Pots of herbs Lifestyle pic

Herbs are being marketed as modern and versatile 

These are overwhelmingly positive times for herb producers, with consumers showing unprecedented interest in cooking fresh and adding flavour to the meals they make.

Almost all product lines are in strong, often double-digit growth, and there is no sign of the bandwagon slowing down. What’s particularly encouraging is a trend towards buying fresh herbs, with sales of coriander, basil, parsley and mint – the four best-selling products – showing between 13 and 20 per cent value, as well as strong volume growth [Kantar Worldpanel, 52 w/e 22 May 2016]. In the case of mint, volumes have smashed through the one million kilo barrier on the back of a 34.9 per cent increase.

“Buying fresh herbs is still very recipe driven – people often buy fresh herbs because a recipe they are following calls for it – and we have seen a strong correlation between herbs being referenced in popular recipe books and their sales,” says Simon Conway, managing director of Vitacress Herbs.

There are also changes in the way consumers are shopping the category, note Mat Prestwich and Jean Stewart from R&G Herbs, with people shopping more often during the week rather than in the traditional Friday to Sunday slot. With increased availability of herbs at times when shoppers are buying ingredients on the way home from work, sales have benefited. “Scratch cooking continues as consumers enjoy creating healthy meals and experiencing different recipes,” they add. “Street food and recipe box solutions have made people more aware of cultural recipes and are wanting to create this at home, while cookery programmes and associated marketing means that, as a nation, we are never far from food.”

Producers don’t see the sales increases ending any time soon, and in fact spy significant opportunities to grow the market. For instance, Vitacress says there is an issue with consumers not knowing what to do with their herbs once they’ve followed a particular recipe, and has been running a consumer campaign called Herbilicious to highlight their versatility.

This year, as well as tapping into healthy eating and world food trends under the banner ‘Putting the flavour back…naturally’, Vitacress is working with blogger Dannii from Hungry Healthy Happy, who has created a guide to pairing herbs with particular foods. Inspiring people to fully maximise their purchases would certainly seem a logical next step for the category.

Of course, nobody is immune from the current political and economic climate, and issues around the exchange rate, labour and the National Minimum Wage are as problematic as for everyone else. But with a good-news product and hungry public, don’t expect this success story to end for some time yet.