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Market Report.
SPICES: As predicted in our last report, most temperate-climate (i.e., non-tropical) herbs and spices have shown fairly large price increases with this year's summer harvests. Basil, Marjoram, and other Mediterranean herbs have increased in price, but the biggest moves have been seen in Fennel Seed from Egypt. There seems to be no real shortage on these items but years of too-low-to-be-profitable prices have taken their toll and interest in harvesting, cleaning, and drying these crops is at a low. Suppliers will supply if customers are willing to meet their prices but the speculative interest at source is definitely lacking. Importers are forced to pay up to meet demand and so far are not balking at these higher prices since demand continues good.

Black and White Pepper are firm and supply, for a change, seems to be in sync with demand, leading to stable-to-trending higher prices. Both these commodities are in the historical middle of their price ranges, with Black currently at about $1.25/lb. and White at $1.72 (at origin). While White will probably show some price fireworks between now and the next Indonesian crop (July/August '97) since the entire crop is in the hands of a few very financially strong exporters. Black will probably remain fairly stable until the next Indian crop (December/January '97).

Cumin Seed, which is, as noted last time, a thoroughly manipulated item, is very strong both in price and demand, a combination that almost always leads to spiraling price increases. Cassia (known generally in the U.S. as Cinnamon) is weak with Indonesian exporters still carrying large stocks from last fall -- sales were not as large as expected, so currently bargains abound. Anise Seed from Turkey is almost unavailable since the Turkish government monopoly has bought almost all the seed for the manufacture of their national beverage, Raki, an anisette-like drink. Laurel (Bay) Leaves are available in good quality and quantity from the new crop, but good-quality Oregano is very expensive this year, while lesser qualities remain plentiful and cheap.

BOTANICALS: With the coming of the new crops, U.S. botanicals have experienced some price relief. In fact, some price drops (as in Saw Palmetto Berries) have been precipitous, with prices quoted at levels down 60-80 percent from their stratospheric recent highs. Demand remains very strong, though, for Saw Palmetto, Goldenseal, the Echinaceas, etc. -- practically the whole range of domestic medicinals -- so prices will probably begin spiraling upward again as once more this year demand begins to out-strip supply.

As mentioned in our last report, European botanicals are showing signs of problems now that the crops are available and harvesting is almost over in most items. The whole slew of new "botanical exporters" have found that their technique of booking orders and only then trying to but in the sold quantities of these rather esoteric plants is not conducive to satisfactory, mutually profitable, and organized relationships with importing countries, i.e., Western Europe and the U.S. Many items, mainly those not booked with reliable exporters in time for the harvest, will be scarce, although the growing season seems to have been a good one. Eastern European exporters cannot generally afford to bring in and warehouse large quantities of many of these plants and look for speculative future sales throughout the years as the old state-operated exporting monopolies did in the past. Manufacturers are urged to cover their annual requirements in these botanicals as soon as possible. Incidentall y, prices remain very reasonable and qualities are generally good-to-excellent this year if care is given to source of supply. Unfortunately, this remains paramount since there are also some appallingly poor quality botanicals available for sale.

POTPOURRI INGREDIENTS: These items are available currently at very advantageous prices since Indian exporters, in their eternal optimism, are astoundingly over-stocked. Good-quality materials for potpourri manufacturing are plentiful and looking for a home.

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Peter Landes