UK general manager Martin Breddy says: "The weedkiller market is strong. That's partially due to recent wet summers, so the weeds have been growing, but the market has been strengthened by new product activity. This stimulates demand and helps move average prices up."

Breddy is confident that Scotts will have bifenthrin replacements ready to roll out shortly, adding that the company has "a stream of activity" to replace any products under threat. In the meantime, Scotts is revamping its Weedol weedkiller brand, which will now be called Weedol Rootkill Plus. The company says the spray will be more effective with a new formulation of glyphosate and pyraflufen-ethyl.

Available in concentrate and ready-to-use formats, it promises fast-acting, effective root kill. Scotts has earmarked £1.5m for TV advertising of Weedol Rootkill Plus from Easter 2010 throughout the summer, while in-store point-of-sale material and bulk display units will be available to retailers.

Pest control

With press reports suggesting there are 65 million to 80 million rats in the UK, Scotts is also focusing on the rodent control market. Its new Home Defence range comprises natural, mechanical and chemical solutions to rat and mouse problems in homes and gardens.

It includes Home Defence Advanced Rat Killer, Home Defence Advanced Rat & Mouse Killer, Home Defence Press 'N' Set Mouse Trap and Home Defence Pre-Baited Mouse Bait Station. There is also a new ant killer for 2010 called Home Defence Ant Stop! Granules, which contains active ingredient spinosad, a new-generation insecticide that has achieved approval in organic agriculture.

And to tap the convenience market, new Home Defence Ant Stop! Singles will come in ready-measured sachets to treat individual ant nests.

Chemicals giant Bayer Garden is poised to strengthen its position in the market. Product manager Alison Mulvaney says consumers have two key demands - simplicity and ease-of-use - one reason that the firm is stepping up the use of soluble sachets sold in simple packaging. The first product in a line-up of launches will address the loss of bifenthrin. Multirose Ready To Use will be replaced by Multirose Bug Killer.

Fungus Fighter Disease Control is also being introduced and, in combination with Multirose Bug Killer, will replace the outgoing Bug & Disease Killer product. Bifenthrin-based Bug Free will make way for Organic Bug Free, which can be used on ornamentals and many edibles right up to harvest. Bayer will bring out a new formulation for Sprayday Greenfly Killer Plus containing a new active ingredient, deltamethrin. It can be used on a variety of edibles and is aimed at the UK's band of grow-your-own gardeners.

Take advantage of linked sales

Responding to a surge of interest in allotment gardening, Bayer will introduce Fruit & Vegetable Disease Control, a traditional-style protective fungicide tackling a wide range of diseases, including the increasingly problematic blight on potatoes and outdoor tomatoes.

Mulvaney believes retailers should display such products within grow-your-own sales areas to boost linked sales. To further cash in on the trend for growing edibles in containers, Baby Bio for Herbs is new for 2010. In a move described by Bayer as "range extension", it follows the launch of Baby Bio Orchid Food in 2007 and Baby Bio Citrus Food last year.

Environmentally friendly compost maker Vital Earth, based in Derbyshire, is making its first move into the organic fertiliser market with a product called Chicken Poo, a general-purpose fertiliser for flowers, fruit, vegetables, trees and shrubs. It is from British free-range hens and will be sold in 10-litre tubs with a recommended retail price of £7.99.

Managing director Steve Harper explains: "Everything consumers see is about the environment and carbon footprints, so fertiliser was the obvious next market for us. We wanted to tick all the boxes we've ticked with other products - UK-sourced, organic and recycled.

"Chicken Poo was our opportunity to do that, but in a fun way. With high awareness of chicken welfare - thanks to the likes of [TV chef] Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - it's the right time to step into the market."

Sales and marketing manager Maryanne Stokes adds: "We held focus groups to arrive at the name Chicken Poo. Customers referred to fertiliser as poo, so why not call it that? Consumers asked for a product with a whimsical, humorous edge to it."

Whether it is eco-friendly lines or conventional garden chemicals that end up dominating the market, 2010 will be a year where competition for consumer spend has never been greater.

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