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11 tips for finding European buyers on the European fresh fruit and vegetables market

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When looking for potential buyers, you need to be well prepared. Know your strengths and weaknesses, but also be selective in choosing your trade partner that can best represent your company on the European market. Find your potential buyers by using the tips below about information sources, databases and trade events.

1. Search for buyers that best fit your business

There are many different importers of fresh fruit and vegetables. Roughly speaking, however, you can distinguish between importers that are dominant in supplying large retailers on the one hand and specialised importers that are more focused on trade and wholesale on the other (see Table 1). The retail suppliers are fewer in numbers but have a dominant share in the sector, while specialised importers can offer you a sales channel for specific products such as organic, ethnic or exotic fruit and vegetables. Between these types of buyers there is usually a degree of overlap in products and services.

Table 1: Type of buyers

 

Large importers and service providers

Specialised importers and traders

Types

  • Service providers to large retailers
  • Contract buyers
  • Retail purchase centres
  • Integrated importers
  • Traders/suppliers to service providers and wholesale (spot market)
  • Specialised buyers of specific fruit categories (for example, citrus specialists)
  • Importers of niche, exotic, organic and ethnic products

Advantages

Supply programmes, fixed-price, long-term or seasonal contracts, pre-harvest financing, supply security

Flexibility, expertise in specific products

Disadvantages

Strict quality and food safety standards, minimum required volumes, mandatory packaging options

Spot sales (price fluctuations), less programmed supply (less stable)

Examples

Search for security and experience

Search for buyers that offer the most security. Buyers with retail supply programmes should be the most reliable, but they are also the most demanding. Fixed-price buyers provide a more secure deal than consignment, but they are harder to find. If working with a minimum guaranteed price, look for buyers with a large and proven network, and negotiate a minimum price that at least covers your costs. The experience of your buyer is important, even more so when supplying a specific or difficult product such as papaya or young coconuts.

Companies that typically deal with wide assortments and extensive services to large retail buyers are, for example, Wealmoor (the United Kingdom), Greenyard Fresh France (France) and Nature’s Pride (the Netherlands). Importers that are more specialised include SpecialFruit and BUD Holland in exotics, and OTC Organics and Eosta in organic and Fairtrade fresh products.

Create contact moments and show supplier excellence

Buyers may initially be reluctant to work with new suppliers, so know your strengths as a company and present these strengths well. Buyers of fresh fruit and vegetables depend on good suppliers. Once these buyers have established their supply chains, it will take time before they take on new suppliers. The main thing you can do as an exporter, is to be persistent and plan periodic contact moments with potential buyers. Inform them about your crop and show excellence in product handling and compliance. Sometimes you can use your seasonal window to find opportunities in potential supply gaps.

Make the import partner your extension

Over the years, importers have gotten a much more facilitating role in the supply chain, while production and transparency have become much more important. As a supplier, you can benefit from this trend by finding an importer that can become an extension of your business.

Be selective, and find potential buyers that match your type of product and volume. Buyers which are eager to buy your product and which promise good results are not necessarily your best choice. Sometimes, they will try to reduce their own risks at your expense.

2. Finding buyers during the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has changed some of the short-term opportunities and ways to find buyers. For a large part you can expect buyers to stick with their usual suppliers. But unavoidable changes due to the pandemic will still provide opportunities to develop new trade relations, at least for certain products. To find buyers you need to have the right product to offer and be competitive in price and logistics.

You will have an advantage when searching for buyers when you supply important fruit categories that cannot be sourced sufficiently within Europe. Especially health-related products, such as citrus, avocados and blueberries, are still very popular purchases. The sales of typical food-service products such as exotic fruit, fresh herbs and limes will partly depend on the opening of restaurants and bars.

Logistical costs have increased significantly and may affect your chances for export. Before looking for buyers in Europe, you must check if you can compete in costs and logistics with suppliers in similar production seasons. COVID-19 has affected some areas more than others. When suppliers are unable to export due to lacking human resources or available l     ogistics, their buyers have to find new sources. Strong and well-organised supply countries, such as Peru and South Africa, have protected their export sector and continue to export to Europe. Smaller export countries have been less fortunate in claiming containers and airfreight space.

