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Better varieties and media attention good for unknown herb

Red basil growing market

Red basil is largely eclipsed by its big brother, green basil. And yet, this relatively unknown herb, which largely relies on its colour, is on the rise. The volumes still cannot be compared, but interest is growing. Willem Kea of Greenfresh and Steven Lauwers talk about red basil.

“Red basil is rather popular in the United States,” Willem says. “Red basil is mainly used in pesto and sauces over there. In the Netherlands, the herb is also used in salads.” Dutch Greenfresh an importer and packager of herbs, but also has it's own cultivation. “The past two years, we’re seeing red basil grow, but compared to the regular, it’s still negligible.”

Red Basil is a growing market.

Colour most important feature
Steven Lauwers, of Belgian herb grower Vegobel, also sees a slight increase. “We see demand in Europe growing, but it’s still a relatively minor product. Red basil has great features. The most important one is its colour.” With the herb emerging in the Netherlands and Belgium, Steven knows there was a big market for the herb in Russia. “But due to the boycott, that’s useless to us now.”

Despite the growth, the volumes can’t be compared with those of other herbs. Willem illustrates this with an example that indicates the ratio. For every 200 kilos of green basil that are sold, three are sold of red basil.

New varieties
There are two reasons for the cause of the growing interest in red basil. On the one hand, quite a bit has changed in cultivation, on the other hand there’s more interest in unknown herbs. “Red basil was originally a weak product,” Willem explains. “The variety was closely related to the natural variety, which also caused it to be weaker and to have a shorter shelf life. Nowadays, new varieties have entered the market, which have a longer shelf life, leading to it being more attractive to the consumer”.

More interest
On the other hand, there’s more interest in special products and unknown herbs. “Consumers, chefs and restaurants are curious, which benefits the red basil,” Steven knows. “Now we’re growing a very large number of herb specialities for the hospitality channel, from special mint varieties, lemon verbena and red sorrel to true specialities such as olive herb and wasabi.”

The volumes of red basil are nothing compared to basil.

Media attention for herbs also plays a part. According to Willem, the growth also fits with increasing interest in unknown herbs. “Although red basil is really too closely related to normal basil to really profit from that. The main difference is the colour. It’s mostly the special mint varieties and garlic varieties that benefit from this.” Examples of unknown herbs that have gained a foothold in the market, are bronze fennel and lemon verbena.

The month of December is usually a good month for herbs. “Christmas is a time for going the extra mile,” Willem says. “Food is becoming increasingly important, and niche products are used more and more.” The spike shouldn’t be overestimated, however. “We do see a spike around Christmas,” Steven says. “But that spike only lasts a couple of days.”

For the future, Steven and Willem hope that the interest in the herbs will continue to grow. Over the past ten years, herbs have already become increasingly well-known. Where particularly parsley and celery were known in the past, Greenfresh now has 18 varieties in its standard range, complemented by 50 special herb varieties. Vegobel has around 30 different varieties in its range. “People are still curious about the herbs. In that sense, it’s uncharted territory,” Willem concludes. “In addition, herbs have many possible applications, for instance decorative, or to add taste, but you can also make oils from them or use them in a cocktail.”

More information:
Willem Kea

Steven Lauwers