John van Laethem, Bell'Aroma

"Herb market: "Big holiday players now suffering"

"The supply of herbs has been somewhat disturbed by the massive demand over Christmas and New Years." This is according to John van Laethem of herb company Bell'Aroma. "The big players over the holidays are now suffering. At the moment there are shortages for mint and basil. We normally work with set purchasing prices, but some suppliers try to ask for higher prices during the holidays and pull them through to the end of February. We notice this disrupts the market."

The Bell'Aroma location in Vlezenbeek. 

Winter chill
"It's winter everywhere. In the countries of origin, this means the herb production is reduced. Many products, like mint are still grown outside. It has to be at least 15 degrees for the cultivation of basil. You would manage this in a greenhouse, but not outside." The Bell'Aroma products mostly come from the Mediterranean area. "One of our growers is in southern Spain. Due to the location the winters there are longer, and the summers shorter than here. His production has also gone down considerably."

Vegetarians like a flower
Besides herbs, Bell'Aroma also deals in edible flowers. John: "The market for this is going in all directions. People who are cutting down, people who are remaining loyal and then there is an upcoming market. Celebrity chefs and catering businesses are particularly prepared to pay the price for edible flowers, but they could look for something different. Yet a lot of chefs also see that flowers at flavour, structure and visual effect to a dish. Some also notice that vegetarians really like to have a flower during dinner."
Doctors advice
"To be able to serve the consumer the price of edible flowers will have to drop hugely, but I believe we are almost at a turning point. A lot of people believe that flowers are rich in active substances. I might not be a doctor but violets seem to be very good for the lungs."

Asian herbs popular
"The interest in the Asian kitchen is still gaining influence, this is mainly due to the Dutch. The Asian kitchen has also been discovered in the north of Belgium. This is good for the sales of coriander, lemongrass and ginger."

Moving with the times
"Last year multiple Belgian herb suppliers quit. This is due to all the conditions that herbs have to meet these days, especially regarding food safety. You have to move with the times in terms of administration and continue perform to a high level. There is no space for people who don't want this."

Wild picking
The legislation means doing a lot of analysis yourself. John: "I believe this is good, but there are people who forget to calculate this into the price. The legislation goes so far that you have to have analysis of what's on a plot before you can harvest it. If you have series of 200 or 300 m2 on which you harvest 120 to 125 kilo of rosemary. If your analysis costs €120, you lose €1 per kilo. This makes a difference. If you don't calculate it through, it comes to an end." John indicates that he has his doubts about companies convinced they are going to do wild picking. "You have no control over it."

"If you want to make it these days, you need a certain volume. You don't want to know what it all costs. Due to the kilometre tax the logistic costs have exploded and keeping track of the documentation costs a lot of money. Thankfully we are still growing 5 to 10% every year."

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