Some time ago I wrote an article on speciality ingredients shops as a business idea. What screams speciality ingredients more than herbs and spices? There is a literal plethora of herbs and spices and many of them grow very well in Zimbabwe. Herbs and spices have many uses including their taste, aroma, medicinal properties and aesthetics. So ideally a herb and spice shop has a lot of opportunities to find customers in Zimbabwe. There is also a lot of vertical opportunity in the value chain. So let’s look at the case for a herbs and spices shop business in Zimbabwe.
Herbs and Spices
Before we go about talking about the business of selling herbs and spices let’s define the two and hopefully draw a clear line between them. Herbs are any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine, or perfume. From a botanical perspective, this plant would not possess a woody stem and dies after flowering. Examples of herbs include parsley, rosemary, mint, basil, chives, thyme, lavender and oregano. Spice on the other hand is an aromatic or pungent vegetable substance used to flavour food for example cloves, pepper and cumin. There is clearly some overlap between the two hence combining the two in one business idea.
I’d like to talk a little bit about the shop itself. I mean it seems pretty obvious; you get a space and sell from it but there are a few things that we need to be aware of. Firstly, a herb and spice shop doesn’t require a lot of space. So you could really get away with a very small kiosk or shopfront in a strip mall or less. Herbs and spices do not require special storage considerations if you are selling them in dried or processed forms. However, if you intend to sell them fresh, which there is actually considerable demand for, you really should think about refrigeration. As you know location is the most important thing when looking for shop space and all I will say here is if you can position yourself close to a butchery or a braai spot you have done half your marketing already.
It would be an incomplete discussion if we didn’t talk about eCommerce and how to use it in this business idea. Herbs and spices are kind of standardised. Rosemary is rosemary, sure you have the option of fresh or dried but if I’m looking for rosemary and you have it, I’m buying. I referred to the discussion on speciality ingredients because herbs and spices fall firmly in that category. You could completely skip the brick and mortar shop but the ideal method is bricks and clicks; the physical shop which also offers eCommerce. This business is well suited to eCommerce because of the package sizes, you’re rarely going to sell more than a kg of a herb or spice to a non-business customer. So eCommerce should definitely be a part of the plan.
There’s a bit to think about when it comes to suppliers. Generally, good herb and spice businesses make money on repackaging. Buy in bulk, say 50 kg and repack into consumer-friendly sizes ranging from 50 grams to 1 kg. So what you are looking for are bulk suppliers. You do have options of integrating vertically up the supply chain which I highly recommend. We will speak about those in a moment. You can and should also consider selling branded products from manufacturers just as you could brand your repackaged herbs and spices. Variety will be a bonus with customers especially those who are into food. However, you really should consider value-adding methods such as processing herbs and spices.
You should really consider vertically integrating up the supply chain. Processing refers to the buying of herbs and spices in raw form and undertaking processing methods such as drying, infusing, smoking, curing, mashing, pureeing and grinding. Processing is worth considering because there is a lot of value addition opportunity here. The prices of these herbs and spices in raw form compared to processed form is quite shocking. There is a lot of profit potential. Now, this depends on the size of your market but you can grow as your market grows. The downside is that many of these processing methods will tie up your money in inventory for quite some time.
Growing is another great way to vertically integrate up the value chain. Many herbs and spices grow very well in hydroponic and vertical set ups. Again the profit potential here is huge and you can even consider the direct to customer approach. Much like processing growing will tie up your money but it is really a fraction as most herbs and spices can be easily grown from seeds and thanks to our climate without a heavy investment.
There’s one idea I’d like to throw into here that merits serious consideration. I’m sure by now regular readers know that I’m a foodie and self-styled cook. That comes with buying many (by normal standards) herbs and spices. I would actually appreciate a herbs and spices subscription box or pack. This would contain a selection of say 10 commonly used herbs and spices packed and ready to go. It’s ideal for a subscription if you have eCommerce however if not you could just sell this as a ready to go box. Another smart variation of this would be allowing your customers to pick 10 100gram spices of their choice for $9 assuming each pack normally retails for $1.
Herbs and spices are big business and I don’t think anyone requires numbers to accept this. That said there are still plenty of opportunities to enter the market and make your mark.