Sourcing organic herbs and spices

by Donna Berry
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Peruvian chicken with chili and lime
Tight supplies of organic ingredients can limit innovation in prepared foods. (photos: McCormick)
 
The booming US organic food industry posted sales of $39.7 billion in 2015, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to the “2016 Organic Industry Survey” from the Organic Trade Association, Washington, DC. Nearly 5 percent of all food sold in the US in 2015 was organic. This figure is projected to steadily increase, with much of the growth coming from new product innovations that satisfy consumers’ cravings for convenience and flavor adventure.

Chia seed with citrus and chilies
Chia seed with citrus and chilies

Indeed, today’s retailers are seeking out organic offerings that go beyond the whole foods merchandised around the perimeter of the store. In response, formulators and culinary professionals are developing prepared foods with organic ingredients. The challenge is that supply often limits innovation. This is particularly true for flavorful foods including seasoned fresh meat and poultry and packaged prepared products, as sourcing organic herbs and spices can be challenging.

The US Dept. of Agriculture requires certified organic products to have at least 95 percent organic ingredients in order to have the official organic seal on the package. There is an approved National List of allowed non-organically produced agricultural-based ingredients for use in organic-certified foods. Herbs and spices are not on this list, which means foods certified organic can only contain organically certified herbs and spices.

“Supply is struggling,” says Simone Cormier, national spice coordinator, Allegro Coffee Co., Thornton, Colorado, a subsidiary of Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas. “Most of these flavorful ingredients are grown in tropical and third-world countries, and the labor pool is dwindling in these regions. Further, crops are suffering because of climate change.”

Brazilian-style garlic and cilantro beef kebobs
A natural label may be preferable if ingredient sourcing is an issue.
(Photos: McCormick)
 

When it comes to developing flavorful value-added meat and poultry products, product developers need to factor in supply of herbs and spices. It might make more sense to go for a natural label than an organic label if ingredient sourcing is an issue. Many complex products, for example frozen meatballs, may opt to make a “made with organic ingredients” claim.

 

Smoky garlic grilling salt
Smoky garlic grilling salt

“From a supplier standpoint, an early understanding of the projected needs of the herbs and spices from the food manufacturer is most helpful,” says Gary Augustine, executive director, market development, Kalsec, Kalamazoo, Michigan. “Establishing or developing the growing pipeline for these herbs and spices can take time to set up and establish proper growing conditions. The more advanced commitment or lead time allows the supplier to plan for these conditions.”

Cajun fried chicken
Sourcing organic herbs and spices needs to be handled differently from conventional ingredients. (photos: McCormick)
 

Many of the companies striving for an organic claim are small entrepreneurs who are not able to project marketplace buy-in and therefore unable to provide suppliers with long-term contracts or even projected needs. They should take note that sourcing organic herbs and spices needs to be handled differently from conventional ingredients. They are not available off the shelf and require advance planning, cultivation and production.

 

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