By P.J. Heller
When the Eastman Kodak Company introduced Kodachrome film in 1935, it changed the way the people worldwide looked at films and images, from a black-and-white view to a palette of vivid colors. A similar eye-popping experience occurred in 1954 with the introduction of color television. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the outdoors began taking on new vibrant hues, as mulch manufacturers began offering colored mulches, thanks in large part to the work of colorant companies.
“The colorants have helped the mulch producers increase their profits, which has allowed them to sell a more diverse product line into the market than what they could with just natural mulch,” notes Kent Rotert, business manager for Colorbiotics.
Today there are at least 11 companies manufacturing colorants for the mulch industry, including a handful that also produce their own mulch and soil products. Some in the industry say that with more competition has come increased pricing pressure to retain market share and that consolidation is likely in the future, if it’s not happening already.
“It‘s become really, really competitive,” says Tom Flemming, president of Earth Shades. “Personally I think the colorant side is getting ripe for consolidation.”
Another factor that could affect colorant sales in the future is if mulch manufacturers continue to face a dwindling supply of raw materials.
Colorant manufacturers say that while the market remains good, it is not growing as fast as it has in the past. The general consensus is that colored mulch — both bagged and bulk — far outsells uncolored mulch, with some estimates as high as 80 percent for colorized packaged products and 75 percent for colorized bulk products.
Most colorant manufacturers market a wide variety of hues based on standard black, brown, gold and red colors; some have different product lines of the same colors. Although trends can change, black tends to be most popular in the Northeast, browns in the Midwest, and reds and golds in the South, according to those in the industry.
In addition to selling to commercial mulch producers, some colorant manufacturers offer products for landscapers and homeowners who may want to spruce up existing mulch. Some colorant manufacturers also offer equipment to color mulch; an equipment story is planned for an upcoming issue of Soil & Mulch Producer News.
The following companies are among those offering colorants to the mulch industry:
AgriCoatings, a division of American Colors, Inc., provides approximately 20 different colorants of black, red, brown and gold to the mulch industry. It also offers colorants for other materials, including rubber mulch and recycled glass.
It offers three different colorant product lines: Legacy, which exhibits fine color and binding characteristics, Advantage, a more economical colorant, and Majestic, designed to produce the most vibrant and durable colors. AgriCoatings can also provide specialty colors.
The Ohio-headquartered company sells strictly to commercial mulch manufacturers. It markets its colorants east of the Mississippi and in Texas. Its mulch colorants are manufactured in Tennessee.
The employee-owned company has been in business for 42 years providing materials to a wide variety of plastics and coatings industries, including automotive, fiberglas boats, tubs and showers and house paints.
“Our expertise is in colorants in four or five different markets,” says vice president James Hallock. “Mulch is a core market for us.”
What sets AgriCoatings apart from others is quality and service, Hallock says.
“Because we‘ve been in these other high-tech markets, we feel our technology is superior to others,” he says. “We have a lot of tight specifications in those industries and we‘ve taken our technology and parlayed it over to the mulch industry. We feel our product is as good as anybody’s in the industry and our service is top notch.”
909 Tennessee Blvd.
Lebanon, TN 37087
Amerimulch is one of the pioneers in the mulch colorant industry with a long history in the landscape industry, dating back more than 60 years when the Kurtz family first started a commercial topsoil company.
In the early 1990s, the Kurtz Bros., got into the colored mulch business and in 1998 sold Amerimulch to ChromaScape, which had a history of manufacturing colorants and additives for different markets and applications.
ChromaScape, headquartered in Twinsburg, Ohio, operates four manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the U.S. It offers a full line of colorants and support products under various brand names, including Amerimulch.
Its mulch colorants are sold to commercial mulch manufacturers throughout the U.S. and Canada. It offers three colorant lines, Ultra, Premium and True. It also offers colorants for other products and industries including concrete, sands, aggregates, inks, paper, asphalt and recycled rubber.
“Driving innovation is what keeps us ahead of everybody as well as our ability to provide more value to each customer,” notes general manager Scott Thompson. “We’re personally committed to working with mulch producers across the country to help them operate more efficiently and profitably.”
That commitment includes regularly traveling to customer sites to help optimize their production processes, review their pricing models and ensure their operation is achieving its greatest profit potential, he says.
2055 Enterprise Parkway
Twinsburg, OH 44087
Britton Industries began nearly 30 years ago as a wood recycler producing wholesale mulch for customers throughout New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
Today, the family-owned business is a full-service company, providing everything from colored mulches and mulch colorants to grinding and land clearing services, compost and hauling.
The company began manufacturing colorants eight years ago for its own mulch production. The success of that venture led Britton about five years ago to offer colorants to other commercial mulch manufacturers.
“Our colorants became recognized as a quality and cost-effective option within the regional mulch industry,” says colorant division operations manager Jim McNellis. “We now manufacture and distribute millions of pounds of colorant from our new state-of-the-art automated production facility in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.”
Britton offers one grade of colorant in ultra black, chocolate brown, cherry brown and vivid red. Britton’s primary focus is the Northeast but is looking to expand.
