Talking Shop with… Suzette Overgaag

The vice president and CFO of North Shore Sales & Marketing talks about the value and profitability of fresh living herbs.

Grocery Headquarters: Tell us about North Shore. How did the company get its start?
Suzette Overgaag:
In 1987 my husband, Leo Overgaag, and I moved to the north shore of the Salton Sea in California with the dream of creating our own family farm. We began our journey with raw land, geothermal energy and a lot of ambition. Leo comes from a family of Dutch greenhouse growers and the experience and knowledge he gained while growing up on his family’s farm was invaluable. It was not long before we were harvesting our first crop of North Shore European Cucumbers. Over a decade ago we debuted North Shore Living Herbs, culinary herbs harvested and packed with the roots still attached to extend freshness. This innovative product was a huge success and can now be found in retail markets throughout the U.S. and Canada. We have come a long way since breaking ground on our property, but we still recognize the family values, customer service, innovation, and attention to detail that made our success possible.

What makes your products unique?
Our products are actually alive, making them as fresh as possible for the retailer and consumer. We have two lines of living produce, North Shore Living Herbs and Potted North Shore Living Herbs. We offer 21 different varieties of culinary herbs and each variety is cared for differently. All of our herbs are grown hydroponically using state-of-the-art greenhouse technology, allowing us to offer fresh herbs year-round without ever having to outsource.

How can North Shore help retailers generate increased sales?
At North Shore we partner with retailers to create success in the fresh herb category. We grow specifically to meet the needs of each retailer. In addition, our unique growing methods produce consistency year-round, meaning North Shore Living Herbs are always in season. This commitment to serve our customers has resulted in a 97% retention rate for the last 13 years. In addition, because our product has extended shelf-life shrink is reduced by 65% to 80% when compared to cut herbs.

How can and what do retailers need to do to further educate consumers on the value of fresh herbs?
In store demos, recipes and information for the consumer on how to cook fresh is incredibly helpful for today’s busy shopper looking for healthy meal solutions. Fresh herbs are an easy way for the home cook to take meals from ordinary to extraordinary. The more information we can provide to the consumer to educate them about ease of use and quick preparation times, the more we will see sales increase. We kept this in mind and prominently featured recipes and product information when we recently redesigned our website, www.livingherbs.com. In addition, the biggest advantage that retailers aren’t leveraging is cross merchandising. 

Does merchandising fresh herbs need to be done differently than other produce items?
Fresh herbs are traditionally seen as a keystone produce item that is stocked to serve a specific need. North Shore Living Herbs can be merchandised alongside produce staples to encourage consumers to purchase them even when they are not on their shopping list. Our potted products are especially easy to cross merchandise and, because of the open packaging, the consumer is drawn to the product because it is aesthetically pleasing and has a wonderful aroma. We have seen this increase impulse buys and elevate the category as a whole.

What is in store for the coming years?
As the creator of the original Living Herb, we have a reputation for being an innovative leader in the industry. We plan on continuing that by embracing new trends, such as social media, to better connect with our consumers. Keeping the family tradition alive is important to us and we are preparing the company so that the next generation of Overgaags can achieve their dreams. We strive to be responsible parents and leaders for positive change within the produce industry. Our greenhouse growing methods are environmentally friendly because they are pesticide-free, significantly reduce use of water, eliminate soil depletion, and utilize geothermal energy. However, we are always looking to the future to improve the sustainability of our growing operation. That is something that both retailers and consumers appreciate.c

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