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The European market potential for fresh culinary herbs

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Fresh herbs are growing in popularity as consumers are becoming more interested in natural, healthier products and new culinary experiences. Herb preferences and consumption vary throughout Europe but, overall, the trade value is increasing with stable imports from non-European suppliers. Northern European countries show most potential for imported fresh herbs.

1. Product description

Fresh herbs (herbaceous plants) refer to leafy green parts of a plant that have a culinary, aromatic, cosmetic, decorative and medicinal use. This study focuses mainly on fresh culinary herbs used to flavour food and beverages.

Common fresh herbs that are used in Europe include basil, parsley and mint. These herbs are available as freshly cut and packaged herbs, frozen herbs and potted plants. Potted herbs are generally not imported due to phytosanitary regulations and inefficient logistics.

Figure 1: Example of freshly packed herbs in a French supermarket

Example of freshly packed herbs in a French supermarket

Source: ICI Business

In trade data, fresh culinary herbs belong to the HS code 07099990 for ‘Other vegetables, fresh or chilled, not mentioned elsewhere.’ This code also includes niche vegetables such as okra, wild onions and bitter melon. Dried herbs are not part of the statistical analysis.

Note that fresh herbs not destined as culinary vegetables are registered under the HS code 12119086 for ‘Other plants and parts of plants used primarily in perfumery, in pharmacy or for insecticidal, fungicidal or similar purposes, fresh, chilled, frozen or dried, whether or not cut, crushed or powdered.’ These can include basil, mint, oregano, sage and curry leaves. There are also several other HS codes that may include fresh herbs (see Table 1).

Table 1: Product codes for fresh herbs

Harmonized System (HS) code

07099990 ‘Other vegetables, fresh or chilled, not elsewhere specified’

Sub codes

0709999040      Parsley

0709999072      Coriander leaves

0709999090      Other (including fresh culinary herbs)

Other HS codes that may include (fresh) herbs

0709400090      Cutting celery

07039000          Chives (leeks and other alliaceous vegetables)

09109933          Thyme (spices)

09109950          Bay leaves (spices)

12119086          Herbs primarily with non-food purposes (for example, curry leaves, basil, mint)

Examples of common fresh herbs in Europe

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Coriander or cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Mint (Mentha)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
  • Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
  • Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
  • Savory (Satureja)
  • Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for fresh culinary herbs?

Important European markets have increased their import value over the past years with stable supply from non-European herb growers. The interest in fresh herbs will keep the demand in Europe strong.

Costs and trade value of fresh herbs increases

The majority of fresh herbs are sourced within Europe. But despite the preference of local produce, a significant amount of herbs is still imported from non-Europen Union (EU) countries. The supply from the main non-European suppliers seems to be stable and a rough estimation of the non-EU market share would be between 5 and 10%. Europe imported over 77.5 million of fresh herbs from the countries responsible for their supply. This value mostly concerned fresh herbs and okra.

The trade value of fresh herbs and ‘other vegetables’ with HS code 07099990 is increasing throughout Europe. This statistical code includes fresh herbs, but also other niche vegetables such as okra, wild onions and bitter melon. The recent change in value was the result of a surge in the costs for production and logistics. The trade picked up again after 2 years of COVID-19, but at much higher costs. The total volume in 2022 was comparable to that of 2018.

There are many uncertainties that can affect the fresh herb segment. Some of these uncertainties, such as rising energy and labour costs in Europe, can be favourable for non-European suppliers. But prices for flown goods are very high and not considered sustainable. There is still a good demand for packaged herbs. But price inflations and growing aversion to airfreight will influence the demand for imported fresh herbs.

Source: Calculations by ICI Business based on Access2Markets (Eurostat) and ITC Trade Map


  • Calculate and discuss prices and logistical costs with your prospective buyers. Know what your buyer is ready to pay and compare your product and air freight prices with other countries.

