Bringing back the green, green grass

SALES of hosepipes, electric fans, ice-cream, beer and sunscreen are, of course, booming as they do every time the British sun comes out. But this year's heatwave has produced an unexpected boom in a less obvious product - lawn dye.

The directors of Supaturf, a small turf-care products company based in Hinckley, Leicestershire, could be forgiven for getting down on their knees and praying for the sun to keep shining. Sales of one of their minor products, a grass colour restorer called Greenit, have soared since England's green and pleasant land began to turn a yellowish shade of brown.

The water companies have helped by issuing drought warnings at regular intervals and threatening to levy an extra charge on garden sprinkler systems. There are some 14 million lawns in this country, and many of them are looking decidedly parched. So a product initially developed for golf greens in faraway countries such as Nigeria has suddenly acquired a whole new domestic market.

"Normally we don't deal directly with consumers," says marketing director Alan Genders. Since Greenit was developed 18 months ago, the marketing has not been particularly aggressive. Until now. A mail-shot has just been despatched to garden centres and aerosol containers are being market- tested for next summer as an alternative to bulkier garden sprayers.

Supaturf is a well-established subsidiary of GA Palmer, a family company that has been producing and supplying fertilisers for 93 years. Today Supaturf has a turnover of pounds 2m and employs 25. Its products are distributed throughout Britain and 14 countries abroad. Golf courses account for around 35 per cent of business.

As the market leader, Supaturf also deals with high-profile venues such as Wimbledon and Wembley. The company manufactures the paint for the white lines and the multi-coloured logos that sometimes appear on the pitch at big internationals.

Only recently has green emerged as a significant shade in the colour range. Greenit emerged from a brainstorming meeting at the company's headquarters. "It's non-toxic and dissolves when the rain comes," says sales director Colin Hood, himself a former green-keeper.

Welcome publicity came from two very different quarters. The film company Warner Brothers wanted to perk up the verges around its new multiplex cinema in Leicester before the premier of Batman Forever. "They contacted Wembley who must have told them about us," says Mr Hood. On the other side of the Midlands, meanwhile, one of Supaturf's area managers was offering the local authority in Stroud, Gloucestershire, the chance to improve its entry for the Britain in Bloom competition. He gave a demonstration on a busy traffic island which attracted the attention of the local media and regional television.

The judges have since made it plain that greening the grass will make no difference either way to Stroud's entry, but that has not stopped other local authorities trying to follow suit.

Delighted as it is with the response, Supaturf's directors are not getting carried away by Greenit's apparent popularity.

"Although there has been a remarkable reaction," says Mr Genders, "it's still not a major part of our business.

"We're very keen on promoting water management products that will naturally benefit grass and promote growth. Greenit is a cosmetic."

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