“In the short term, our new vision includes distribution to customers throughout the Southeast while establishing a manufacturing presence within the Southeast region,” McNellis says. “Our goal is to offer exceptional delivery service to customers located throughout the East Coast while requiring minimal lead time from order placement to delivery.
“We offer a high-quality product at a reasonable price,” he adds. “We’re very economical. But that economical factor doesn’t play into the quality of the colorant. Above all else, quality is crucial within a very competitive market.”
1 East M Y Lane
Morrisville, PA 19067
Colorbiotics is a pioneer in the colored mulch industry, having been in business for more than 25 years. Now part of BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, Colorbiotics’ focus remains on its core business of coloring products. Located in Ames, Iowa, Colorbiotics offers dozens of color options from which mulch producers can choose. These include red, brown, black and gold colorants in four mulch colorant lines — Impact, Mulch Magic, Starburst and Select — for wood fiber. It also has two colorant lines for rubber. Custom colors are also available. Colorbiotics produces millions of pounds of colorant monthly and typically has a supply of 20 million pounds of product at any given time ready for customers. It serves the commercial mulch market worldwide. “Our emphasis on research and development has helped us remain an industry leader year after year,” says business manager Kent Rotert. “Our product testing, expert technical team and research and manufacturing facility help us to continually improve our products and bring new innovations to market. And we are more than a colorant supplier and equipment manufacturer. Our comprehensive services include maintenance, technical and regulatory support and business consultation.”
1725 Dayton Ave.
Ames, IA 50010
Custom Milling & Consulting, a Pennsylvania-based company started as a toll milling company in 2002. Based on its expertise in particle size reduction and dispersion, it began producing colorants for the mulch industry about 10 years ago. Today it offers two lines — Premium and Hybrid — featuring nine CMC mulch colorants.
CMC sell colorants to mulch producers as well as Mulch Refresh in a bottle-sprayer for individuals to spruce up their red, black or brown mulch. CMC colorants are designed specifically for wood fiber products.
The privately-owned company serves the mulch industry in the Northeast, the Carolinas, the Ohio area and parts of the South including Florida.
“What helps set us apart from other companies . . . is we try to keep the quality up as much as possible,” says Ashlee Storie, sales and marketing administrator. “There’s a lot more players coming into the colorant field, so it’s getting a little more competitive. People still want a good quality product over anything else, and we do provide that.”
Customer service is also a top priority for the company.
“If a customer is having an issue, we personally will go out there and make sure we address it,” Storie says. “We really listen to our customers. Our goal is to form a partnership so that they can trust and rely on us for all their colored mulch manufacturing needs.”
CMC Mulch Products
1246 Maidencreek Road
Fleetwood, PA 19522
Earth Shades, evolving from a long history in the metal coating industry, began producing mulch colorants 15 years ago.
The Cincinnati-based company offers a standard set of 10 colors, with its core business being black, brown, red and gold colorants along with variations of those colors. It offers standard, medium and premium grades of its commercial colorants, with grades differentiated by concentration levels of both prime pigment and additives that help with performance. It can also produce custom colors requested by customers. Its primary focus is on colorants for wood fiber.
In addition to colorants for commercial mulch producers, the company sells Mulch Maintenance refresher products for do-it-yourselfers and landscapers. The colorants are available in magma red, terra brown and slate black and come in half gallon, gallon and five-gallon sizes.
“We started with a line of colors and tried to make them the best possible,” says company president Tom Flemming.
Earth Shades sells its colorants throughout the U.S. and Canada and has partnerships with contract manufacturers across the U.S.
“We strive to be more than just a supplier of colorant to mulch producers,” Flemming says. “Earth Shades entire team is committed to working with each mulch producer to analyze their process and look for methods to be more efficient and maximize profits. Our customers are our business partners.”
PO Box 43188
Cincinnati, OH 45243
Florida Coastal Colors initially launched its colorants as a ”make-it-onsite” system for mulch manufacturers, providing them with raw powdered materials and a mixer to produce colored mulch.
That system, introduced in 2002, was designed to offer customers significant savings since there was no need to ship water and the necessary packaging. It is still a popular offering for the company today.
“The ability to dry blend colors opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the end user,” notes company president Rich Barcelona. “With the option of blending different shades of standard colors, the mulch producer now has the ability to target specific customer requests if the need arises.”
Some customers, however, preferred the convenience of pre-made liquid colorants, so in 2006 FCC began producing liquid colorants. Since then, the company has grown to be one of the largest suppliers of colorants to the commercial mulch market worldwide.
FCC offers standard and premium colorant lines, all designed for wood fiber. The premium line, including cherry brown, kroma red and raven black, provides richer colors. The standard line, including cypress gold, cypress orange and onyx black, is less expensive.
Custom colors are available.
“FCC's success has been due to our ability to procure the most talented people in our industry. We take pride in the team we have assembled and consider our workplace environment a family,” Barcelona says.
Florida Coastal Colors
550 Elm St.
Helena, AL 35080
Milagro Rubber, unlike other businesses supplying a multitude of colorants to the mulch industry, is an international distribution company offering a single colorant: carbon black.
