Natural fertilisers and chemicals: when will they start gaining market share?

A tranche of naturals launched for 2018 from the biggest suppliers to garden retail could trigger an increase in sales in the sector.

Image: Flickr/Chris_Parfitt (CC BY 2.0)
Image: Flickr/Chris_Parfitt (CC BY 2.0)
A new focus on seaweed fertilisers, first developed 70 years ago, seems to be a sign that the naturals market is taking off.
SBM Life Science has taken over the Maxicrop seaweed and other trademarks in the naturals range from Italian natural chemical company Valagro. It will sell in the UK, Italy and Spain, and has the rights to take the brand into the rest of Europe and North America.
Darren Brown, SBM Life Science head, says Maxicrop has "pedigree", is trusted by UK gardeners and fits within the new SBM philosophy, moving away from the mainly synthetics offer made and sold by Bayer Garden, which SBM took over in 2016.
"This is very much a forming market", adds Brown. "We will see a lot more activity. GfK don't categorise these markets well and there are a lot of new products coming in."
The seaweed will be promoted as a bio-stimulant that helps plants "digest food better" and will go up against Seasol, with whom Mr Fothergill's announced a deal to sell Australian seaweed fertiliser in July.
Maxicrop history
Reg Milton and Tony Stephenson developed Maxicrop in the UK in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In 2002, Maxicrop sold to Valagro, a "producer and marketer of bio-stimulants and speciality nutrients". Maxicrop’s sister company in Norway, called Algea, is a specialist harvester of seaweed and supplies Valagro with the raw materials for its bio-stimulants.
SBM aims to market the product better, though Brown says it is already in most UK garden centres, including the biggest, Wyevale, albeit with small sales in each. There is no data on market size for seaweed fertilisers, although Mr Fothergill's estimates it at seven figures.
Brown agrees that Glee will see lots of naturals launched. "People are recognising growing interest. The key is how it will come together as a range and how the retailer is going to be able to position it with the synthetic ranges available."
He points out that SBM is committed to naturals but it will position them alongside a '"new class'" weedkiller, which contains glyphosate and is a development of a re-engineered rail weedkiller. It aims to be best in class for efficacy and will last for up to three months. This comes under the 'Job Done' label and products contain  diflufenican or glyphosate, natural fatty acids, 2,4-D, MCPA, MCPP-P and dicamba.
Brown says the majority of consumers want efficacy over environmental footprint, even as some active ingredients come under pressure with research linking them to cancer. Bayer Garden was among those who dropped neonicotinoids from consumer products in 2013. Brown is "optimistic" that glyphosate will be re-authorised by the EC, although France, where SBM is market leader, "at the far end of it" is opposed. "The UK is much more pragmatic and efficacy-driven."
The UK has a long way to go before it accepts naturals, according to Brown, who says the market could take five years to mature and remains less than 10% at present.

At Glee, SBM launches Solabiol – In Tune with Nature, including organically certified Solabiol Slug Killer, Solabiol Super Fast Weedkiller containing fatty acids, organic Solabiol Bug Free and
Solabiol Rose Bug Killer as well as Solabiol BUXatrap, Solabiol Arbrex Seal and Heal and Solabiol Boltac Greasebands.
Weedkiller, particularly slug killer, has taken the lead in natural sales, although in a dry-spring, low-slug year all chemical sales have fallen by double digits in May, June and July, according to analyst GfK. However, legislation is also set to push that market towards naturals.
Following new Health & Safety Executive stipulations, the two manufacturers of metaldehyde slug pellets for amateur use, Doff Portland and Chiltern Farm Chemicals, will reduce the size of product packs to a maximum of 250g for the 2018 season. The new packs will launch at Glee.
There will be a sell-through grace period that will enable retailers to wind down stocks of existing 800g and 1kg packs over the 2018 season. This could lead to gardeners switching to ferric phosphate as an alternative to slug killer, with slugs and snails being persistently the most complained about garden pest. Metaldehyde is toxic to wildlife and pets.
Sales and prices
Brown says a decline in fertiliser and chemical sales in 2017 also reflects prices in the market. GfK covers garden centres and DIYs, not discounters and online, where the cheaper synthetics are usually the main offer in the ferts and chems section.
A new GlobalData report says that end of the market will grow by 46% in gardening by 2022. Brown says you "cannot close your eyes" to changing shopping habits, particularly since the recession and given GlobalData's statistic that 90% of people having visited a discounter last year is a huge increase on a decade ago. However, he adds that garden centres can add advice and range that the discounters such as Aldi, Lidl and B&M Bargains cannot.
New products
This autumn, Scotts Miracle-Gro will launch Origins, a "good natured gardening range" made from naturally occurring ingredients, due to be unveiled at the Glee trade show later this month (September). The additions will "cater for existing customer demographics with easy-to-use gardening solutions and tap into new customers with the emerging clean-living trend".

Also new at Glee will be Westland's Big Tom Superfood extra-strength formulation with a root-growth booster, bio-stimulants and seaweed.

Neudorff will have a new range of natural pest-control products that can also be used for organic gardening, including controls for chafer grubs, leatherjackets and vine weevils available off-the-shelf — "a totally unique offering for garden centres" — in addition to an additional slug and snail control product.

Neudorff sales director Jude Beharall says: "Our wide range of products has proved to be viable natural alternatives for tackling weeds and pests and providing nutrients to plants, vegetables and lawns. The range is ideal for consumers looking to garden in harmony with nature rather than against it."

Sipcam UK launched its Ecofective range of environmentally friendly and natural feed, weed and control products at Glee 2016 and will exhibit again this year with new products used by professional growers and landscapers in the UK and Europe — Bug & Mildew Control, Slug Defence, Natural Lawn Feed & Root Enhancer, Multi-Purpose Pro-biotic Cleaner, Wonder Feed and a unique three-in-one Root Enhancer (mycorrhizal) + Natural Water Retainer + Fertiliser Granules. They are all child- and pet-safe as well as being bee-friendly.

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