Industrial Basil Marketing
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Mohammed Baten
Posted on: September 27, 1998

We have a vegetable farm here in Vancouver. We like to grow industrial basil. Is there any basil processing industry in Canada? It would be highly appreciated if you could inform us about basil marketing.

The majority of basil production in Canada is for the fresh cut market to grocers and restaurants and for pot plants for home gardening market. The market for industrial basil for pesto, frozen and dried markets is developing. But as these products must compete on a worldwide scale (because they are easily shipped from foreign manufacturers), they have not yet taken hold as an industry here. We believe that there are good opportunities, especially for organic and high quality basil.

Most dried herb brokers report shortages of top quality dried basil. Basil is somewhat difficult to dry. Specialized growers who develop techniques for organic production and efficient, non-destructive drying, milling and handling, will find a good market for their products. An important consideration is to select a variety that works best.

There is also a limited market, but underdeveloped market, for essential oils. Several high oil yielding strains of basil are in trials and there seesm to be some hope that a domestic oil industry will develop. This market presents, in our view, the greatest risk for failure because it depends on an infrastructure for oil distillation which is limited at best at present.

Basil is susceptible to a devastating fungal disease called fusarium. Until now, none of the sweet basil varieties (Ocimum basilicum) are resistant to this disease, and the main defence growers have deployed is the use of fusarium-tested seeds and keeping fields scruplously clean. Richters will be introducing a new sweet basil in 1999 that is at least partially resistant to fusarium which we hope will make industrial basil growing a much more reliable venture in the future.

How to reach the industrial basil market? It will require an investment of time and money because there are no established channels where basil products can be marketed. As with most herbs, the path to market will require that you plunge in and grow a small test plot, say an acre or half, to both develop your techniques and to produce samples you can show to potential buyers. You will be faced with the problem that large buyers will be reluctant to commit to you contractually if there is any doubt about quality or availability. Even if you can show top quality, they will have concerns that you will be able to deliver as promised.

You may need to explore the bulk dried herb markets for your initial foray into basil. It will at least be marketable to numerous dried herb brokers and wholesalers. Then, gradually over the ensuing years, make contact with the pesto and frozen basil market, which we think will be the largest and most lucrative area of the basil market. If you are committed to organic growing techniques, you may be able to interest a Canadian health food manufacturer to develop a new product based on your product.

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