(Sept. 21) Adding garlic or herbs always has been a good way to perk up a recipe. But increased attention to this little secret from magazines and TV cooking shows is driving more consumers than ever to their local produce departments to seek out both commodities.

PROMOTE THE FLAVOR OF HERBS

Herbs are a produce department must.

Carol Dougherty, produce manager of Mac’s Woodstock Market, Woodstock, Vt., one of three Rutland, Vt.-based Mac’s stores, says it’s not unusual to see shoppers perusing the produce department with magazines in hand as they seek the ingredients for a recipe. If those ingredients include herbs, they’re likely to find them at Mac’s. Dougherty stocks a dozen herbs in bulk and packaged forms.

Basil is the best seller, and Dougherty carries two kinds of parsley — curly and flat leaf. Flat leaf has more taste and is used for cooking, she explains, while the curly variety makes an attractive garnish. Educate your consumers on the difference. Cilantro is the most popular herb in summer when consumers start harvesting their backyard tomatoes and making their own salsa, she says.

The 6- by 1.5-foot herb section at Mac’s features packaged product from Quail Mountain Herbs that’s priced from $1.99-2.79 per 1-ounce package. Consumers like the suggested uses and recipes on the packages, Dougherty says.

Parsley, basil and cilantro are sold by the bunch for 99 cents, $2 and $1.39, respectively. Basil also comes packaged for consumers who don’t need a large bunch. Dougherty merchandises fresh herbs near lettuce and carrots.

Fresh herbs have become consumer favorites in the past two or three years as shoppers begin to perceive fresh as more healthful, says Dale Rademacher, produce manager at the single Mackenthun’s County Market in Waconia, Minn. Cilantro is the top-seller of the 15 herbs the store offers in fresh and dried forms. Basil, dill, mint, chives, rosemary and sage also are popular.

Rademacher watches the food shows and monitors the local newspaper’s Wednesday food section to try to anticipate surges in herb sales. Rademacher says he may try to work out a way to tie in with the newspaper’s food coverage and feature items that are spotlighted in the food pages each week.

Mackenthun’s rarely features herbs on ad because they’re not impulse items. Consumers usually intend to buy a particular herb as an ingredient in a recipe they plan to make, Rademacher says. A low price typically won’t spur sales.

With the exception of cilantro, herbs are merchandised in small bags on pegs in the refrigerated section near packaged salads at Mackenthun’s. Fresh cilantro is displayed on a nonrefrigerated table as a color break with tomatoes. When homegrown tomatoes are in season, Rademacher sells 100 bunches of cilantro a week.

Living herbs also are gaining popularity, especially in spring, when shoppers plant them in their gardens for a summer-long supply, he says.

At Schild’s IGA Supercenter, Norwalk, Ohio, produce manager Chuck Ringholz says shoppers have their choice of living herbs, three-quarter-ounce clamshell containers of herbs and even herb blends in a tube. Basil, cilantro and rosemary are the most popular of the 12 varieties available. Four-ounce tubes at $4.99 have a following, but they are far outsold by fresh product, he says.

You can look to your suppliers for help merchandising the category.

Quail Mountain Herbs LLC, Watsonville, Calif., is helping produce departments fight the fallout from low-carb diets by offering two 8.5- by 11-inch cards with zero-carb recipes, says Kirk Schmidt, president.

Both recipes are for herb-flavored butter that consumers can melt over chicken or meat entrees. They create an opportunity for additional sales because, besides herbs, the recipes call for produce items like bell peppers and onions.

HerbThyme Farms Inc., Los Angeles, which recently merged with New England Herb Co., Claremont, N.H., offers more than 18 kinds of herbs in various size packages, says Scott Harrington, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

In late spring, the company was in the process of rolling out 7-ounce tubs of fresh pesto sauce with basil or cilantro, both with all-natural, fresh ingredients, no preservatives and a 28-day shelf life.

The company also has a new line of Hispanic herbs, including verdolaga, epazote, oregano, perejil (parsley) and menta (mint), in 1-ounce resealable bags. And HerbThyme planned to launch a new line of living herbs in late summer under the Alive & Fresh label.

SPICE UP GARLIC SALES

Mackenthun’s County Market maintains two garlic displays, Rademacher says. One consists of larger elephant garlic that serves as a nice color break with tomatoes, since it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. The other has packages of two garlic bulbs. Both are merchandised in black plastic, square-foot trays.

Garlic is becoming more popular as more recipes call for it, Rademacher says, but it’s rarely featured on ad. He sells bulk product for $2.99 a pound. Packaged garlic goes for 79 cents each.

Mac’s Woodstock Market sells bulk, fresh garlic and chopped and minced garlic in jars, Dougherty says. The store merchandises conventional loose garlic in baskets near onions and potatoes.

It also carries organic garlic, which isn’t a huge seller, she says, “But it sells enough that I have to carry it.”

The organic garlic is displayed in a basket in the organic section and sells for $5.79 a pound compared to $2.99 for conventional garlic.

At Schild’s, Ringholz says sales of bulk garlic are giving way to jarred product. He prices bulk product at $2.69 a pound, but offers about a half dozen kinds of jarred product — including crushed, minced, crushed in olive oil, crushed roasted and organic — for $1.79 per 4.25-ounce jar ($2.79 for the organic version).

Christopher Ranch LLC, Gilroy, Calif., offers an extensive selection of garlic products and packaging, says Patsy Ross, vice president of marketing.

One of its latest offerings is a jarred garlic-ginger product that combines two popular flavors in a 4.25-ounce jar. It’s ideal for stir-fry, salads, dressings and grilling, she says.

Spice World Inc., Orlando, Fla., grows garlic in California and imports the product from several countries, says Louis Hymel, director of purchasing and marketing. The company’s newest items include pickled and marinated garlic in 8-ounce jars and a pesto product in 6.7-ounce and 32-ounce jars.

The company also offers fresh garlic in cellophane bags, boxes with a cello overwrap, 3-pound mesh bags and roasted minced garlic in a 4-ounce jar.

Harris Fresh LLC, Coalinga, Calif., offers several packs of garlic, including 1- and 3-pound bags, display boxes and 10-, 22- and 30-pound cartons of bulk product, says Doug Stanley, general manager. Although most retailers display loose garlic, Stanley says he would like to see them offer more convenient prepackaged versions.