Travelling has become more difficult as well under the COVID-19 restrictions. So to find your buyers you will have to rely much more on online communication. Online searches and marketing have become your best possible tools. Focus on the tips below how to present yourself online and use databases, online events and directories. For 2022 and beyond, there is good hope that physical trade fairs will take place again, and international travel will pick up again, less frequently.

Tips:

  • Ask your potential buyer which types of end-clients they supply and what their volumes have been in the past years.
  • Be careful with whom you choose to do business. Ask around what other people in your sector know about a specific company and their reputation. Make sure that your buyer is reliable and financially sound.
  • Be realistic and remember that importers also depend on the developments of the market. You can use their experience and market insights, but they cannot promise you a certain result.

3. Visit (online) trade fairs and use their catalogues

A good way to find buyers is by visiting trade fairs. Many European businesses use these trade fairs to manage their relations and show their presence on the market. Trade fairs are therefore an ideal place to meet in person with various importers.

They are also a great opportunity to find background information on your new target market(s) and present your company directly to your potential customers. This process clearly means that you will make costs. However, you will find a large concentration of relevant prospects in one place. It is worth the investment if you come prepared.

The main trade fairs in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector are Fruit Logistica in February in Berlin (Germany), and Fruit Attraction in October in Madrid (Spain). For specific markets or segments, you could consider going to other events as well.

Visiting fairs during COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many trade fairs from 2020 to early 2022 have been cancelled, re-scheduled or changed into an online event. Things are expected to improve, but even when a trade fair is organised, you must check the national regulation for entering the country concerning COVID-19. Most countries will require you to be fully vaccinated or show a negative test result. If you cannot go to a fair, you can still make use of the online exhibitor catalogue (of current or past events). These online catalogues have search engines, which you can use to find buyers per product or product group. They offer relevant information such as buyers’ websites and contact details, making them a good starting point to find potential clients or to prepare for a trade fair visit in the future.

Most important international trade fairs in Europe

Fruit Logistica: Fruit Logistica in Berlin (Germany) is the largest and best-known trade event for fresh fruit and vegetables. The trade fair offers an exhibitors list, which you can use to find potential buyers. The trade fair normally attracts 3,300 exhibitors every year. In 2022, the Fruit Logistica has been planned to take place in April, instead of February, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check the latest regulation updates on entering Germany during COVID-19 on the website of the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA).

Fruit Attraction: Fruit Attraction in Madrid (Spain) has gained importance over the last years, growing 10% in 2019 and attracting almost 100,000 visitors from 140 countries. In 2022, they hope to reach the same level of participants, receiving more than 1,000 buyers, retail purchase managers, importers and wholesalers from all over the world. In the online exhibitor list, you can find the participating companies. Compared with Fruit Logistica, you will find a relatively large number of southern European companies. However, the timing can also be a good reason to visit Fruit Attraction – the exhibition normally takes place in October, almost 4 months before Fruit Logistica. Fruit Attractions has also launched “LiveConnect”, a trade community platform and professional social network for the fruit and vegetable sector connecting businesses 365 days a year.

Congresses and national events

Macfrut: Macfrut in Rimini (Italy) presents a wide variety of companies that are active in fresh produce. The trade fair is ideal to get to know Italian buyers of fresh fruit and vegetables, which you can find in the exhibitors catalogue. The event has less international appeal than Fruit Logistica and Fruit Attraction. In 2021, they attracted 800 exhibitors and 32,500 visitors. The Tropical Fruit Congress during the fair may attract a more selective group of potential buyers of tropical fruit.

The London Produce Show: The London Produce Show is a specific networking event and can be interesting when the United Kingdom is your target market. It mainly exhibits British companies that supply fresh fruit and vegetables, and related services and technologies.

The German Fruit & Vegetable Congress: The German Fruit & Vegetable Congress or “Deutscher Obst & Gemüse Kongress” (DOGK) is a 1-day event with plenary presentations and parallel forums about all the major current issues in the supply chain. Participating companies include European importers as well as German retailers, which makes it a relevant venue if you can find a way to meet them efficiently within a day. Being able to communicate in German is highly recommended.

