Marketing Herbs from Colombia
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Martha Parra
Posted on: July 20, 2003

I am living in Toronto since 4 years ago, I have back in my country, Colombia (South America) a farm and I used to grow herbs for the domestic market. In Colombia the weather is really good, for this any kind of herbs grow without problems but the domestic market is not enough for all the farmers. Currently, my business is running there and still the farm is producing herbs.

Now that I am living in Toronto, I am thinking in starting my own company, bringing herbs from my farm in Colombia and also help the other farmers, and get market here for them.

The herbs that I grow in a traditional way. Besides that I am preparing about 20 hectares more for organic grow, are peppermint, Origanum vulgare, Thymus vulgaris, parsley, chilli pepper, Ocimum basilicum, rosemary, chamomile, basil, laurel, dandelion and some more.

In Colombia the planting rate is about 3 or 4 cuts per year depending on the herb kind because the weather there is the proper for them, i.e.:

Origanum vulgare: planting 40,000 plants per hectare yield per cut, 3 times per year, or about 15 ton fresh (3 ton dry) or 150 kg oil.

Looking at this you can see that the weather helps us a lot.

I bought your book "The Potential of Herbs as a Cash Crop" and I read it twice trying to take from it and learn all that I can to start a productive business. This book taught me a lot and now I feel more confident about my starting on this business.

My questions are:

How or where can I find statistics or help about pricing my products? I didn’t find this info in the Internet or statistics to see how to do it.

I am thinking to bring 100 to 200 pounds of each product, and offer them to the closer potential buyers in Ontario. I am thinking in sending a sample and offer them by mail. I am not sure if this is the right way but I can see that in this country it is a very popular way.

I have never sent an offer before in this country but, on account of my back country experience, the information that I think I need to send is: kind of growing (traditional or organic), amount (in pounds), date for delivery (sowing time or if is already cut), price (per pound), product form (fresh, dry, powder, oil), package for shipping (bag, box/pounds).

I am thinking to start only with dry herbs (whole or cut) and some in powders. Do you recommend me this way to start?

Also how is the better packing presentation for this?

I really need your advice because you are a person with a lot of knowledge in this area.

I will wait for your answer that I will appreciate very much.

Let’s start with several papers from my website (www.nwbotanicals.org). Go to http://www.nwbotanicals.org/oak/altagri/cropoutlook.htm first. That should give you some idea on current prices for spices. Also don’t forget to go to the Foreign Agricultural Services website (use Google to find), and then look around. [Check the "Resources for Growers" section on the Richters website also. --Ed.]

The actual monitoring of herb and spice imports into the United States is quite limited. While the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service has published data, other monitoring systems (like Chemical Marketing Reporter) show import figures into the Port of New York to be twice those reported by FAS for the entire nation.

Other major ports of entry, like San Antonio, TX, do not even formally monitor the amount of crops brought in from Mexico, Central and South America. Why are there not more detailed studies on the actual dollars involved? One reason is because most herbs and spices are treated as "non-storable" commodities. Their individual total gross sales are usually quite small and uninteresting as trade.

The USDA FAS has published data to indicate that the United States now imports more than ten times the spices that they export. For example, the United States imports of just selected dried condiments, seasonings, and flavoring materials in 1987 were valued at nearly $439 million. Meanwhile, exports of specific spices and seasonings (including dehydrated onion and garlic) were valued at $62.7 million.

The important point to remember is that these figure are often in conflict with other reported import figures, and they only reflect those markets where herbs and spices are sold as foods. These figures to not reflect those crops that might be marketed as pharmaceuticals (drugs), cosmetics, or even the growing decorative floral markets.

Remember, this [market] is no longer [viable as] a raw material supplier market, so it is best to add value (cottage industry). If you plan COG, why not sell your crops as fresh cut for the culinary trade. Certainly Toronto would absorb that without any problem at all. Use FedEx or Airborne Express, both offer the service of delivery, which is what this market is about.

I explored the idea of a fresh wildflower salad for Toronto, and think this is still a very good idea. Drying your herbs for the regional wholesaler is only going to cause you grief. Most buyers want to buy in much larger quantities, and won’t appreciate your efforts for making them higher quality than cheaper imports. Plus, processing is expensive on this scale.

The volumes you plan, and the area where you live both indicate you should either sell fresh cut to the gourmet trade, or make something which you distribute in Toronto. There is new packaging out for fresh cut spices, especially for the grocery chains and local merchants. You probably will have far more success doing this than trying to sell dried herbs to regional wholesalers.

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