Canadian market needs more herb growers, say herbal product producers

Canada’s herbal products industry isn’t keen on statistics.

When asked about the size of the domestic market for herbal remedies or Canada’s share of the marketplace, most industry representatives couldn’t even hazard a guess.

A 2012 paper from the U.S. Agricultural Marketing Resource Centre said the American market is probably worth more than $3 billion a year and 60 million Americans use herbal remedies.

Adjusting the U.S. figure for Canada’s population, the Canadian market could be worth $300 million.

Rick DeSylva, an Ontario herbalist, said demand for herbal remedies and natural health products is booming.

“It’s much higher than it was five years ago,” said DeSylva, who runs the Herb Works of Rockwood, Ont., which makes and sells natural herbal products.

DeSylva said pharmaceutical drugs and surgery are critical components of medical care, but more Canadians are turning to herbal remedies to treat chronic illnesses.

DeSylva would prefer using locally grown medicinal herbs in his products to satisfy that demand, but he often relies on organic herbs from the United States because they aren’t available in Canada.

“There is a need for more … good quality herbs (to be) grown here,” he said.

Wanda Wolf, who operates Lonewolf Plant & Herb Farm and makes herbal products near Battleford, Sask., is expanding her farm and company to satisfy demand.

She said it’s difficult to know how many acres of medicinal herbs are grown in Canada, but she thinks acres are “on the upswing.”

Wolf said Canada needs more growers because domestic and global companies want to buy Canadian grown herbs.

“I have a lot of international clients now … that are wanting Canadian product. That’s another push for us to increase our acres.”

Adding to existing acres and capturing a greater share of the marketplace could be challenging because it’s more expensive to grow herbs in Canada than it is in Eastern Europe and China.

Wolf said it’s possible to overcome that obstacle because natural health product companies want to buy high quality medicinal herbs.

“A lot of the herbalists that I deal with would rather pay 20 to 30 percent more for a product that they know … has that quality,” she said.

“You can get some cheaper stuff, but if it doesn’t have the same levels of bioactives, you can never (replace) that (through processing).”

Herbert Strobl, a medicinal herb grower from Cultus Lake, B.C., said the industry has to educate consumers about herbal products and why Canadian products are superior to cheap imports.

“If they want a good quality product, they should buy a Canadian and North American product,” said Strobl.

Herbal remedies are no different than automobiles, he added.

“A Mercedes will always cost so much and a Dodge will cost half or a quarter of that,” he said.

“If somebody offers you a Mercedes for a price of a Dodge, there’s something wrong with it.”

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