Herbs have branched out into new pack sizes, displays and formats, all of which serve to drive increased sales, according to suppliers.

“It used to be everyone had a pretty standard pack,” said Lolo Mengel, co-owner and general manager of specialty produce purveyor Coosemans D.C. Inc. in Jessup, Md.

“What we’re seeing is growth in a larger pack. We have a 2- to 3-ounce for people who want to make a larger batch of a recipe. On the other end, we’re seeing an interest in smaller units for people who want to use that particular pack for a recipe and not have any waste.”

Mengel said Coosemans offers a full line of herbs in quarter-ounce units, “so people can pick and choose, according to the recipe.”

Camilo Penalosa, vice president of business development and partner in Miami-based Infinite Herbs and Specialties LLC, said sales of all herbs are brisk.

“I think that more people are interested in trying new herbs, herbs that are less well known,” he said.
“People are more willing to try something new.”

Chefs have helped spread the word about herbs, Penalosa said.

“A lot of the cooking shows are getting people to try a lot of new things,” he said.

“They’re helpful because it shows people they don’t need to be scared to use herbs and that it’s not complicated. They can move from dry to fresh real herbs.”

Vern Meyer, executive administrator with Perrysburg, Ohio.-based HerbThyme Farms Inc., said that exposure has been invaluable to the business in tough economic times.

“Even through the worst of the economy, our company saw single to low double-digit growth,” he said.

Penalosa said minor herbs are moving off shelves more than ever.

“It’s not something you can really quantify, but you do see there’s more interest,” he said.

“People are getting more friendly using fresh herbs.”

Basil, dill, thyme, chives, oregano, rosemary, bay leaves and mint remain category mainstays, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Los Angeles-based World Variety Produce Inc., which markets herbs under its Melissa’s label.

“Those make up 90% of the herb category,” he said.

Sales of some herbs rise and fall according to season, Schueller said.

“When it comes to Thanksgiving time, it’s sage that’s most popular,” he said.

“In (spring), there’s high demand for mint because of the Kentucky Derby.”

Basil dominates summer sales, Schueller said.

“That’s because people grow more tomatoes, and there’s more end-cap display opportunities for red tomatoes and basil at this time,” he said.

Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Inc. has actively promoted basil in the summer, said Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer.

“We’ve seen more and more of our retailers take our advice and expand their sales of fresh basil during the summer, where they’ve gone with fresh basil plants and they’re merchandising them near the tomatoes,” Caplan said.

Sales of fresh herbs are bound to rise further as more consumers learn about them, Schueller said.

The category does have challenges, though, particularly with shelf-life issues, Meyer said.

“The herb category is not easy,” he said. “They’re delicate. They’re leafy by nature. They don’t have an incredibly long shelf life. It’s not as easy as it looks.”

The hard work has paid off with double-digit annual growth the last few years at Pescadero, Calif.-based Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Inc., said Marina Pace, marketing spokeswoman for the herb grower-shipper.

“Basil leads the category while thyme, rosemary and mint are also strong sellers,” she said.

“Clamshells are still the preferred pack over bunches.”