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Retailers Plan More Green Lawn Care

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snowstorm.jpgAll this snow-pocalyptic weather has us thinking ahead to springtime — to sunny days, fair skies, and everything in full bloom once again.

So perhaps it’s appropriate that we channel optimism the Refresh way and look at the market outlook for a retail category that best defines the sense that, someday, we’ll all be warm again: lawn and garden care.

Specifically eco-friendly lawn and garden care, which has been growing, well, like a weed over the past few years. Whereas once upon a time organically tending the yard meant wheeling in manure straight from the farm, now bagged and bottled all-natural solutions can be found on shelves at major retailers like Wal-Mart and The Home Depot. All in all, an estimated 12 million households use exclusively natural and organic lawn and garden products, according to the National Gardening Association, up from 5 million in 2004.

lawn.jpgThe recession put a dent in overall sales, but it increased demand as people turned to the simple pleasures of tending their lawns and growing their own food. Another study from the NGA shows 22% more people spent more time food gardening last year over the previous one, and 14% did more lawn care.

All this pent-up demand, combined with the recovering economy, should make for swift sales this spring. And it appears everyone is trying to get in on the action. Kreider Farms, a dairy and egg supplier in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, recently started recycling its cow and chicken manure into a fertilizer blend. Last year it sold 40-pound bags of the mixture to local grocery stores that already carried its milk, ice cream and other products.

Market and legislative forces are at play, too. As fuel prices go up so does the cost of conventional fertilizers and pesticides made with petroleum, thus narrowing the price gap between those and organic options. More and more states, meanwhile, are taking a hard look at chemical treatments. Last year, New York passed the Child Safe Playing Field Act, banning the use of pesticides around schools.

So the awareness is there, and growing. But making the sale requires more than just putting product on the shelf. Organic lawn and garden solutions work differently from conventional ones in that they treat the soil rather than the grass directly. Results may not come as fast as consumers would like, and so it’s important to educate them with the help of knowledgeable employees.

Applied consistently and correctly, organic products can foster healthy soil that doesn’t need as many inputs, meaning fewer sales. Retailers might not like the sound of that, but then again, less money spent in one area means more money to spend in another — like sunscreen and beach umbrellas to soak up all that springtime sun.

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