Weedkiller revival

Better weather in the peak summer season has seen the weedkiller category grow in value and volume, Matthew Appleby reports.

Fertilisers and chemicals: sundries sales for August up 9.54 per cent against 2012 and up 4.09 per cent year to date - image: HW
Fertilisers and chemicals: sundries sales for August up 9.54 per cent against 2012 and up 4.09 per cent year to date - image: HW

Thanks to improved weather this year, weedkiller sales were up eight per cent against 2012, as well as in value terms, industry analyst GfK has reported. GfK home and living account director Simon Foy says the category, which struggled in the wet 2012, has prospered during the mild summer.

"Improved weather during peak-season months has seen the weedkiller market grow in both value and volume with ready-to-use weedkillers gaining share of the category," he confirms.

Overall sundries sales for August, including fertilisers and chemicals, were up 9.54 per cent against August 2012 and up 4.09 per cent year to date against 2012, according to Garden Centre Association figures.

Meanwhile, crossover products into the fertilisers and chemicals sector, sitting between compost and plant food, were prominent at Glee last month. Westland launched Plant Magic hybrid Gro-Sure Planting Magic, a mixture of nutrient boosters, soil improver, root builders and water-control pockets. It can be used when planting any type of plant, vegetable, tree or shrub in pots to allow the roots to establish. The product costs £9.99 for 2kg.

Westland marketing director Keith Nicholson says the EC’s withdrawal of neonicotinoids, which have been linked to bee health issues, has made a "very small effect" on Westland ranges, with just one product gone — Plant Rescue Ornamentals.

Adding to Westland’s Resolva brand is the Resolva Bug Killer product while the Nature’s Haven Easy Wildflowers opens up the £2.5m "readymix" category, including seed and compost, Nicholson explains. He points out that the new launches will be backed by extensive advertising.

Success story

Scotts’ Roundup has been celebrating its success, which includes claiming six of the top 10 GfK weedkiller positions with its Roundup Gel — 150ml gel top, one-litre weedkiller ready-to-use second and Fast Action Pump N Go Weedkiller ready-to-use five-litre third. Roundup Minis were launched at Glee.

Researchers found that 82 per cent of users had a positive experience and 87 per cent would buy the product again. Some 53 per cent bought it as well as their current weedkiller choice and 12 per cent were new buyers of weedkillers.

Scotts general manager Martin Breddy says sales are four per cent up on 2012, with the seed and compost mix product Flower Magic generating £3m in its first year, as well as a whole new category. "We’re not one-shot wonders," he adds. "You have to invest upfront in new products.

Our brand leaders are supported by advertising but we need support from retailers and commitment from gardening businesses because coffee and gift suppliers don’t do much advertising."

He says there was no "blockbuster" product launched at Glee, perhaps because research and development is becoming increasingly unaffordable when there is not much category growth.

Breddy adds that the neonicotinoid withdrawal has had "an effect on the whole industry" with a "halo effect on consumers", despite Scotts not using any of the banned insecticides. For 2014, he forecasts that with "normal weather we will have a good gardening season because we’ve not had normal weather for two years".

The GfK figures show Scotts claiming market share of 76 per cent in the general-purpose ready-to-use market, 78 per cent in general-purpose concentrates, 48 per cent in the path and patio category and 70 per cent in the lawn sector.

Product launches

German organic fertilisers and chemicals company Neudorff launched several new products at Glee too. Its Superfast & Long Lasting biodegradable weedkiller is effective on annual and perennial weeds and also tackles horsetail and ground elder.

Because it only acts on the green sections of the plant, not on the woody bark, it can also be used under hedges, trees and bushes. The product’s active ingredient is pelargonic acid. After it has been sprayed and dried, it is safe for pets to be around the treated areas.

For the new season ahead, Neudorff has developed two products for orchid care based on natural ingredients. Organic Orchid Feed is of 100 per cent vegetable origin and provides essential main and trace elements, enzymes and growth-promoting substances. The Orchid Vitaliser acts as a mist and is sprayed onto leaves. It improves the micro-climate around plants that need high humidity.

In lawn care, Neudorff has introduced two new products. Organic Moss Control for Lawns Concentrate is a biodegradable product that fights moss effectively and in an environmental way. Its active ingredient is pelargonic acid and it can be applied with a watering can.

The Organic Lawn Feed & Improver product comes in a resealable 5kg bag with a handle so that the fertiliser can be spread by hand or from the bag itself rather than from a spreader. The product is a combination of soil-revitalising microorganisms and a naturally occurring mycorrhiza fungus that help to increase the surface area of the roots.

Vitax is launching around 20 new products in 2014 including additions to the growing-media range that it launched last year, Nippon, and a new premium line for the Q4 fertiliser range.
The company’s Slug Gone is a Garden Industry Manufacturers Association award-winning organic slug and snail deterrent that provides natural slow-release nutrients as well as host moisture retention and mulching.

Expect product innovation from Sinclair in 2014 after the firm appointed Simon McArdle from Hozelock as marketing director. The compost, fertiliser and chemical company, which owns Growing Success, is set to rebrand next year. This might mean cutting some brand names and promoting others more, says managing director Peter Rush.

Also fighting for market share, Bayer marketing head Paul Lerigo says a survey found 70 per cent of shoppers in Homebase and 64 per cent in an independent garden centre were confused by the fertilisers and chemicals offer, meaning they walked away without buying anything.

The mission now is to simplify the offer by introducing a "task-based hierarchy", repositioning the portfolio into colour-coded categories — lawns, growing areas, paths and specialist areas.
Lerigo adds that new point of sale made the offer 20-25 per cent more effective for converting sales in trials at Homebase and Scotsdales. Now only 46 per cent walk away at the DIY store and 45 per cent at the garden centre, down a quarter. The new "planogram" will be more widely available from January 2014.

Lerigo says legislation issues facing the garden retail sector include sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS) in November 2015, when retailers will need to have information and trained staff available at point of sale to advise on active ingredients and their potential impact.

He adds that SuDS roadshow training from Bayer, the HTA and the Crop Protection Associat­ion on product knowledge and run-off into water systems, which is set to visit six regional centres, will be important to educate garden centre staff before the legislation bites in 2015.

On neonicotinoids, Lerigo says Bayer Lawn Grub Killer has been withdrawn and will be off the shelves by now, but it is only "one niche product". He adds that the withdrawal was "disappointing" and led to a lot of calls about lawn grubs from consumers. There is no short-term replacement.

Bayer’s Provado contains thiacloprid, which has an official "good" profile for bees in its Ultimate Bug Killer. Lerigo says Bayer will not follow in fellow neonicotinoid manufacturer Syngenta’s footsteps in campaigning against the legislation. "They’re challenging everything." He doubts a return to use after the two-year moratorium and says the EC made a "political decision".

Looking ahead beyond neonicotinoids, Bayer has had the Organic Farmers & Growers Association endorse its Organic Bug Free and Natria products. The company’s Baby Bio drip feeders have taken a 26 per cent share of the market since launching last year. Hollywood film Epic helped boost sales by 15 per cent in the year to June after a pack promotion.

However, Lerigo points out that as garden centres move more into gifts and catering, core gardening is being squeezed, and he says a rationalisation of suppliers is inevitable.

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