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Political Changes in Eastern Europe Affect Herb Supply.
Spices: Spice markets have remained remarkably dull throughout the last quarter of 1990. Prices almost across the board have trended lower, even though a summer-long drought in southern and eastern Europe has reduced supply of many items. Most notable of these is Paprika, whose price has jumped tremendously as it became evident that supply would not come close to meeting demand. Other Mediterranean herbs have inched upward in price but apparently stocks are adequate; a few esoteric items like Spanish Anise seed are the exception. The classic tropical spices (like most tropical commodities) remain cheap and available. Bizarrely enough, White Pepper still sells below the price of Black Pepper, although the gap is rapidly narrowing and this situation will probably reverse itself soon. With the collapse of the Indonesian Nutmeg and Mace exporting cartel, prices of these items are about 1/3 of last year's. The attempt to reassert control of Cassia with a marketing board system has be en unsuccessful and prices are also lower. Frankly, the only bright spot in the horizon for those who are long on these items is that they are at historically cheap levels and will certainly turn around. The question is one of timing. Certainly, buyers cannot go too far wrong on almost the full list of culinary spices.

Medicinal Herbs: These items have reacted to the changing situation in eastern Europe with reduced availabilities and higher prices reflecting a shift to a market economy in many producing countries, as well as the lack of governmental stability. It seems it's all right to pay pickers $1 a day if you subsidize their housing and foodstuffs, but if the necessities of life are allowed to float to their true value, wages must certainly follow. This fall there has been a distinct lack of interest in collecting, cleaning, baling, and shipping these classically low-priced goods from socialist countries. This situation should be watched closely since even simple weeds like Wood Betony are becoming hard to obtain.

Potpourri Ingredients: While this quarter has not been a banner one for the potpourri industry, there has been a distinct recovery in this seemingly moribund trade. Manufacturers seem to have worked off excess inventories, as have importers, who now face the prospect of refilling suddenly empty warehouses with somewhat pricey, perishable commodities for a market of which they are unsure. Prices at origin have already risen during the latter half of this quarter as demand reasserted itself for -- instance, Pakistani Rosebuds of the much-coveted winter crop have risen more than 50% in the last few weeks. This whole industry would be an interesting study for a business school thesis. Were rosebuds just the Christmas gift of 1988, or will this item become a regular feature of American life? Only time will tell...Stay tuned to your Market Report in future issues of HerbalGram to find out! This should be interesting!

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Peter Landes