Licence to Kill?

The UK pest control industry is in a state of flux, with ever changing regulations on active chemical ingredients and global warming changing the habits of the country’s creepy-crawlies. Meanwhile, everyone wants to grow their own fruit and vegetables organically without sharing the spoils with garden pests. Never before has the role of the garden centre been so important in advising customers on the best solutions for safely and humanely protecting their plants.
Pest control is a complicated business – and a profitable one. The UK domestic pest control market is worth around £40m. This is split into Home (worth £11m) and Garden (£29m). Needless to say, the first port of call for most people looking for an escape from their aphids will be their local garden centre. So, it is essential staff are fully informed on the pest control solutions available and that point of sale displays are detailed enough to ensure the customer picks the right product for his or her pest problem.
The first question to ask is what are pesticides exactly? According to the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) an Executive Agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), pesticides include: weed killers (herbicides) slug pellets (molluscicides) fungicide sprays, animal repellents, hormone rooting powders, insecticides, plant growth regulators and lawn sand treatments. There are also pesticides that are not used for plant protection, called biocides. These include: products for algae and snail control in ponds (aquatic algaecides and molluscicides) fly sprays and ant powder (insect killers and repellents) fungicidal washes and patio cleaners (surface biocides) rat and mouse killers (rodenticides) and cat repellents (vertebrate repellents).
Clearly the term covers a multitude of problems and possible solutions. And given that these products have to be stored safely and could possibly be used on fruit and vegetables that are entering the food chain, this is no small responsibility for the retailer. Luckily many leading suppliers are taking the headache out of selling pesticides by providing clear and informative packaging and point of sale signage.
One of the industry’s leading lights is Scotts and the company’s PR Manager, John Clowes, explains the company’s approach to garden centres. “Finding the right product to control specific pests and diseases is no easy task. For retailer staff it’s difficult, for most members of the general public it’s a nightmare. In fact many gardeners who are searching your shelves for the right product often give up and move away from the fixture – too daunted to make a buying decision.
“That’s why Scotts has introduced new active ingredients; colour coded its packaging and simplified product names so that selection can be as simple and straightforward as your shelves. Investment in packaging, support material and publicity will ensure that sales of Scotts range more than doubles in the next two years.
“New active ingredients will broaden the range of pests controlled, and category colour coding will differentiate between Insecticides (red) Fungicides (pink) and combined products such as RoseClear (blue). Further clear definition by new contemporary packaging across the range will instantly communicate the key messages of areas to treat, pests controlled, and highlight whether the product is only for application to decorative flowering plants or are suitable and safe to use on edible fruit and vegetables.”
Proctor Bros also markets a wide variety of pest control products through garden centres. The range consists of conventional traps, humane traps, cage traps, rodenticides, electronic pest control, garden pest control and insect pest control. The company’s New Business Development Manager, Sian Lear, believes that garden centres require specialist information. “Garden centres do require a different approach to other retailers. We offer a range of display units for garden centres. Given the nature of pest control product, a highly authoritative display stand is clearly vital if sales are to be maximised. So this is just what Procter Pest-Stop has done and everything from the easy-to-use reference chart (allowing consumers to match pest problem with the right product) to the comprehensive display of product really has been thought through.”
Lear has noted that there has been an increase in requests for ‘humane’ pest control solutions in recent years. “Over the last five years we have seen a significant rise in the sale of our range of electronic pest repellers and we are getting asked more frequently if we have humane products in the range. We now also find that consumers are no longer embarrassed asking for pest control products, whereas in previous years consumers were a bit embarrassed by having a mouse problem,” she says.
Perhaps customers are more aware these days that mice and rodents are a common problem affecting all types of home and the stigma has been lessened. Certainly greater sharing of information is a boon to the pest control industry. The internet can be a great help, allowing customers to research their particular pest problem anonymously and share their experiences with others.
Getting the message across is now the challenge for Spotless UK Ltd, creators of the Get Off range of cat and dog repellents. As Pam Birtchnell, PR & Marketing Support, points out. “There’s a place for everything: and it’s generally not your pathway, lawn or flowerbeds. Whether it’s your pet or someone else’s, Get Off animal repellents offer a highly effective means of deterring even the most persistent cats and dogs from fouling or digging where you don’t want them to. (We found) consumer awareness is generally quite low for this type of product, however interest in solutions is significant. Get Off research undertaken in 2007 (by Akadine Research ) has revealed that almost 47% of the UK population are not aware that such products are available and over 1/3rd of the population would want to buy it. The market is still underdeveloped with ample growth opportunities.”
