Fertilisers and chemicals - a garden retail market opportunity

Suppliers are aiming to fill what they see as a gap in the market for straight fertilisers, says Matthew Appleby.

Weedkiller sales have been relatively buoyant - image Neudorff
Weedkiller sales have been relatively buoyant - image Neudorff

Straight fertiliser launches and relaunches were a theme at Glee last month as major suppliers saw mileage in the neglected sector. Scotts launched a brand new range of straights, while Westland brought its range together under the Gro-Sure brand. Vital Earth launched a range with some of the products under the GroWise brand.

Meanwhile, Vitax relaunched its range in new packaging. Neudorff announced that it has split from Doff and will market itself in the UK alone. Sinclair also has a strong place in the market with Growing Success.

The 2012 garden care market was tough but had bright areas. Retail analyst GfK has reported that the sales value for the sector as a whole - lawn fertilisers, lawn spreader, lawn seed, plant fertilisers, houseplant care - decreased by 14 per cent in the year-to-date (YTD) to July 2012 versus 2011.

But sales of slug killers grew by 85 per cent in value year-on-year in July 2012. Unit sales increased by 29.9 per cent in July 2012 YTD when compared to the previous year. Weedkiller sales reported 0.3 percent YTD value growth.

Decline anticipated

GfK account director Simon Foy says: "The decline in sales of garden care products was to be expected given the weather we've had. However, the robustness of sales in the chemicals area is a positive for the industry, illustrated by strong growth in slug killers and stable value sales YTD for weedkillers."

Scotts UK consumer business group director Jeff Kwiatkowski says his company's sales beat the market average: "Despite the atrocious wet weather, sales of weedkillers and controls have been relatively buoyant. As a result, sales have remained stronger than the market average this year."

New this year, the Scotts Miracle-Gro range of straights fertilisers and general garden feeds is designed to complement the company's existing portfolio of feeds and growing media.

Ipsos MORI research and GfK figures show straights are used by all gardeners all around the garden, with 81 per cent using them on flowers and 48 per cent using them on edibles. Of these users, 35 per cent are aged 35-54, 21 per cent are aged 55-64 and 77 per cent of straights consumers are "actively seeking gardening help and are still learning," says Scotts. "This makes them an ideal consumer audience to promote these products to."

Scotts has also launched Weedol Rootkill Plus in a liquid concentrate format within single-dose plastic tubes. Scott's brand Roundup has begun a "tough weeds" consumer communications campaign this autumn. The company is promoting Black Label Roundup use past the traditional end of the season.

The range comprises the one-litre XL Tough and Deep Root trigger spray, the five-litre XL Tough and Deep Root Pull & Spray and the super concentrate Tree Stump & Root Killer that can also tackle deep-rooted weeds such as Japanese knotweed.

Scotts products launched are Growmore: Garden Plant Food; Chicken Manure: Soil Enricher; Fish, Blood & Bone: All Purpose Plant Food; Bone Meal: Natural Root Builder; Lime: Natural Soil Improver; Sulphate of Ammonia: Growth Booster; Sulphate of Potash: Natural Fruit & Flower Enhancer; Superphosphate: Fruit & Vegetable Ripener; Sulphate of Iron: Ericaceous Soil Conditioner; Magnesium Salts: Natural Source of Epsom Salts; and Compost Maker.

The products will be available in 1.5kg cartons, 3.5kg cartons and 10kg plastic tubs. Suggested retail prices range from £3.99 or £4.49 for 1.5kg cartons and £5.99 for 3.5kg cartons to £13.99 for 10kg tubs.

Brand label

Westland marketing director Keith Nicholson has brought the Gro-Sure brand label to feeds, planters, compost and seeds this year. Leading the range is new "sow n gro" Easy Flowers and it also includes vermiculite, perlite, tomato food, all-purpose plant food, flower booster soluble plant food, slow-release plant food, slow-release tablets, rhododendron/azalea/camellia plant food and rhododendron/azalea/camellia liquid plant food.

Nicholson says Westland's weed control market share was up, with Resolva 31 per cent up this year to the end of May. GfK YTD figures to May 2012 show the weedkiller category without Resolva has declined by 13 per cent. Xtra Tough Resolva, with double-strength glyphosate, is a new product. Similar GfK figures show Resolva Lawn Weedkillers continue to be the market leader. Westland launched the strapline "there's more to life with Westland" at Glee, to show consumers "that Westland is a world of abundance".