Europe has potential for a wide variety of fresh herbs

Consumers for fresh herbs in Europe are diverse. Each region, segment and occasion has its own characteristics in demand and you can find opportunities for both mainstream and niche fresh herbs.

Common herbs

The most popular fresh herbs in Europe are basil, coriander, chives, mint and parsley. Basil and coriander are 2 of the most consumed herbs. According to some companies, they are responsible for up to 70% of fresh herb sales. Basil is typically used in Italian dishes and pesto. Coriander leaves are very popular in south-Asian dishes. Other herbs that are often available in the fresh department include rosemary, dill, thyme, sage, oregano, tarragon, leaf celery and occasionally marjoram and chervil.

Exotic herbs

The popularity of international cuisines and large ethnic groups help the sales of exotic herbs and leafy vegetables. Products such as Thai basil, lemongrass, curry leaves, Tong ho, Kayang leaf (Rice paddy herb) and Makrut lime leaf have become common with importers that are specialised in exotics. Some of these exotic herbs are also produced in Europe nowadays, often in Spain or the Netherlands.

Regional demand

North-western Europe is a stable and growing market for fresh herbs with relatively steady prices. Small differences in preferences could influence your focus. For example, dill is very popular in the Scandinavian countries, Germany has a strong consumption of chives and mint and France is a good market for a variety of fine culinary herbs.

Eastern Europe is a more volatile market, but suitable as a spot market and less demanding in terms of packaging standards. Consumers in this region prefer rich meals that include herbs such as bay leaves, dill, parsley and oregano.

Southern Europe uses a high volume of fresh herbs that are typical for the Mediterranean kitchen, such as oregano, basil, but also parsley and rosemary. Their local production makes import less necessary.

See the opportunities that different countries can provide below.

Temporary increase in demand

Timing can also be a factor for the consumption of fresh herbs. For example, the demand for fresh basil increases when the outdoor tomato is in season, and Christmas drives additional sales of for fresh thyme and rosemary.


3. Which European countries offer most opportunities for fresh culinary herbs?

Culinary tradition and ethnic communities are a significant influence in the amount and types of fresh herbs that are consumed. Preferences in herbs and flavours are different throughout the region. Important destinations for fresh herbs from developing countries include United Kingdom, France and Germany. The Netherlands and Belgium are smaller end-markets but can be interesting as service providers in logistics and repacking.

Source: ITC Trade Map

Source: ITC Trade Map (*The Swiss HS code does not include parsley, among few other products)

United Kingdom: Diverse and relevant country for non-European suppliers

The United Kingdom is a large and diverse market for fresh herbs. The import value went up in the 2021–2022 period, and the country became the most interesting market for fresh herbs exporters of non-European origin.

Spain dominates the off-season supply of fresh herbs in the United Kingdom. A variety of non-European countries are also relevant, including Kenya, Jordan and Mexico.

After Brexit, the United Kingdom started to look to more non-European suppliers, while supply from the EU declined. Kenya and Morocco are responsible for the highest trade values. The United Kingdom has a strong connection with Kenya. The value of fresh herbs and exotic vegetable imports reached 24.8 million in 2022. Simultaneously, the import value of the same products from Morocco, 2.5–2.8 million in 2021 and 2022, was significantly higher than previous years.

Fresh herb consumption in the United Kingdom varies greatly. On 1 hand, parsley, rosemary, chives, sage and thyme are traditionally consumed, and their sales rise during the Christmas season. Basil is 1 of the most consumed herbs throughout the year, accounting for roughly 40% of potted herb sales, according to Tesco. On the other hand, different ethnicities drive the consumption of coriander, Thai basil and other spicy herbs. These are sold by companies such as Thai Food Online. British herb companies, such as R&G Fresh, make these fresh herbs available for the wider public through supermarkets and restaurants.

Due to increasing wages, low labour availability and an uncertain local production climate, the United Kingdom will continue to import fresh herbs. As production costs are rising, it may become more attractive for foreign growers to supply freshly cut herbs and even consumer packed herbs to the United Kingdom.