Based in Austin, Texas, Milagro provides powdered carbon black not only to mulch producers, but to a variety of other companies where it is used as a reinforcing agent in everything from tires, hoses, footwear and high-quality protective packaging. Milagro offers more than 14 grades of carbon black.
Milagro, started in 1992, supplies rubber material worldwide and is one of the leading suppliers of synthetic rubber to Mexico. It has been serving the wood fiber and rubber mulch industry since 2000. Its carbon black product is distributed throughout the U.S. Milagro is a direct distributor for Continental Carbon Co.
For the mulch industry, carbon black grade N326 is an option as well as grade N300 residues from the others available, notes international sales manager Marisa Barnes.
The company can provide quantities greater than 18 metric tons (one truckload) of carbon black super sacks for mulch producers and pigment manufacturing producers, which Barnes says results in better pricing and a constant supply. The dry powder product is also easier to blend, she says.
3355 Bee Cave Road, Suite 304
Austin, TX 78746
Mulch Manufacturing is somewhat unique in the colorant market: it not only produces and sells mulch colorants but is also a mulch producer. It is also believed to be one of the first companies to experiment with and offer colored mulch.
It was co-founder Ralph Spencer who around 1987 or 1988 began looking for value-added ways to improve on mulch, which led to experiments with coloring mulch using food colorants and then iron oxide and then working with a paint company. Mulch Manufacturing was founded in 1985 by Ralph Spencer and his father John.
Today, the company – with a large mulch manufacturing facility in Callahan, Fla., built in 1989, and a colorant plant in Jacksonville, Fla. – offers nearly 65 colorants for wood fiber.
Called Nature’s Reflections, the colorants are sold to mulch manufacturers primarily in the eastern U.S. and in China.
Technical director Rick Starcher, whose background is as a coating chemist, says what sets Nature’s Reflections colorants apart is their strict formulation, such as the type of binder used to make the colorant adhere to wood fiber.
“We hold our pigment suppliers to extreme tolerance limits for color properties, particle size, purity and uniformity to provide superb hiding, maximum tint strength and rigorous durability,” he says. “I don’t want to have anything out there that I wouldn’t put on my own yard.”
108 Wilhelm Drive
Monaca, PA 15061
Prism Pigments has 25 years experience in providing colors to the concrete and masonry industry, so offering mulch colorants was just a natural extension of its business.
“Most of our original focus was on the concrete and masonry colorant business,” explains Terry Fenelon, owner, founder and CEO. “About 10 years ago we began developing liquid colors for concrete and that lent itself well to liquid colorants for mulch. We‘ve grown that part of our business very nicely over the last five years.”
The St. Paul, Minn., business offers a virtually unlimited palette of colors.
“We can make any color,” Fenelon says. “We have hundreds of formulas for mulch. We have thousands and thousands of formulas for concrete offerings. We pride ourselves on ‘color that’s made to order’ giving our customers unlimited options.”
Prism sells to commercial mulch manufacturers. It also offers a spray-on mulch colorant — Hippie Mulch — for do-it-yourself residential customers.
“We wanted a name that would help describe an environmentally friendly mulch colorant that actually helps to save trees,” Fenelon explains.
Hippie Mulch colorant shades include “beatnik brown” and “groovy gold.”
“We’ve got 25 years experience in getting pigments right,” Fenelon says. “. . . By continually investing in new technologies, procuring quality pigment resources, and research and development of new products and improvements . . . [we] help our customers navigate the ever-changing business landscape.”
1251 Arundel St.
St Paul, MN 55117
T.H. Glennon, with 54 years of experience in the adhesive and coatings industry, entered the mulch colorant market in 1997.
It has grown rapidly since, with manufacturing locations today in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. It serves customers across the U.S. as well as in Europe and Asia.
Glennon sells both liquid and powder colorants to mulch manufacturers; its Colorfast Colorants are designed for wood and fiber products as well as concrete, aggregate and rubber. It also developed a proprietary mold and fungus resistant additive to extend the shelf life of colored mulch.
The company offers two colorant grades — Advanced and Quality Colorfast — in both liquid and powder form. Its Advanced liquid formula is available in 12 colors and is formulated with premium pigments and at a higher concentration. Quality Colorfast liquid is formulated for the more cost-conscious buyer. The powder colorant is available in 14 standard colors. Custom colors for wood mulch are available.
Brian Shea, president and owner, credits the success of the company on its innovation, premium colorants, customer service and industry know-how. He tells customers he considers “your challenges, our challenges.”
“We focus on increasing our customers’ yields with less colorant, while delivering vibrant long-lasting colors,” he says. “Our customers produce higher yields, increasing their margins, production and efficiencies.”
T.H, Glennon Co.
25 Fanaras Drive
Salisbury, MA 01952
With all the hues that mulch colorant manufacturers offer, one color that cannot be overlooked is green, both for helping the environment by turning material that might have been destined for the landfill into a popular colorful landscape product and for helping mulch manufacturers’ bottom line.
An upcoming issue of Soil & Mulch Producer News will feature profiles on companies offering the equipment to color mulch.
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