Neudorff has split from Doff and will now market its organic chemical products in the UK via Solus. The German company launched in the UK working with Doff in 2012 but now says Doff's emphasis on non-organics is going in a "different direction" to its own organic focus. Doff will continue to sell its own products on a price-driven basis in competition with Bayer, Scotts and Westland.

For the 2013 season, Neudorff offers new product display units that can feature eight best-selling products in pre-filled displays that can generate more linked sales. Products include a disease preventer for roses that targets fungal diseases such as black spot, powdery mildew and rust and has natural active ingredients - seaweed extracts, fatty acids and trace elements.

Neudorff's new liquid Organic Rose Feed is made from vegetable ingredients, while Organic Rose & Shrub Food is now available in a 750g stand-up pouch. Another new arrival, Organic Rhododendron, Azalea & Camellia Food, is also made from natural raw materials and includes MyccoVital - mycorrhizal fungi that will help expand the root systems of plants by 150 times.

Fertilisers range

Vital Earth/Growise launched a range of fertilisers, including Growmore and lime in seven-10kg tubs at £8.99-£13.99 RRP. Vital Earth managing director Steve Harper says: "There is a big opportunity. Fertiliser was the obvious next step for us and we plan to enlarge the range with more sizes and boxes." He points out that the palletised products are easy to add to the company's compost range. Harper says anyone asking for a premium price for straights might suffer because the products are garden centre basics.

Vitax has a new growing-media rang and has repackaged its straight fertiliser range. Its 10kg fertiliser tubs are also being remarketed.

Meanwhile Bayer, where Darren Brown has replaced Austin Davies as UK head after a year in the role following a move from the company's consumer health department, launched Baby Bio Orchid Drip Feeders to go with 2012 launch Baby Bio Original Drip Feeders. Provado Ultimate Bug Killer is now in an "easy dose" concentrate bottle.

Bayer says it can service garden centres with houseplant feeders better than smaller operators. In 2013, Provado Ultimate Bug Killer will come with wild flower seeds from Mr Fothergill's. Bayer says straight products have been neglected for a few years and been seen as "a bit old-fashioned".

Online training

Roundup has launched a web-based training programme, the Roundup Academy, at www.roundup-garden.com/trade. It is designed to provide wholesale and retail staff with a better understanding of weed control and, in turn, secure sales. Participants will need to enter a unique code, which can be obtained from Scotts' sales representatives, managers and customer services team.

Roundup UK business director Gary Philpotts says: "Research shows that 45 per cent of customers shopping for ferts and chems leave without buying anything, mainly because they are confused by the different options. By providing staff with the knowledge to offer informed advice, they can recommend the best product to a customer based on their individual needs and guide them towards making a purchasing decision."

Roundup saw sales rise from 32 per cent to 39 per cent of the weedkiller market in the first half of 2012. It had six of the top eight GfK weedkiller products by value sales, with one-litre RTU top and 150ml gel second.

Garden centre weedkiller sales rose eight per cent (all retailers: 0.3 per cent), but Roundup says its sales grew 30 per cent. It has a £2m marketing campaign lined up for 2013, focusing on "hero products" Roundup Gel and Roundup Pump 'N Go.

Bucking the trend

This year will be remembered by most as the worst year for the garden industry in living memory. But among the doom and gloom, there were a few shining lights, according to Sinclair ferts and chems category controller Steve Chalk.

Growing Success Advanced Slug Killer sales were up 15 per cent on 2012. This continued the trend of growth for the active ingredient Ferramol, which only targets slugs and snails and is more rainfast than traditional pellets. Slug Stop, a non-killing physical barrier, was up 40 per cent on 2011.

Rodenticide control also sold well as rats and mice were driven indoors due to the high water table. Sales were up 30 per cent.

The biggest area of growth came from weed control. Growing Success Deep Root mirrored the market with growth at 10 per cent but the "absolute hero" of the marketplace was the Deadfast Weedkiller Bucket.

This was developed to fill the void left by the withdrawal of Sodium Chlorate from the marketplace and it saw sales generate £2m for the industry with its £20 RRP in its first real year on the shelves. Sales of Sodium Chlorate accounted for about £10m of the annual £100m weedkiller market.

"As more and more actives fall by the wayside due to European legislation, marketing and market position of products becomes ever more key to success," Chalk maintains.

He continues: "Deadfast Weedkiller has an extremely strong shelf presence coupled with a very simple message - this product kills weeds dead fast, undoubtedly going some way to demystifying the fixture for the consumer."

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