Germany: Strong import growth for fresh herbs

Germany is probably the largest market in Europe for imported fresh herbs. Germany produces fresh herbs but is also highly dependent on additional foreign supply.

German consumers buy over 300 grams of culinary herbs per year. Parsley, chives, dill and basil are the most popular fresh herbs in German culinary consumption. Mint is also popular, and the demand for coriander has increased in recent years. A large share of these herbs is produced nationally. In 2022, Eurostat recorded a production of 110,000 tonnes of leafy and stalked vegetables, other than the usual chicory, leeks, lettuce and cabbages.

Germany is also the largest market for organic food. Almost 9% of the domestic production of leafy and stalked vegetables was organic in 2021. This percentage is likely much higher for fresh herbs. For example, many of the growers of the Gartenbauzentrale (GBZ) in Papenburg switched to organic farming. In addition to the European organic certification, they also comply with stricter local standards, such as Naturland, Bioland and Demeter.

Most fresh herbs are imported between October and March when German production stops. Most import comes from the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, but Germany is also an important market for non-European fresh herbs. Fresh herbs and niche vegetables are imported from Morocco, Israel, Thailand, Jordan and Ethiopia. The indicative import value from non-European countries was 12.5 million in 2022, which was the highest value in the past 5 years. This was partly due to higher costs. With increasing interest in international cuisines and natural flavouring, you can expect the country to retain a strong level of demand. However, the imported volumes will heavily depend on local and regional availability.


The Netherlands: Partner in horticulture and logistics

The Netherlands has 1 of the largest importers of fresh herbs. Local consumption is increasing, but most of the imported fresh products are re-packed and re-exported to neighbouring countries. The Dutch tradition in trade and logistics are key for many foreign suppliers.

The Netherlands has always positioned itself as a supplier of international produce and at the same time it has a professional horticultural production of fresh herbs. Growers have tried to introduce new herb varieties by growing different kinds of fresh herbs in greenhouses. During the winter foreign produce is added to this local supply. Companies such as Van Vugt Kruiden grow herbs in the Netherlands as well as in other European countries, Kenya and Morocco.

In the Netherlands, fresh herbs like basil, rosemary, dill, thyme, sage and tarragon always do very well. Mint is very popular and often used for making tea. The Indo-Asian influence raises the consumption of coriander and lemongrass.

Besides local greenhouse production, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Italy also supply the Netherlands. The data of the total Dutch import in 2022 seems to be incorrect. Imports of herbs of non-European origin seems very stable, although the value may be mixed with okra and other exotic vegetables. In fresh herbs, Kenya and Israel are the main non-European suppliers. As an important hub for exotic vegetables the Netherlands also provides opportunities for exporters of niche herb varieties.


  • Use the Netherlands for logistics or distribution if you cannot supply your fresh herbs directly to other countries in the area such as Germany and Belgium. Associating with a Netherlands-based herb company such as Van Vugt, VNK Herbs or Vitacress Real could also be a good strategy. For selling exotic varieties it may be best to find a specialised buyer.

France: A country with a herb tradition

Herbs and spices are indispensable in the French culinary tradition. Not surprisingly France is 1 of the major European producers of leafy vegetables and fresh herbs. But demand also requires some fresh herbs to be imported.

The French cuisine is known for its 4 fine herbs: chives, tarragon, parsley and chervil. Northern African communities in France also increase the demand for parsley and coriander. Several herb blends have a French origin, for example:

  • ‘Herbes de Provence’: a mixture of (mostly dried) herbs typically used for grilled foods or stews, such as savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano.
  • ‘Fines herbes’: is a traditional French blend of fresh mild herbs, including parsley, chives, chervil, tarragon and thyme.
  • ‘Bouquet Garni’: a small French bundle of fresh herbs that is traditionally tied together, often containing thyme, parsley and bay leaf to flavour soups, sauces or casseroles.

