Growers report rising demand for herbs

11/03/2009 04:26:30 PM
Amy Fischbach

The herb category continues to increase as Americans learn how to use fresh herbs in their diet, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for World Variety Produce, Los Angeles, which markets under the Melissa's brand.

"Americans used to focus on what they could shake out of a salt and pepper shaker, but they've opened their eyes to the use of different herbs," said Schueller, whose company is a wholesaler and distributor that works with a network of international and domestic growers.

Consumers are beginning to taste the difference between fresh and dried herbs, which is increasing sales for Melissa's. The company expects to see a double-digit increase for the summer season.

Growing awareness

The demand for herbs is increasing as Americans become more aware of the ways in which fresh herbs can spice up a meal, said Andrew Walsh, president of Vida Fresh, Vernon, Calif.

Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development for Infinite Herbs LLC, Miami, agreed, saying that more young adults are also starting to get into cooking with fresh herbs.

Jonathan Roussel, sales manager for Rock Garden South, Miami, which grows herbs in Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Guatemala, Palestine, Costa Rica and Florida, has seen a continued growth in demand for herbs. Last year, the company shipped out about 4 million pounds, and this year, Roussel said he expects a 20% increase in business.

The company's commitment to quality, customer service and food safety has boosted sales for this year, he said. In addition, more consumers are learning how to cook with fresh herbs by watching shows on the Food Network. Nowadays, he said it seems like everyone is cooking with herbs.

"There are millions of Web sites with recipes," he said. "The demand just keeps on growing."

Articles about herbs in the food sections of the local newspapers have also helped to boost the demand for herbs. Also, as consumers go out to eat at restaurants, they often try to make the same kind of meals at home, which is good for the herb category, Schueller said.

"If they have an enjoyable experience at a restaurant, they want to duplicate that experience," he said. "With the current economy, people are less apt to go out to eat and they instead cook at home, which is good for herbs."

Organic demand

As more consumers eat at home to save money, some are using fresh herbs in a variety of ways. For example, they're using mint to freshen up their salads or using chives in more recipes.

"Chives are a very delicate herb that doesn't hold very well," Penalosa said. "Now that it's doing much better post-harvest, the chive is looking good in the stores, and people are buying it more."


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