Garlic has gone mainstream, and herbs are climbing toward that vaunted status, suppliers say.
“Our specialty is garlic, which is a foundation for many recipes,” said Louis Hymel, purchasing and marketing director with Orlando, Fla.-based Spice World Inc.
Garlic, perhaps, hasn’t reached onion-and-potato stature in the mainstream, but it has developed a strong following, said Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing with Gilroy, Calif.-based garlic grower-shipper Christopher Ranch.
“The garlic category is a small one but extremely important to most people who are into food and flavor, from the home chef to the white-tablecloth chef,” she said.
Fresh garlic can make “a big impact” on the flavor of many menu offerings, she said.
Some California growers, including Christopher Ranch, were in the early stages of their 2014 harvest in early July.
Ross said the current crop was shaping up well.
“Things are looking good, she said.
The harvest will continue until mid-September, Ross said.
“Yields this year are normal, which is up from lower yields in 2013,” she said.
Christopher Ranch anticipates shipping more than 70 million pounds of fresh California heirloom garlic this season, Ross said.
China remains the major source of garlic in the U.S., accounting for about 70% of supplies in the U.S. for the year, suppliers said.
Jinxiang County, the major producing area, is down about 10%, but surrounding growing areas are up, so the overall average is down about 7%, according to Jim Provost, a partner in West Grove, Pa.-based I Love Produce LLC.
Some of the reduction is due to less planting and some due to decreased yield, Provost said.
“But there is a large carryover from last year’s crop of about 300,000 metric tons,” Provost said. “Therefore the market is stable but may increase gradually as the storage garlic is consumed and new crop us stored for the next 12 months’ marketing.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 30-pound cartons of jumbo-size white garlic from California were priced at $50.50 July 3 on the terminal market in Atlanta, while the same product from China was $29-31.50. Cartons of four 5-pound plastic jars of peeled garlic from California were $48.50. Chinese product was $39.50-40.
A year earlier, 30-pound cartons of white garlic from California were $57. Chinese product was $40-45.50. Peeled garlic from California was $48-49; from China, it was $31-34.
China plays a key role in driving prices, said Mike Layous, a salesman and marketer for The Garlic Co., Bakersfield, Calif.
“China is by far the world’s largest grower, maybe 80%, so it depends on how much Chinese crop is around,” he said. “If China has a lower crop, obviously, the California price is higher.”
Peeled garlic is attracting most of the attention in the market, said Bruce Klein, marketing director for Secaucus, N.J.-based Maurice A. Auerbach Inc.
“It’s just that peeled its more easy to use than bulk. You don’t have to crack the heads, and it’s ready to use,” he said.
Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc. has offered elephant garlic since 1966, and sales have shown constant growth, said Karen Caplan, president and CEO.
“Black garlic has gained traction outside of foodservice over the past five years since its introduction,” she said.
Herbs are gaining traction, too, said Tim Heydon, CEO of Harrisonburg, Va.-based Shenandoah Growers Inc., which has year-round greenhouse production of certified organic herbs — living and fresh-cut.
Heydon said there are a number of factors propelling sales up.
“One of them is the cable cooking shows, the proliferation of those shows,” he said. “Almost every time, they’ll be using fresh herbs. People watch those shows and morning shows. Any chef is almost always going to use fresh herbs, and that helps quite a bit.”
Herbs bring a nutritional edge, too, which helps boost sales, Caplan said.
“The biggest take away about herbs is that as Americans look to cut sodium intake and the use of heavy sauces in cooking, they seek out herbs to flavor and enhance their food,” she said. “I would say this holds true for all types of garlic as well. These all offer healthy and tasty options for consumers.”
Promotions are helping, herb sales, said Camilo Penalosa, Everett, Mass.-based partner in Infinite Herbs & Specialties, which is based in Miami.
“I think that promotion in the stores, especially ads, the TV shows, having a chance to see people cooking with fresh herbs, and special holidays, I think, are big drivers, because people want to give a fresher taste to their food, and people like to enjoy cooking more with fresh herbs,” he said.
According to the USDA, 1-pound film bags of loose sage from California are priced at $7.50 — unchanged from a year ago.
One-pound film bags of basil from California are $6.50-7. A year earlier, the same product, from Hawaii, was $5-6.95.
One-pound film bags of thyme from California are $8-9. In 2013, the same product $7-8.