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"Organic herb sector growing better than expected"

Organic herb sales are going well. Consumers making more conscious, healthier choices certainly contributes to this. And there is still much more to come, according to Wilco Heemskerk of Fresh Organic Choice. "These products' visibility and distinctiveness in the supermarkets can be improved. That's vital if we want to substantiate our products' organic label."

This Dutch trading company offers a wide assortment of organic herbs. These come from growers in the Netherlands and Germany, and are available from spring to autumn. In winter, most of the herbs come from the southern European countries of Portugal, Spain, and Italy. "Organic herbs is our core business. We not only have well-known herb varieties such as mint, parsley, and celery. We also supply specialties like Thai basil, red basil, and garlic chives. Our herb mixes include the popular fish herb and Italian mixes."

"We have other organic products too. These include spring onions, sugar snaps, beans, mangetout, radishes, and lettuce," says Wilco. Last year, the company introduced organic Salicornia, which is going exceptionally well. Fresh Organic Choice will, thus, further develop its organic sea vegetable line.

They are going to add products such as organic sea dill, Oysterleaf, sea lavender, and possibly other sea vegetables. "We're partnering with someone who actively cultivates sea vegetables. Sea vegetables don't yet form part of the organic range. We're always looking for niches with which we can distinguish ourselves."

'Spread helped us through the crisis'
Fresh Organic Choice herbs go to local and overseas clients. Organic herbs are selling particularly well in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Scandinavia. Sales are increasing in France too. "We supply the herbs mostly to retail, wholesale, and hospitality suppliers. But meal box producers also buy our herbs. So we have a broad customer base," Wilco explains.

"That certainly worked out well during the COVID-19 pandemic. That spread helped us through the crisis." Heemskerk is pleased that eateries have now reopened. "It's immediately noticeable, although the demand isn't yet at pre-COVID-19 levels. These places currently mostly want the standard range. They're not interested in specialties yet. Those are a bit pricier. I think that demand will return in due course."

Increasingly extreme weather affects cultivation
It was very rainy at the time of this interview. This heavy rain combined with summer temperatures makes for humid weather. That can affect quality. "We're experiencing more and more extreme weather. Last year, for example, it was very dry, which affected certain herbs. Now the wetness is creating challenges in terms of shelf life. That is, however, no reason to panic. We have a good spread of sourcing partners within Europe. So, we can always deliver year-round quality products," says Wilco.

Fresh herbs becoming more popular
Wilco has noticed that more and more hospitality business owners are interested in organics. "Consumers are asking for this. People are increasingly aware of what they buy and eat, especially now with COVID-19. This also applies to supermarkets. The organic herbs sector is growing better than expected. Fresh herbs are becoming more popular, anyway."

According to him, this is also because many more people started cooking extensively at home in the past year. That was when eateries were closed. More and more consumers are using meal boxes too. These almost always contain fresh herbs. "If they like the dishes, people copy them. So, they have more occasions to be inspired by different flavors and combinations," Wilco adds.

"The public is becoming more knowledgeable about herbs. But there's still plenty to learn about their use and application. That's where we come in. We inform our customers and continue inspiring them. Fresh herbs are natural seasonings and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Herbs aren't only tasty, but healthy, too. They contain vitamins, essential minerals, antioxidants, and fiber." 

Take over expands reach
Organto acquired Fresh Organic Choice at the beginning of this year. Organto supplies fresh and processed organic fruit and vegetables. Both parties are delighted with this collaboration. "In terms of business operations, not much has changed for us. Our team has, however, grown, as has the clientele base," says Heemskerk.

"We're now part of an organic fruit and vegetables' total supplier. That has many advantages for us, sales-wise. For example, the retail customer range has been expanded. By joining forces, our fresh herbs and seasonings category will grow even further in the coming years. We're sure of that."

It also means Fresh Organic Choice herbs are now sold under the I AM Organic name. They used to sell these herbs under private label or Fresh Organic Choice's label. "I AM Organic contributes to the visibility of organic herbs. The Organto group is working on creating more awareness. The current label information is often still too general. We need more if we want to convince consumers to go for organic," continues Wilco.

"Organto is developing this brand as part of their "Eat The World Better" campaign. Or rather, we're developing a community. We believe in less packaging and more communication. We inspire and inform consumers via a QR code. We let them digitally experience our organic products' flavor and quality. We're 100% transparent about not only where a product comes from and who grew it."

"And also how we package it. But only if that adds something from a taste, shelf life, safety, or sustainability point of view. And about how we bring it to people. All this with a CO2-neutral footprint and a fair price for all chain parties. This transparent, experience-rich communication lets shoppers understand why organic prices have surcharges. We want to focus strongly on that in the future," Wilco concludes. (CH)

Wilco Heemskerk
Fresh Organic Choice
T: 0174 820356

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