"Large in small" with herb specialities"

Strawberry blite, salvia elegans tangerine, variegated creeping thyme: exotic sounding herb names which only a few people can clearly picture. Organic herb nursery Puur Aroma has plenty of space for these and about 80 other specialities. “Large in small,” is how Frank Radder describes the company, which he runs with his wife Monique. Quite remarkable, considering the nursery started with conventional ornamental plant cultivation more than 30 years ago. After the turn of the century, the two went in a completely different direction when they started growing organic herbs, and the nursery went through a double switch. 

In the 1980s, garden herbs were only a sub-part within ornamental plant cultivation. As ‘rock gardens’ became more and more popular, demand for permanent plants started decreasing. This was an important reason for Puur Aroma to broaden their horizon. During the 2003/2009 period, the Dutch nursery gradually started transitioning their assortment, and they also decided to start working organically. “To discover this market, which was relatively new to us, we deliberately phased our plans. Under the guise of: don’t throw away your old shoes before you’ve bought new ones,” Frank explains.

Organic only alternative
The switch to organic was prompted by an order for conventional herbs from Ikea Switzerland. The furniture giant had a policy for which they tested fresh products for MRLs as matter of course. That was known far in advance, so the nursery could take necessary precautions in peace. Frank consulted the WUR guide for pesticides to find out which substances with short waiting periods were allowed at the end of the growing season. “We did everything by the book, which is why I was astonished when lab tests showed a number of values over the appointed limit,” he continues. Afterwards it became apparent that this was caused by conditions in the greenhouse. After applying heat and water, residues quickly dropped to below the appointed limit, so that the order could be delivered after all. “That was a real eye opener for me. I thought I had made a terrible mistake – despite all of the precautions. I never wanted to experience doubts like that again,” Frank remembers. “That was when we thought: we’re either closing shop or completely switching to organic.” They chose the latter.

“Large in small”
By now, the nursery has 2.5 hectares of land, and the option of completely covering it. The duo also rents a greenhouse elsewhere. The year-round production mostly follows seasonal demand, which is largely driven by the catering industry. Because of the broad, varied supply, volumes of most types of herbs are relatively limited, but that’s not what Frank cares about. “We are large in small, we supply custom work, and have turned that into our trademark.”

Puur Aroma offers its herb assortment both as potted plants and freshly bundled. The nursery supplies its potted plants to well-known Dutch gardening centres like Intratuin, Hornbach and GroenRijk, and to a handful of organic specialist shops. Sales of freshly cut herbs are mostly meant for catering service (wholesalers). “The products don’t poach each other’s territory,” the grower says. “The buyers are too different for that.” Nevertheless, he has noticed pressure on potted herbs increasing, although that’s more pronounced within the conventional supply. However, Frank doesn’t think conventional herb growers will start switching to organic en masse. “The cultivation is much too complicated and time-consuming for that. That stops companies sensitive to hypes hoping to hitch a ride on the success of organic from also becoming active in growing organic herbs.”

Distinctive with specialities
“Taking care to have good quality, ensuring stable supply and mostly being able to leave your mark are all requirements to carry on within this sector. When comparing us to Gipmans or Van Vugt, we have just a small garden. You won’t find a large fully automatic sorting and packing line to handle large volumes and keep costs as low as possible at our nursery. That’s not profitable for our specific business model. Zooming in on our specialities, our nursery is one of the best. Each herb company has its own method of working and its own specialism,” Frank explains. “We do a lot, but we do it on a small scale. We supply custom work, for example, all of our herbs are manually cut. That way, you’ll never become the biggest in herbs like parsley, which is an herb that’s impossible to break into as a newcomer. That market is too saturated, so that it’s very hard to be distinctive with that herb, but that’s not something you should be aiming for, in any case.” Yet it’s mostly the traditional products such as mint, basil, thyme and rosemary that takes the cake in terms of use and recognisability for Puur Aroma.

More information:
Puur Aroma
Frank Radder

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