Lawn-care brands step up marketing of combined grass seed and fertilizer products

Grass seed products for consumers are now being competitively marketed in a professional way, says Matthew Appleby.

Firms launching new products & packaging
Firms launching new products & packaging

Miracle-Gro Patch Magic won first prize at garden centre supplier trade show Glee 2009 in the best new garden care category and it is said to be a "revolutionary" combination of grass seed, feed and coir.

Scotts is promoting the product as the only patching mix that helps the seed grow. The coir absorbs water and holds the feed for the seed. Miracle-Gro Patch Magic promises 50 per cent thicker grass while claiming to use half the water of other products. The coir layer changes colour when it dries out, indicating it needs watering.

Three pack sizes are available: a 750g golden shaker jar that treats up to 10 patches (RRP £9.99); a 1.5kg bag to will treat 20 patches (RRP £15.99); and a 3.6kg bag to treat up to 16sq m (RRP £24.99).

Product innovation

The Glee judges, Caroline Owen, managing director of Scotsdales Garden Centre, and Lloyd Taylor, gardening buyer at Wilkinsons, say: "Miracle-Gro Patch Magic has fresh, bold packaging that showcases an innovative new product. It is really consumer focused, with easy-to-understand instructions. The product also offers excellent value for money, plus the consumer guarantee adds confidence in purchase decision."

The product will be supported by a £1m TV advertising campaign. Scotts general manager Martin Breddy says: "We will try to mirror the hugely successful launch of this product in the US under the Scotts EZSeed brand name. There they had to scale back the advertising, because huge consumer demand was exceeding the potential supply."

Scotts CEO Jim Hagedorn says: "Our product launch in the US led to a more than 70 per cent increase in consumer purchases of lawn patching products, so we're expecting great results from the UK too. We are building a new production facility and we are confident that expanded manufacturing capacity will allow EZSeed and Patch Magic to continue to be important product offerings for Scotts Miracle-Gro for years to come."

Scotts has also launched Miracle-Gro All Purpose Grass Seed - a mix of 90 per cent grass seed and 10 per cent fertiliser. It is available in three sizes: the 210g carton is to sow a 7sq m patch (RRP £4.99); the 450g re-sealable sack to sow a 15sq m lawn (RRP £7.99); and 900g re-sealable sack to sow double that area (RRP £12.99).

To complete the range is Miracle-Gro Lawn Thickener - a combination of 60 per cent grass seed and 40 per cent fertiliser to over-seed worn out lawns in a 500g re-sealable sack to over-seed a 20sq m lawn (RRP £9.99).

Westland Horticulture is also seeking to "raise the bar" in lawn-care performance. Aftercut, Westland's lawn-care brand, has an improved patented formulation in the form of a dual-layered fertiliser, which aims to deliver improved greening and increased tillering for a stronger, thicker lawn.

Danielle McBride, products manager for the lawn-care category at Westland, says: "For the 2010 season we have gone a step further, and not only have we re-vamped the communication the formulation has been enhanced.

"There are more than 15 million lawn owners out there and this product hits so many gardening demands - reduced lawn maintenance, a tougher healthier lawn, visibly greener grass in days, thicker denser lawn that helps suppress weeds and moss. It is time to take the brand loyalty target to the next level."

Stretching the range

This year also sees the launch of the new Surestart lawn seed range, with nutrient coatings to attract moisture, add hormones, buffer and protect against damping off and birds.

McBride says: "Selecting the best lawn seed for a specific task can be confusing for the consumer. The Surestart range makes selection simple by concentrating on six key lawn requirements from tough, to fine closely-knit turf.

"The range also features an extra-fast germination seed, one for shady conditions, a multi-purpose pack, and our fastest ever repair kit, which consists of a special mix of Surestart coated seed and feed."

The new Aftercut box covering 100m2 has a RRP £5.99, the box covering 285m2 has a RRP of £11.99, the hand-held spreader covering 100m2 costs £7.99 and the bag that will cover 500m2 is £17.99.

Surestart has a RRP ranging from £4.99 to cover 10m2, and £8.99 to cover 30m2. The hand-held spreader that also covers 30m2 costs £9.99.

Westland's Lawn refresh is also coated and designed for "granted germination and establishment". The product, which reaches peak sales in March-April and September-October, comes in 20m2 and 100m2 packs.

Industry Views

Lawn Society founder Mike Seaton said the Miracle-Gro Patch Magic grass seed product will work but because it is 89 per cent coir, but does not have as much lawn seed in it as he would like it to have: "I've seen it in garden centres but I don't think there's much revolutionary stuff in it. The grass-seed element is small so it is a lot of money for coir.

"Some grass seed will come up. It is going to retain moisture because of the coir. It's just a shame that there's so much coir and so little grass seed."

Regarding Westland's Surestart, Seaton says: "In the professional industry, we have been using pre-germinated coated grass seed for decades, and now it has rubbed off into the consumer market. Will the consumer understand? I don't know."

On both products, he adds: "Something that is well-marketed is going to move like the Spice Girls. The problem is that garden centres have a good range in spring but as you get through the growing year less and less is available on the shelves."

He cites his local centre in Surrey, Longacres, as having a wide great range, but the nearby, smaller Notcutts, less so. But Seaton says the companies should both be concentrating on feed rather than seed: "One message they should be getting across is to feed lawns twice a year with a good fertiliser."

Buckingham Garden Centre and Nurseries merchandising manager Chris Day says both Scotts and Westland products are nicely presented: "The Scotts product is aimed at the beginner, less informed gardener."

But anything that is going to diffuse the mystique about lawn care has got to be good. He believes that this will sell well in DIY stores where people are less well informed. He adds that garden centre customers ask a lot of questions and are able to take more of their own lawn-care decisions. Day says that gardeners should overseed because birds take some seed and Patch Magic would "perhaps work better on thin areas than bald areas".

Scotts Miracle-Gro trade spokesman Geoff Hodge says: "When Patch Magic is applied at the recommended rate of application it applies at 34g+ of grass seed per square metre - the industry norm. Trial data supports the ratio of coir to seed content to obtain the improved germination result with reduced irrigation care. Known numbers of seed combined with varying ratios of coir were used to find the optimum threshold for performance."

Head to head

Westland and Scotts are in direct competition in supporting their garden centre customers' spending, by running garden product TV and press campaigns this spring. Westland is claiming a £3m spend and Scotts countering by saying it is spending £5.3m on TV advertising.

Westland Horticulture says: "We are again the big spender in the gardening sector with a £3m TV and press campaign supporting our leading brands Resolva and Aftercut and the launch of the Plant Rescue range, ERAZA slug and snail killer and the revolutionary Gro-Sure seeds."

Scotts Miracle-Gro Company says it "continues to put its full weight behind its brands and products, with a massive TV and in-store promotional plan for 2010. A £5.3m TV advertising campaign will ensure customers come flocking to stores to get their hands on products that are guaranteed to provide great results and solve many of the nagging problems that are the most frustrating to consumers."

Scotts will promote Miracle-Gro Patch Magic, Weedol Rootkill Plus, Roundup and EverGreen lawn care, with TV campaigns ranging between £600,000 and £1.7m each.

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