French consumers often prefer local and in-season produce. However, the culinary tradition results in an excessive demand which makes import inevitable. Despite being 1 of the biggest producers of leafy vegetables and aromatic and culinary herbs, this import dependency is not likely to change.

Most of the external supply originates from either Spain or the Netherlands. In terms of non-European supply, Morocco and Kenya are the largest fresh herb suppliers. Kenyan supply has increased, while Israeli supply has declined. This could be because Israeli producers such as ADA Fresh have moved parts of their production processes to Kenya. Thailand has the highest supply value to France, probably due to the mix with okra.

Belgium: A taste for new herbs

Belgium is a relatively large fresh herb importer given its size. Its import value in 2019 was equal to the value of the much larger British market. Savoury herbs are particularly popular in Belgium.

National producers and foreign suppliers supply the Belgian fresh herb market. The Netherlands and France are obvious suppliers to the Belgian market, but Kenya also supplies a significant amount (amounting to 4.5 million in 2022) as does Israel (1.1 million); the latter 2 countries are large suppliers of horticultural products, which includes fresh herbs. Exports from Ghana are increasing in value from almost nothing in 2018 and 2019 to imports worth 1.7 million in 2022.

Ghana is also known for its okra exports; this is a product that can be mixed with the export data of fresh herbs. At a national level, there are different types of herb companies: nurseries with a wide variety of herbs (for example, Kruiden Claus), specialists in potted herbs (for example, Vegobel) and companies that freeze herbs (for example, HerbaFrost and the Greenyard group).

The classic herbs thyme, rosemary and basil are popular, but Belgian specialists such as Kruiden Claus also offer new herbs – such as the silty oyster leaf, sea fennel and Salicornia as well as aromatic herbs such as orange and lemon thyme. You can expect the variation of herbs to increase further in Belgium.


Switzerland: Fresh herbs must be sustainable

Statistically, Switzerland is the third largest fresh herb importer for non-European suppliers. Swiss consumers have high purchasing power and provide a good market for high quality products.

The value of Swiss imports from non-European countries has increased by a third over the past 5 years to 8.9 million EUR. Thailand is the main supplier, meaning import data is mixed with exotic vegetables, such as okra. Smaller suppliers include Morocco and Kenya with a growing supply value, and Israel.

Sustainability is an important issue. Where possible, fresh herbs should be certified as organic, either with EU certification or BioSuisse label. The supermarket Coop sells locally grown coriander and basil, cultivated on the local vertical farm YASAI. With these herbs, YASAI claims to use 95% less water and no pesticides. If there is local production, buyers are reluctant to buy from abroad. ALDI SUISSE even banned all airfreighted fruit and vegetables at the start of 2023.

Culinary experiences and natural eating have led to an in increase in consumer interest in using fresh herbs for cooking and other food products. This interest in provides opportunities to suppliers who understand how to manage quality and presentation of their products.

Culinary experience broadens the interest in fresh herbs

There is growing interest in new culinary experiences. Taste makers such as fresh herbs are part of these experiences, stimulating their consumption.

Consumers are often inspired by restaurants, cooking programmes on television and online recipes. Ethnic cooking with Asian and African ingredients is also becoming more integrated in Europe. As a result, consumers are open to trying new products and are including more culinary herbs in their cooking.

Standard herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary and parsley are still dominant, but broadening culinary interest will create opportunities for new herbs. For example, coriander is a non-traditional herb in Northern Europe, but it is becoming more popular because of Eastern influences. Exotic varieties such as salicornia (samphire) and Thai basil mainly used to be sold to the catering industry. However, they are now also becoming more popular in the retail channels.

Companies with a diverse or unique product range will profit from this growing consumer interest. These include companies such as AdaFresh, which has a wide assortment from Israel and Kenya that includes red basil, salicornia and sorrel.

