Marketing Dried Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Gintas Malisauskas
Posted on: April 19, 2000

I am from Eastern Europe (Lithuania) and dealing mostly with bareroot perennial plants.

Some of my business partners from Russia are trying to sell 15000 kg (15MT) of dried sage.

Could you please inform me about prices for this crop? Also could you be a broker in this deal?

I have 10 years experience in dealing with plants worldwide. The sage (Salvia officinalis) is of Russian origin, and has 0.85% oil, 3% foreign matter, and 11% ash.

It is a pleasure to meet someone from your country. I delivered a paper at an International Conference in Prague in 1972, and my journey took me through Lithuania. Your country has had a history of more than 400 years in producing sages for the world. More than 20% is sold to the U.S., so you should not have any trouble locating a market.

The Foreign Agricultural Service will state that more than 8,000 ton was imported just into the port of New York last year for use in the meat packing industry. Prices varied during the year, with current spot pricing now at $1.10/lb., C&F. Chemical Marketing Reporter usually has this price upgraded every two weeks. The actual use and marketing is larger, of course.

There are numerous importers in New York and New Jersey. For specific reasons, I am unable to assist you as a broker at this time. My book, "The Potential Of Herbs As A Cash Crop," has more than six pages of names and addresses. The American Spice Trade Association can also probably assist you to locate a broker.

Here is the dilemma. Most European sages are actually too dirty to pass normal FDA inspection. This is because most of the crops are grown where there are range animals. These animals deposit hair and bacteria on the plant (3% foreign matter). Because of specific trade agreements, FDA only inspects one shipment out of 20 (as a rule). The other 19 then pass inspection, even though they would fail in any normal inspection.

The American Spice Trade Association is aware of these problems, but lobbies for specific importers and other foreign interests. Most manufacturers are working with a supply agreement with these importers, so they usually always buy European first -- no matter what. India becomes a secondary source of supply.

In 1992, I grew a Dalmatian White sage that had no foreign matter or ash (dirt). I was unable to give it away, even though it was superior to any imported material (including price). It was like being "blackballed." It was eventually processed and sold, but I learned a very important lesson. "If you don’t belong to the Club, you don’t make sales to Club members." Welcome to the U.S. Spice Trade.

I was angry. I even thought to "blow the whistle" with a major New York newspaper, challenging FDA and their arbitrary policy on inspection. But I quickly realized that I would only be chasing windmills. It’s going to take a lot more than my anger to change this serious problem. While we can grow a superior sage, who’s going to buy it?

As a broker, I only make a 10% commission, yet to make a sale through ASTA requires that just as a membership fee. "Only the very large need apply..." This was the primary reason why I now only export crops grown from North America. While I won’t be able to assist you in your marketing, you should not have any trouble locating someone who can.

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