A year ago, the Dutch nursery, Vitacress Real, introduced its own food service-exclusive herb label - Vitalicious. This brand will be on several well-known wholesalers' shelves soon. It will help clients grow. And it focuses on a fresh experience and renewed concepts.
"We've grown large, particularly through sales to retailers. Local and overseas supermarkets sell our herbs under private labels," begins Tom Meijers, a sales manager at Vitalicious. "We're good at advising customers on how to grow their herb category. That's what we like doing best. Our mission is to let as many people as possible enjoy real flavor."
"It's high time to extend our knowledge and experience to the foodservice sector. Hence the introduction of an exclusive brand for the wholesale and hospitality industries. With Vitalicious, we want to ignite the love of herbs among chefs." The brand will be rolled out in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.
Using market data to grow herb category
The name Vitalicous is a fusion of the words vital and delicious. It all began with 'Truly Original', the original, genuine, pure taste of fresh herbs. "No industrialized and processed flavorings; just back to basics - Mother Nature's flavors. Healthy and delicious," says Tom.
Vitalicious has been available since the beginning of this year. Tom's delighted to be able to begin supplying foodservice supplier, Smeding. That means this new herb brand can be found in all Makro and Sligro branches, among others.
"We'll fully advise them and help them to increase their herb sales. How? By making our broad experience in category management available. Market data and supplying many European countries has taught us a lot about the retail market. That's tremendously valuable."
"For example, target group research shows that people use herbs primarily for flavoring dishes and garnishing. But, there are plenty of other possibilities. For instance, using herbs instead of salt or to minimize its use," continues Meijers.
Research and experience aren't the only things used to help clients expand their herb categories. Vitalicous thinks the fresh experience and innovation are just as important. "Consumers are increasingly aware of natural, fresh ingredients, health, and fresh in general. That certainly helps."
"Considering the shift towards more green on plates, it's herbs that complete the dish. We emphasize the total fresh experience and the positive mindset that gives people. Seeing and especially tasting fresh herbs undoubtedly adds to that."
Convenience solutions and trends
New ideas and thinking regarding concepts are in Vitalicious's DNA. Tom points out that this is also necessary. They have to convince an even broader target group of fresh herbs' power. Say, by offering convenience solutions.
These should make it easier to use fresh herbs at different times or that save time. "Think, for example, of herb mixes for cocktails, mocktails, or sandwiches and salads. We help customers by really listening to them. We brainstorm from the end user's perspective. We also like helping to come up with other ideas."
"Like how fresh herbs can help create a fresh experience out-of-home. We do this by developing things like innovative flavor combinations. That's in cooperation with chefs. We look for new herb varieties too. Think of mint, which suddenly got a huge boost some years ago," adds Tom.
"That could well be true of another herb soon. Herbs are very dependent on trends and developments. In the United Kingdom, people use herbs a lot in sandwiches and salads. Like arugula in the Netherlands. The UK is the front runner. And the Netherlands usually follows suit quite quickly. Germany is generally more traditional and conventional."
Spreading opportunities ensures certainty
Just about all Vitalicious herbs are cultivated in Europe. And where possible, in the Netherlands. The herb supplier keeps its footprint low by using as few air freight deliveries as possible. "We grow as much locally as we can. But we also deliberately choose to spread our production. That's to avoid the risk of shortages," says the sales manager.
"As a result, we never run out of product. Though, quality is always paramount. We're now entering the local cultivation phase again. In recent months, we've had to deal with variable weather conditions. That sometimes made it difficult to get supplies. It's good that we're now entering a stable phase again," Tom says.
Admittedly, introducing a brand during a global pandemic isn't an obvious choice. "Yes, the foodservice sector is under pressure. How long it'll last and whether things will ever return to normal is uncertain. COVID-19 made us realize how vulnerable you are if you focus on a single market."
"We have great faith in our brand and the power of our fresh herbs. So, we'll go for it, no matter what. How great would it be if we were to sit on a beach in the summer and see our brand come by? I can already see it," Tom concludes.
All of Vitacress Real's herbs could be available under the Vitalicious brand. But Tom explains that the foodservice range will be broader and more specialized than that in the retail sector. "You're less likely to find chervil, tarragon, and lemon thyme in the supermarket. Many foodservice customers are familiar with herbs, and we go the extra mile. We help them choose certain herbs. You select wines that are most suited to your establishment and dishes. You can do the same with herbs. That allows you to focus even more on the flavor and fresh experience."