Is There a Niche for Vegetarian Fertilizer?

Increased interest in vegetarian and vegan diets, particularly among younger consumers, combined with the growing popularity of urban gardening and (to a lesser extent) the trend towards pet humanisation, suggests there is some potential in this area.

In April 2013, W Neudorff GmbH, which is based in the town of Emmerthal in Lower Saxony and specialises in “environmentally friendly gardening products,” launched Azet Veggie Fertiliser. It utilises 100% plant-based raw materials and thus contains no animal by-products. W Neudorff GmbH accounted for 2% of value sales in the German fertiliser market during 2013, according to Euromonitor International interim figures.

Veggie Dunger 1.pngThe product targets vegan organic food production, which avoids using any animal inputs and instead relies on the use of green manures to add fertility to the soil. For its proponents, this avoids harming animals, in addition to reducing the environmental impact of livestock farming.

Vegetarianism Growing in Popularity, Particularly Among the Young

According to Euromonitor International’s Annual Survey 2011, which covered 16-65-year-olds living in eight countries (the US, Brazil, the UK, France, Germany, India, China, and Japan), 16% of consumers followed a limited-meat diet, with 3% vegetarian and 2% vegan. Periodic food scares, such as recurring dioxin contamination incidents and the BSE crisis of the 1980s, have caused spikes in vegetarianism over the years, and the horsemeat scandal that broke in Western Europe during early 2013 may have had  a similar impact. For the moment, limited-meat diets remain significantly more commonplace in emerging markets than in developed ones.

Real Value Sales of Fertilizer in North America and Western Europe: 2007-2012

Source: Euromonitor International

Another important difference is that the age profile of individuals following these dietary habits tends to be much younger in developed economies; ie vegetarians and vegans tend to be relatively old in emerging markets but relatively young in developed ones. This is particularly notable in Germany, where almost 30% of 15-29-year-olds were found to follow a limited-meat diet (according to the same survey), a higher figure than in either Brazil or China.

This group (young people on limited-meat diets) is the same that has led the upsurge in interest in urban gardening over recent years. Limited-meat consumers are much more likely than meat eaters to take ethical or green product features (eg environmentally friendly, fair trade, organic, etc) into account when making a purchase and they tend to be more willing to pay a higher price for these features.

Pet Friendliness Opens a Wider Market

In the US, animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) named Azet Veggie Fertiliser as a winner of its Progress Award in 2013 as the most pet-friendly fertiliser. This suggests a wider market for such products beyond those interested in vegetarianism or veganism. Many owners are increasingly treating their pets as bona fide family members, even ersatz children, particularly in the US.

While the Western European fertiliser market has been quite weak over recent years, there is evidence of polarisation, with some consumers trading up to premium products, while others are seeking cheaper alternatives and discounts. Taken together, all of these trends indicate that demand for this type of product is on the rise, although it will remain very much a niche.