In the Dutch retail sector, the same five herbs have been best sellers for years (see table). The global pandemic increased the use of jarred and packaged herbs, and total supermarket sales of herbs, ginger, and sprouts remained level in 2021. That is according to data from GroentenFruit Huis.
Most notable is ginger sales, which, like mint, is used as a flavoring in tea. During the pandemic, ginger was also touted as a 'miracle' cure for people who had lost their sense of taste and smell. But health claims must be well substantiated and may only be used if they are on the European list of approved claims.
That is why Van Vugt Kruiden's marketing efforts focus on herbs as a seasoning. "We certainly won't be using health claims; that's a far too sensitive issue. We'll continually be coming up with new products, providing customers with the correct information, and inspiring them about, for example, flavor and possible uses," says owner Piet van Vugt.
"We'll help them sell more fresh herbs. Our own brand, which we've had for 15 years, contributes to that too. And quality is vital. By doing everything in-house, we can always deliver high-quality, reliable products. Many of our clients sell the herbs under private label and can therefore distinguish themselves in their segment."
Aside from inspiration and quality, there are few ways to stimulate herb sales. Unlike potted herbs, which also have a decorative value, pre-packaged herbs are not promotion items. That makes no sense in Pete's experience. "People aren't going to eat more herbs if they're on sale. They buy freshly cut herbs to use in cooking, and people have them on their grocery lists. Potted herbs being on sale isn't at the expense of packaged herbs. If supermarkets promote pre-packaged herbs, you hope consumers keep buying them afterward."
Besides the standard herb range, Van Vugt also grows baby leaf lettuce and edible flowers. Their special herb assortment covers some 40 different varieties, such as apple mint, lemon verbena, and red basil. And the edible flower choice is also quite extensive. These varieties are particularly important for sales to the foodservice sector.
Sales to retail involve the basic herbs (curly and flat parsley, coriander, celery, basil, and mint). "Flat parsley's popularity is on the rise," says Piet. Curly parsley is more of a garnish for salad and soups, while the flat variety is used as a proper seasoning. Packaged mint is the top seller.
"The mint market has been highly volatile these past two years. The cultivation company has been directly supplying supermarkets and hospitality wholesalers in the Netherlands and abroad since 2003. "Cultivation and marketing both posed major challenges. As soon as sales started picking up and we started producing again, there was another lockdown. Fortunately, we've reached calmer waters, and eateries are expected to stay open. So, we can make cultivation plans again."
Van Vugt has invested heavily in local, sustainable farming in recent years. "We've been increasingly focusing on full year-round, locally-grown supply. That's what more and more customers want," Piet explains. "Only if there's no other option do we import additional herbs. To this end, we invested heavily in our new location in 2019."
"It has an electric heating system that uses solar panels and the cold stores' residual heat to warm the greenhouse, demo greenhouse, and offices. We're thus 100% emission-free. Annually, our solar panels produce enough electricity to cover our needs. And, given the current gas prices, we're, obviously, happy about that,″ concludes Piet.