In 2018, a Victorian growing operation launched its own herb brand that now consists of 20 different varieties. Based in Heatherton in Melbourne’s south-east, Butler Market Gardens is experiencing high demand for its gourmet herbs. General Manager – Sales and Marketing Andrew Smith reports on the factors driving this demand.
After launching ‘Butler Gourmet Pantry’ two years ago, Butler Market Gardens (Aust) Pty Ltd® is reporting continued growth and expansion of its sales and customer base. In 2019, it recorded moderate growth of 83 per cent (coming off a small base). However, 2020 has reached a new level of growth, tracking 188 per cent up on 2019 – and demand is continuing to grow.
The growing operation attributes the success to a number of factors, as outlined below.
A focus on product quality and sustainability.
Traditionally, most herb supply for Melbourne is trucked down from Queensland during winter. Issues such as dehydration and temperature injury during transport cause on-going quality problems. Consumers buying Queensland-grown herbs in Victoria would often be purchasing a product that is up to a week old – not a good result for the category.
In 2019, Butler Market Gardens invested in a three-hectare heated protected cropping facility. The facility is located in Lyndhurst, less than 50 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. Two million units of herbs are grown annually from this facility. Production is all-year round, ensuring consistency of supply using a combination of hydroponics and drip irrigated pots.
The growing techniques and environment ensure the best quality is achieved, and freshness is ensured through the product being picked, packed, and distributed to customers within 24 hours of orders being placed.
In keeping with the business’ sustainability focus, the facility features a 2.95-megawatt biomass boiler. It operates by burning renewable organic materials such as wood chips, shavings and off-cuts to produce heat – materials that would otherwise go to waste. The heat is transferred into the protected cropping environment to assist plant growth when the outside temperature falls below optimum growing conditions. The result is the replacement of natural gas with a more environmentally friendly alternative, and a reduced heating cost of up to 60 per cent.
Consolidation and investment into Melbourne market operation.
The main distribution point for the range is the Butler Market Gardens grower stands 733-737, located in the Melbourne Market, Epping. Recent investments that have been made to improve the team and its resources, meaning it is operating efficiently and easily able to take on new customers and volume. The team is led by the business’ Market Manager, Frank Attana. Frank is an experienced herb and leafy vegetable wholesaler.
An increase in marketing and social media activity.
Butler Market Gardens has recognised driving the success of the herb category involves not only marketing to its customers, but also to the end consumers. It has increased recipe/serving suggestions via various social media outlets and there are further plans being made in this space.
The range consists of 20 different herb varieties that are packaged in either smaller serve punnets or larger sleeves. All are barcoded. Specially made trays can be provided to retailers to display punnets neatly. Herb varieties include basil, chives, coriander, dill, mint, oregano, continental parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme, curry leaves, lime leaves, lemon grass, Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, lemon thyme, tarragon, marjoram, curly parsley and watercress.
Butler Market Gardens will continue to explore local sales avenues before considering export as the company pursues further production expansion.