Royal Grass® turns foresight into reality, as artificial grass in gardens continues to grow in popularity
Freek Verhoeven already forecasted the potential of artificial grass in gardens. With his company Royal Grass® he provides a solution for places where natural grass struggles to grow, but the demand for a naturally looking, fresh and green lawn keeps existing. In his home country, the Netherlands, artificial grass in gardens often remains a sensitive issue. However, in other parts of the world, artificial grass enjoys a very different reputation. For instance, in many places in the United States, you can still receive subsidies when you replace natural grass in your garden with artificial grass.
Royal grass® can celebrate its 20th anniversary at the end of this year and with her high-end artificial grass they participate obviously at the top of the industry. You already see this by looking at all the innovations that the organisation implements in her products. Verhoeven started his artificial grass career about 24 years ago at TenCate Grass. An era where artificial grass had nothing to do with natural grass and was only being used for sports fields. ‘The artificial grass of that time consisted of broad, bright green strips, which eventually tore into ‘grass blades’ due to wear and tear,’ according to Verhoeven. In short, the artificial grass from the nineties was mainly functional and anything but beautiful.
Subsidized artificial grass
Nevertheless, Verhoeven saw the opportunities for evergreen grass in gardens quite early on. Early 2001 Verhoeven his former employer, TenCate, took over an artificial grass factory in Tennessee, USA. He became responsible for the sales and marketing, operating from the southern located US state. When you view Tennessee on a map, you will notice that it is located at the same altitude as countries like Morocco and Algeria, which makes it a very dry state. You can conclude that it is not the best climate for a juicy green lawn in your garden. Verhoeven: ‘’I saw that various customers of us, put ‘sports artificial grass’ in their backyard. That was even subsidized by the local government. Natural grass requires lots of water to maintain the green colour, so you received 1 dollar per square foot if you replaced a water consuming substrate with a not water consuming one.’’ A subsidy that, according to Verhoeven, still exists in California, Arizona and Nevada.
After a year and a half in the United States, Verhoeven returned to his home country. He became responsible for business development; exploring of new opportunities. Verhoeven thought back to those few American customers who installed artificial sports grass in their backyard. He decided to do that for himself too. In the meantime, artificial grass had already undergone some improvements and it already looked much more like real grass. First, his wife needed to be convinced and afterwards the artificial grass was installed. The artificial grass not only seemed to convince his wife, but also many of his friends.
Verhoeven thought back to those few American customers who installed artificial sports grass in their backyard.
Establishment of Royal Grass
This strengthened Verhoeven in his conviction that artificial grass in the backyard had potential. One problem, nobody else in the industry saw this potential. Not a single party wanted to sell artificial grass for gardens. This ultimately resulted in the establishment of a separate branch within TenCate, Royal Grass®. Verhoeven became responsible for this division and in November 2003 he saw Royal Grass going live. “At that time, we called about 40 landscapers for a demonstration. In that same year, we started using two color threads for artificial grass to create a more realistic look of the lawn.” In 2007 Freek Verhoeven and his companion continued on their own. ‘’Entrepreneurship is great, the best decision ever.’’ At the moment, Royal Grass® has around nine fulltime employees.
Thanks to the origins of TenCate, Royal Grass® has always focused on further development and innovating. Verhoeven knew people wanted artificial grass, but it had to contain the look and feel of natural grass. The aim is therefore to copy the natural characteristics in every single microscopic detail. The first further development is in the rootzone, the little brown blades, also called moss wire at the bottom of the turf. As a result, much less sand infill is required, according to Verhoeven. He sketches a reduction of 75%, which of course makes a huge difference in transport costs and carbon emission. In terms of infill, Royal Grass® has always focused on natural materials. Verhoeven: ‘’In the meantine you can see that the infill discussion is very topical within the sports world. We have always said that you do not want plastic infill. This causes microplastics in the environment.’’
List of innovations
The second innovation is theV-Shape. The blade of grass has a shape of a V with a reinforced spine, which results in the fibre being able to stay right up and having more resilience. Before 2005, the artificial grass was oval shaped. This was flattened faster and customers also gave it back. The company invented this based on natural grass. Natural grass has the same V-shape when you look at it under a microscope. The third innovation followed in 2007 named Micro Nerve Technology. Now, the artificial grass contains nerves as a result of which it has a natural matt shine. Elaborating on the natural look, brown blades of grass are being added to the artificial grass. At Royal Grass this is called SunTEC. This addition of suntanned blades of grass is also copied of natural grass for that natural look.
The fourth own innovation is Realistic Directional Yarn, in brief, ReaDY. Verhoeven: ‘’We saw that older artificial grass seemed more natural than new artificial grass. Because in older, used artificial grass, every blade has a slightly different direction. Just like natural grass. With the ReaDY Technology we could give our artificial grass that natural fickleness.’’ A funny fact that Verhoeven gives here, is that ready seems to be less successful in England. The exact reason is unknown, but according to him, the English may prefer to stick to that very tight and neat turf.
Without latex, the circle is complete
In 2011, Royal Grass® already launched EcoSense with ecoback coating. Originally the coating on the back side of artificial grass contains latex. This complicates the recycling of artificial grass because you mix polypropylene and polyethylene with latex. Mixing raw materials always complicates a recycling process. Because of this, a ecoback-coating contains no latex as a result of which Royal Grass® is completely recyclable. This ecobacking was further developed later to what Royal Grass calls REBel, a combination of the double beige backing provided with extra stabilization grid and a transparent eco coating. Simply put, such a grid what you also see under carpeting.
Verhoeven: ‘’The first ecobacking was launched to early. There was almost no demand for this solution about 12 years ago.’’ This gained momentum when two Dutch companies came under scrutiny in 2018. They messed around with artificial grass recycling, which came to light through research by the Dutch television show ‘Zembla’. Verhoeven: ‘’When you install artificial grass, 10-15% of the product gets lost, this is clean material which is perfectly suited for recycling.’’
“We launched that first latex-free ecobacking too early; there was little demand for it twelve years ago.”
The most recent further development of the Netherlands based company is setting up a Take Back Programme for her own artificial grass in 2018. The company sees it as a great social responsibility to not make the plastic waste mountain bigger than it already is. Customers and gardeners are able to recycle their artificial grass for free. In various places in the Netherlands both gardeners and consumers are able to appeal with their clean cutting waste or depreciated artificial grass. Verhoeven: “In the Netherlands and Belgium, the product has been recycled since 2018. That immediately represents 40% of our market.” The goal of this take back action of used Royal Grass is to re-use this in the production of new Royal Grass. Verhoeven: “At this moment, all of our material is still 100% virgin, but I expect that we will run the first tests with recycled artificial turf this year. Our goal is also to close the loop, but our main objective is to create artificial turf that is as beautiful and natural-looking as possible.”
Verhoeven also sees that the emotion around artificial grass is increasing in the last couple of years. ‘’We want to take our responsibility. I always say that artificial grass is a solution for problematic areas. If there is a place where grass grows without any problem, than it would be odd to install artificial grass. That may be a weird statement for somebody who sells artificial grass, but we see enough opportunities in the market for our products. Since 2021 artificial grass for landscaping overtook the sports industry in terms of volume. This is only expected to grow.’’