What is Evergreen planning for its garden care brands?

Evergreen Garden Care, the "superbrand" behind the household products Miracle-Gro and Evergreen, is keen to show off what happens behind the scenes at its research and development facility in Levington, Suffolk.

After a name change (from Scotts Miracle-Gro) in July 2018, following a $250m private equity buyout of the European and Australasian parts of US-based Scotts in September 2017, Evergreen wants to show its commitment to R&D in a changing regulatory climate.

Exponent Private Equity has spent £350,000 at Levington, the former Fisons research base, which is the only one of its nature owned by a garden care company in the UK. 

Overall turnover for 21 April 2017 to 30 September 2018 was €314m, with a €38m operating loss and total comprehensive loss for the period of €69m. Evergreen spent €7.1m on R&D, partly at its French base in Morance.

In February 2018, Evergreen bought the trade and assets of Roundup from Monsanto. In June 2018, it bought Dutch firm Pokon and, later in 2018, New Zealand company Tui Products. It closed its Sutton Bridge site and sold it in 2018. An Enterprise Resource Planning system, SAP S4 Hanna, was installed in 2019. The report said Brexit could have a significant impact on the business. 

Evergreen says its place in the £457m annual turnover UK garden care market remains strong:

  • Number one and two in the £186m growing media market with Levington and Miracle Gro.
  • Number one and two in the plant food market with Miracle Gro and Tomorite.
  • Number one in the £33m lawn food market with Miracle Gro.
  • Number one in the £69m pest and disease market with "Clear" products such as Roseclear.
  • Number one and three in the £55m weedkiller market with Roundup and Weedol.

Court action

Roundup has become something of a "toxic" brand in the USA as people take Bayer to court over glyphosate carcinogen claims, winning hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

But Evergreen customer marketing manager Jane Hartley says Roundup in the UK is "still selling", adding: "We're looking at more natural solutions going forward, but at present people are still buying Roundup. We've not seen a difference in sales.

"It's clear we needed to offer people choice, which is why we offered Roundup Speed Ultra [which includes acetic acid rather than glyphosate]. There are clearly customers that have a view and we try and reassure them about that on the customer service line."

Brand awareness of "the biggest garden care brand in Europe" Miracle-Gro is 85%, Baby Bio is 79%, Weedol 72%, Roundup 64% and Evergreen 58%. There is a 56% media "share of voice".

In 2019, Evergreen spent £3.5m on advertising including for Miracle-Gro (Miracle-Gro and Evergreen lawn-care brands were merged in 2019) and Roundup Speed Ultra. This spend is promised to go up again in 2020.

The non-glyphosate product is designed to give "choice", says assistant brand manager Lindsay Cooper. "We want to stay behind the brand. It's not a brand as far as we're concerned that has an issue at all."

She adds that Evergreen will launch more naturals "across the board" at Glee, with weedkiller sales generally on the decline. Evergreen says it is aware that customers such as B&Q are "very radical" and want to remove some chemicals from ranges. France's ban on synthetic garden chemicals (organics are allowed) is now more of an influence on UK introductions than the old pipeline from the USA. Evergreen France markets the Naturen range.

Category potential

Cooper says confusing in-store displays that have too many options are partly to blame for weedkiller category reduction. She cites a study that found 78% of consumers get rid of weeds — the biggest activity they do in their gardens, above even planting or lawns — as evidence that the category has potential to grow again.

New product development general manager Elaine Gotts explains how new products went from ideation, to formulation, through regulation, then through the supply chain and on to sale. Producing more side-by-side contrast and time-lapse pictures are a focus to show the benefits of products.

Evergreen has Oreto certification to be recognised for efficacy testing and follows European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization guidelines on how to run experiments, which Gotts says will not change whatever happens with Brexit. She notes that there was "concern" about a venture capitalist buying the company and cutting R&D, but the £350,000 spend on improvements to facilities at Levington shows that is not the case.

Gotts says peat-free sales are similar to 9% industry figures, although Scotts/Evergreen has had products available for 25 years now. The bigger change has been reducing Miracle-Gro All Purpose from 100% peat to 50%. GfK puts the peat-free rate at 17%, but Gotts says that is probably because the analyst also includes mulch, bark and soil improvers.

The "holy grail" is a root-killing natural weedkiller and there are no radical new ingredients to replace the old actives, such as the threatened or banned glyphosate, metaldehyde or neonicotinoids. But instead there will be reformulations of replacements such as acetic acid. "It's more in terms of looking at alternative ways of using that," says Gotts. "A big trend is for more natural products in controls, fertiliser and growing media."

Copper says education is important. "A lot of people are not buying naturals because they don't believe they work," she adds. "We'll have new ranges at Glee in all areas — growing and controls."

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