The mature market of gardening fertilisers and chemicals has seen much change in 2015. On a broad level, active ingredients are under more pressure than ever, while at a business level, Westland took over Sinclair and amalgamated its product ranges in the sector.
At Glee, fertilisers and chemicals manufacturers and wholesalers had to respond to pressure on active ingredients such as neonicotinoids from legislative processes and non-government organisations (NGOs). Many companies looked hard at glyphosate, vowing to defend its use. Retailers said they have fewer options to recommend to customers.
The herbicide 2,4- dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), found in lawn weedkillers made by Scotts, Westland, Bayer and others, has also been questioned as a health threat, but manufacturers insist there is no issue with the product.
An NGO campaign in 2016 will target neonicotinoid use on plants destined for sale in garden centres. Buglife chief executive Matt Shardlow says the campaign will highlight research that found the chemicals are harmful to bees.
Within commercially available pesticides, while Bayer has replaced Thiacloprid, a neonicotinoid, with Deltamethrin, a pyrethroid, in Provado Ultimate Bug Killer, Scotts' Bug Clear Ultra incorporating the neonicotinoid acetamiprid is still on sale. Scotts has no plan to change the formulation at present. It has dropped metaldehyde from slug killers as the chemical comes under re-registration. The new SlugClear Ultra 3 uses ferric phosphate to replace metaldehyde. The new formulation of BugClear Fruit & Veg Gun! contains rapeseed oil, to replace pyrethrins. Naturals are eight per cent of Scotts' range, which the company does not see rising "short term". Shardlow says: "Bug Clear is probably the last big one out there."
Scotts says varroa mites, genetic factors, fungal and viral diseases, habitat loss and climatic change may all account for damage to bee populations. The company adds that neonicotinoid insecticides were developed largely to replace older classes of insecticides, such as organophosphates and organochlorines. By comparison, neonicotinoids have demonstrated lower levels of toxicity to non-target species such as birds and mammals than these older active substances. This helps to explain why many companies, including Scotts, have converted from the older active substances to neonicotinoids.
There are seven different neonicotinoid active substances in regular use around the world. The European Commission has placed a moratorium on the use of three of them - clothianidin, imidicloprid, and thiamethoxam. The UK has also been reviewing these three neonicotinoids. Acetamiprid, the active substance in Scotts' products Bug Clear Ultra and Rose Clear Ultra, is not one of them, so these products continue to be authorised for use by amateur gardeners.
The best advice to the consumer is to follow the label instructions and spray early in the morning or late in the evening - times when bees are less likely to be foraging.
However, Scotts chairman and chief executive officer Jim Hagedorn says he is concerned about European legislation, particularly on neonicotinoids: "We'll adapt but it's short-sighted. Not giving gardeners the tools is unfair. We have replacements but they're not as effective and more expensive. If it's unsafe I get it, but it's still allowed to be used on food."
Buglife's Shardlow adds that there is no campaign at the moment on glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in best-selling consumer product Roundup. London-based West Six and North One Garden Centres stopped selling weedkiller Roundup this year after pressure from customers. But there is no evidence that any other UK retailers are planning to stop selling products containing the active.
Protection measures stressed
Gary Philpotts, UK business director at Roundup manufacturer Monsanto, says: "There is a wealth of data available to regulatory authorities around the world dating back more than 40 years. This data is used to periodically evaluate glyphosate's suitability for approval. There are also a number of studies prescribed by the authorities to ensure that substances do not pose unacceptable risks to human health, the environment and wildlife.
"Glyphosate is readily degraded by soil microbes and therefore generally dissipates rapidly from garden environments. Of course, helping gardeners to use and dispose of garden chemicals safely is a priority for the industry and several communication initiatives with the RSPB, RHS and the British Beekeepers Association are ensuring that the impact of these helpful products keeps risks to a minimum."
Bayer product manager Alison Mulvaney says campaigns against actives including glyphosate are "driven by NGOs and social media pressure". She adds: "The industry needs to get its defence prepared to protect the actives otherwise we're going to end up with nothing to use in the garden."
Neudorff sales director Jude Beharall says: "European pressure on glyphosate will impact but not to the degree of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are only a slice but glyphosate is almost the whole cake. Traditional gardeners have been using it for decades and unless they're told they can't it will continue to prove popular. While it's on the market, it's safe. I have to go with the expert view."
Beharall suggests that rival controls companies will defend under-pressure active glyphosate "to the hilt" but maintains that "alternatives do work". He conceded that glyphosate is "dominant in the market" but neonicotinoids went out of the market "under not a lot of pressure". The development costs of glyphosate "were recouped years ago but ultimately, long term, the industry will have to find a replacement", he adds. Systemic controls are available from Neudorff, Vitax (SPK) and Hygea in Ireland.
Vitax sales manager Colin Wetherley Mein says: "Pressure on actives is giving us a hard run for our money. We're trying to reinvent the wheel and bringing out alternatives, not that they're as effective. We do the best we can with what we've got."
Strong garden brands
Westland has repositioned Sinclair's Growing Success and DeadFast brands. Marketing director Keith Nicholson says: "We have acquired a number of strong garden brands and we have moved quickly to focus on what these brands mean to gardeners and the trade.
"In essence, we have focused on the core heritage of our brands. Going forward we will be developing a strong innovation pipeline, a clear communication plan and in-store support for J Arthur Bower's, Growing Success, DeadFast, New Horizon and Cambark."
In addition, a "focused" range of fertilisers will support the Westland range, centred on straights. J Arthur Bower's granular feeds including Bonemeal and Growmore will also form a part of the range, with the traditional feeds continuing alongside the Westland and GroSure feed range. Garotta will be promoted as a stand-alone brand alongside Growing Success, DeadFast and Westland's Resolva and Eraza.
The popularity of Roundup Gel continues to rise in the UK, with unit sales up by 31 per cent versus the same period last year (GfK Panelmarket Hitlist, January to May). The overall market is down 1.4 per cent in units and down 4.9 per cent in value. The total houseplant care market has grown by 4.7 per cent in 2015, with garden centres 0.4 per cent up. The fertiliser market has grown 3.1 per cent in garden centres while the overall fertiliser market is up one per cent.
Scotts Miracle Gro has launched two orchid plant sprays, two rose and shrub feeds and ready-to-use indoor plant food concentrate. Bayer has launched Phostrogen and relaunched its Baby Bio brand in two brands - fruit and veg and flower and shrub.
One of Neudorff's best-selling products of 2015 will be available to retailers and gardeners in a larger pack size. Neudorff's Sluggo slug and snail killer experienced an 80 per cent increase in sales during April and May 2015 compared with the same period in 2014. In the general market, slug killer sales were up to half as good as 2014 because of less suitable weather conditions for the garden pests.
Bayer research into consumer preference shows Miracle-Gro at 46 per cent, with other brands well behind. The most recognised brands in gardening - with aided awareness - are Baby Bio (93 per cent), Miracle-Gro (89), Phostrogen (54), Tomorite (40), Westland (38), Bayer (35), J Arthur Bower's (27), Toprose (24), Vitax (17), Chempak (14), Osmocote (12), Growth Technology (10) and Fito (8).
Bayer research into consumer preference shows Miracle-Gro at 46 per cent, with other brands well behind. The most recognised brands in gardening (with aided awareness):
Baby Bio 93%
J Arthur Bower's 27%
Growth Technology 10%