A shift to fresh eating and natural flavouring

Consumers in Europe are increasingly appreciating fresh, unprocessed products. Natural and fresh food addresses increasingly healthy lifestyles best. Freshness must be your key objective when supplying fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs are considered more natural than dried or processed herbs. They provide better customer satisfaction. Herbs that have been traditionally sold as dried herbs are now widely available as fresh herbs, such as fresh oregano and marjoram. These fresh herbs are used for flavouring all kinds of food or drinks, in a broad range of segments. For example, you can find fresh mint used in restaurants and bars for mojitos or fresh mint tea, and in supermarkets you can find it mixed in fruit juices or ready-made meals.

Natural eating and health also feeds the demand of organic and ‘potted’ herbs (grow your own). These products are especially in demand in Northern Europe and there are even initiatives of supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer that grow herbs instore. Local, specialised growers mostly supply potted and organic herbs.

Imported herbs are generally freshly cut, packed and shipped in boxes. The handling of freshly-cut herbs can be very demanding. Once imported, these herbs are directly distributed to the wholesale and food service segment or repacked in convenient refrigerated packages for retailers to ensure freshness.

As an exporter, you must maintain an excellent cold chain, an unbroken chain from producer to consumer with a constantly maintained temperature. Protecting the freshness of your herbs is a must. Organic certification can be an advantage but is not always accepted as an airfreighted product.

Figure 5: Potted organic basil Delhaize

Potted organic basil Delhaize

Source: Photo by openfoodfacts-contributors per Open Food Facts

Growing focus on a sustainable supply chain

There is a growing focus on sustainability in the production and trade of fresh produce. There are a lot of sustainability issues to consider in the supply of fresh herbs.

For European growers, it is not easy to offer high quality fresh herbs year-round. To fulfil year-round demand, the market depends on greenhouses and imports. Buyers will always go for the best possible choice in terms of quality, sustainability and supply chain efficiency.


The climate has a major influence on the quality and availability of fresh herbs. It is 1 of the main reasons for importers working with suppliers from different origins. Glass greenhouse production is not considered to be sustainable, but open field cultivation can also raise concerns in terms of agricultural inputs and water use.

Supply chain

There is growing resistance to airfreighted products, which means that herbs by air are only an option if there are no other options available. Companies such as Organto Foods (owner of Fresh Organic Choice) try to avoid both airfreight and greenhouse production to reduce their carbon footprint. They prefer open field, organically grown herbs transported by ship or road from Morocco and Southern Europe.


Fresh herbs require protective packaging. This means using plastic liners and retail packing. For potted herbs, there has been a clear shift towards organic and more sustainable production according to Enza Zaden. Suppliers use alternative substrates and are replacing traditional plastic pots with ones made of biodegradable materials. Protective packaging is unavoidable for freshly-cut herbs.

As a fresh herb exporter, you can also make steps in sustainability, such as exploring biodegradable plastics, measuring your carbon footprint or investing in renewable energy. For example, Jungle Harvest in Kenya invested in a solar cold storage, making the unsustainable use of trucks no longer necessary. This story has been promoted by the NGO CLASP. The company Evergreen Herbs joined the Climate Neutral Now Initiative. With this, it took its first step towards carbon neutrality by registering its greenhouse gas emissions.


  • Make sure that your post-harvest and cold chain are perfectly managed. This is crucial to maintain the right quality and shelf life that is expected by the European buyers. Read about general cold chain management from the International Fresh Produce Association. You can also learn more about effective cold chain management through temperature monitoring.
  • Look critically at all parts of your supply chain to achieve sustainable production and exports. Think about the responsible use of inputs and irrigation, energy, transportation and so on. This will improve your chances with European buyers.
  • Try to differentiate in taste and consumer experience by exploring new varieties and communicate the superior taste of your product in your marketing. Make use of a clear website to present your different herbs – see as an example the herb portfolio of AdaFresh. Adjust your range to the market by looking at the strategies of herb marketeers and learn about their ways to sell more fresh herbs on Producebusiness.com. The article has been published for the United States market, but it also corresponds for a large part with the European market.

ICI Business carried out this study on behalf of CBI.

Please see our market information disclaimer.