Customers need to be made aware that whatever their pest problem, a solution can often be found and it doesn’t always have to be deadly – or even chemical. Sarah Edmonds from Agralan has noted a huge increase in demand for one of the company’s most humane products called Enviromesh. “As more and more people grow their own vegetables in their back gardens and allotments we have seen demand grow. Enviromesh is a fine, mesh netting which is perfect for protecting vegetables without insecticides. It is very strong, lasts for years and prevents damage by carrot fly, cabbage root fly, caterpillars, birds, rabbits, wind and hail. A clear mesh, Enviromesh allows maximum light penetration and air flow for long term covering, whilst being lightweight and flexible. A finer mesh, Enviromesh Ultra Fine has the additional benefit of stopping flea beetle and is mainly used for the protection of rocket and similar crops. However, Enviromesh Ultra Fine is only recommended for short term covering because the air passage and light transmission are lower.”
“It was back in 1989 that Agralan began to see a shift in the way gardeners wanted to produce plants and crops,” she adds. “Rather than using pesticides to control garden enemies such as aphids and slugs, they were starting to look for more natural solutions. It was at this point that Agralan began to take a number of commercial horticultural products and develop them for use by amateur gardeners. As the home grown and organic market continues to expand, environmentally friendly products will continue to be ever more important and in demand.”
This year, Scotts is marketing two insecticides that use natural ingredients for controlling pests on fruit and vegetables. BugClear for Fruit & Veg contains rape seed oil which, when sprayed onto any edible crop, will quickly and effectively control greenfly, blackfly, whitefly, red spider mites mealy bugs and scale insects. The ready-to-use BugClear Gun! for Fruit & Veg contains natural pyrethrins and will control all the above pests plus caterpillars.
However, there are still occasions when the best solution is a chemical one. And in this situation it is essential for retailers and customers alike to ensure that the active ingredients in their pesticides can still be legally used. If there are half-empty bottles left in the garden shed, or stock that is over a year old, the best thing to do is to check the PSD website, where there is a list of authorised products. If the ingredient is not on the list it must be disposed of safely.
Active ingredients that are approved for use in the garden are forever changing. For the last 20 years many have disappeared and manufacturers have struggled to make sure the consumer continues to have a suitable armoury of products to help in the fight against pest damage to precious garden plants. In this decade the EU have been making a radical re-assessment of what chemicals are suitable for domestic and for agricultural use. They have asked for new tests as to efficacy and safety to be carried out by manufacturers of these chemicals, and because these trials work it can prove costly expensive to carry out – many manufacturers have taken the business decision not to do the work, but simply to allow the approval for those active ingredients to lapse. This has meant that many active ingredients are no longer available.
Scotts John Clowes says this has had a huge impact on the garden pesticide market. “As you can see the number of active ingredients is being more and more limited by the approval method and the extremely high costs of development. The cost of bringing an active ingredient from discovery to formulation in a garden product was estimated in 1985 by ICI Garden Products at £10 million. It is more like £50 million today. This is why active ingredients must have a huge market in worldwide agriculture to stand a chance of appearing in formulations of garden products. The domestic garden market is not big enough to pay for unique research.”
On the positive side, this does mean that the products themselves are safer both for the environment and the user. “The Government’s approval system means that dangerous materials are excluded and formulations are tested thoroughly to reduce accidental harm to almost nil. Active ingredients and domestic formulations have become much safer over the last 20 years. Only when products are deliberately misused is there any potential for accidents,” adds Clowes.
Despite this, safe storage both in the garden centre and at home remains a priority and retailers must ensure that they are fully aware and can pass the relevant information on to customers. “We now offer our conventional traps in blister packs, which we would recommend to garden centres, this is so that traps can not be tampered with. Our rodenticides do not have to be stored a metre from the floor and so do not need special storage. Our packaging also details if there is any risk of harm,” says Sian Lear from Proctor.
Other changes affecting the market include global warming, which is affecting the seasonal nature of the business. “Warmer summers and milder winters is definitely encouraging more pests to flourish in our climate. There have been some pests such as lily beetle that have, over the last decade, encroached further and further north. In the 1980’s lily beetle were only found along the south coast of England. Nowadays they are found as far north as Yorkshire. We can expect more and more pests to be able to survive in our climate. Let’s hope we will soon be plagued with fireflies!” says Clowes.
Pam Birtchnell from Spotless UK says climate change is affecting demand for the company’s Get Off products too, “Warmer, damper weather is increasing the number of insects that swarm around animal faeces, making it even more important for consumers to be able to control animal fouling on their properties.”
 “I am not sure if global warming has affected the amount of pests to be controlled, but it has certainly affected the seasonal demands,” says Lear. “This year we have sold fly products in September/October and previously mouse and rat products were seasonal with much of this being sold in September through to February, now we are seeing sales throughout the year.”
It seems the pest control industry will be forced to continue to change along with the climate, European legislation and the demands of customers who are keen to use fewer chemicals in their homes and gardens. But one thing remains certain, that whatever changes may occur in the marketplace, rodents, flies, beetles and ants will continue to flourish and gardeners and homeowners will continue to want them exterminated.