The herb market is still growing strongly, but still there is a shift in the market. Chives are still growing, but has to give in to other herbs such as lemon thyme. Herb specialist Vitacress Real, supplier of cut herbs and pot herbs, tries to stimulate the consumer to use herbs through concept development and information supply.
The young herb company Vitacress Real has moved three times in five years as a result of the large growth. The company is strongly focused on retail and food service. Ralph Coenen in September: "We offer 21 different kinds of herbs, both cut herbs and pot herbs. 50% we grow ourselves, and 50% is grown by contractors. Pot herbs are grown year-round in The Netherlands. The cut herbs are grown in, besides The Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, England, and Spain. We work with our own entrepreneurs as much as possible to guarantee the quality of the products."
Herbs are hot, given the demand for herbs. The demand is still growing, and herbs seem to keep on growing in popularity. In spite of the high demand, there are still consumers that do not cook with fresh herbs. Ralph: "Not all consumers know how to use herbs in dishes, and that is why we try to get the consumer to use herbs. By using recipe cards with information, we hope to inform the customer. Besides this, we have herb mixes in our assortment which actively stimulate the consumer to use herbs. Examples of mixes are: herb butter mix, wild stew mix, and egg salad mix."
Coenen: "Herbs that have seen the most growth lately are lemon thyme and glass wort. Glasswort is not a herb by definition, but is grouped among the natural seasoning. The growth of lemon thyme is attributed to the citrus-like fragrance and a fresher taste than regular thyme. A herb that has lost some ground in recent years are chives. The total volume is still high, and it is still one of the most common herbs. Chives are a herb which is completely accepted, and will have to make way for other emerging herbs."
According to the managing director, the difference in herb consumption per country is quite large. Ralph: "If you compare the Netherlands with Germany, you see large differences. The Netherlands use a broader range of herbs, and the knowledge of herbs is higher in the Netherlands. It is normal of course for countries to differ in herb use. We are working together with retail to review the herb assortments. We want to make it easy for the consumer to choose herbs, but we also want to inform."
To anticipate a changing market in the best possible way, and to align the processes in the best way possible, Vitacress Real is working to develop Big Data. Ralph: "We try to align the processes in the best possible way. By coupling data, we want to gain new insights in things to focus on." There are also changes for the herb sector in hydroponics. Herbs are not easy products to grow. The shelf life of the products keeps being a challenge, because they are mostly sensitive products. We are continuously trying to improve the cultivation techniques, and that is why we have test set-ups in a closed environment. Certainly when energy can be stored easily, this will become more interesting than now because of cultivation methods."
Ralph concludes: "The demand for organic herbs is pretty stable. We offer the pot herbs both organic and conventional, but we have the feeling that themes such as sustainability and Planet Proof influences the demand for organic. A large theme in the herb sector is the use of plastic and the processing of waste. I would not be surprised if the theme organic will be extended to sustainable growing."
This slightly adjusted article was previously published in edition 9, volume 32 of Primeur. See www.agfprimeur.nl
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