Medfel: Medfel is a trade show in France for all types of companies that are active in fresh fruit and vegetables, mainly from the Mediterranean region. You can expect purchasers from retailers, producers, importers and technology providers, which you can find through the exhibitor list (mostly in French).

Specialised events and trade fairs

Biofach: Biofach is a relevant trade show for suppliers of organic food. Several specialised companies for organic fruit and vegetables also present themselves here. Normally, you can find them by searching the category of fruit, vegetable, potatoes, mushrooms in the online exhibitor and product list. The 2022 event has been postponed to July.

Specific events: A few products have specific events in Europe such as the Global Berry Congress in Rotterdam, an annual event with news and insights for international soft fruit businesses. This event includes a space for exhibition and networking.

Non-European events

Asia Fruit Logistica: Asia Fruit Logistica takes place in Hong Kong or Singapore. Since many European traders have become interested in Asian markets, you can expect several of them to be there. A few of them also exhibit, together with 800 other exhibitors from more than 40 countries.

Tips:

  • Include the trade fairs Fruit Logistica in Berlin and Fruit Attraction in Madrid in your annual planning, because they are the principle trade events that gather most of the European fresh fruit and vegetables professionals. Also make use of their online exhibitor catalogues.
  • Take into account that most of your potential buyers are present on trade fairs to sell and are less focused on buying. To get the most results out of your visit, you must prepare well, and try to make contacts and appointments up front. Read the tips on Doing Business for business etiquette and building relations.
  • Use the Toolbox with tips to successful trade fair participation of the association of the German Trade Fair Industry, such as the 10 steps to a successful trade fair and checklists.
  • Check the Event calendar of Fruitnet Eurofruit for additional events in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector.

4. Visit wholesale markets (when possible)

Visiting wholesale markets can give you an idea of the type of products that are sold in the region. However, they can also be a good place to find buyers; for example, by browsing the wholesale market website or by walking around in person. To meet with decision-makers from companies at the wholesale markets, it is recommended to schedule meetings.

Due to COVID-19, some of the wholesale markets may have restrictions for visitors. Some of the wholesale markets also offer guided tours, such as Rungis in Paris. In the short term, you can also use the available online directories:

  1. Rungismarket (Paris, France): the most famous wholesale market in France;
  2. Mercamadrid (Madrid, Spain): one of the main wholesale markets in Spain;
  3. Mercabarna (Barcelona, Spain): one of the main wholesale markets in Spain;
  4. Grossmarkt Hamburg (Hamburg, Germany): close to the port of Hamburg;
  5. SogeMi Mercato Agroalimentare Milano (Milan, Italy): one of the largest wholesale markets for fresh fruit and vegetables in Italy;
  6. New Spitalfields Market or New Covent Garden Market (the United Kingdom): 2 wholesale markets for fresh products in London.

Tip:

  • Come early when you visit wholesale markets in the near future, as they start extremely early in the morning and usually close before midday.

5. Use online news platforms for information and promotion

Online news platforms are good sources of information about different markets, buyers, as well as other companies in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector. You can find news articles of private businesses, including from potential business partners, but you can also try to get your own story published. This option makes them the ideal place for promoting your own company. There are several publications and news sites that you can use for advertorials or publishing your own news item:

  1. Freshplaza: Freshplaza.com (English) and Freshplaza.es (Spanish) are news sites for fresh produce with daily updates. They also publish stories, updates and innovations of specific companies.
  2. FreshFruitPortal: Freshfruitportal.com is an online news site for fresh produce and also publishes industry announcements.
  3. Fruitnet: Fruitnet has a number of regional publications in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector. If you are among the larger exporters in your country, advertising with Eurofruit can be a good option to show your dominance.

Tip:

  • Promote your company by sharing developments and updates of your company – try to make use of free publicity through news platforms such as Freshplaza and social networks such as LinkedIn.

6. Register with trade directories

You can use trade databases to find potential buyers, but their directories are also useful to present your own products. Some trade directories charge for membership to publish your information or contact other traders. Sometimes, you can use a free trial to start with and then see whether it is worth paying the annual fee.

After your registration, you can either join as a supplier or directly look for buyers. Be selective in the directories that you are using and make sure that you leave a professional impression. Posting randomly on many sites may look cheap and even desperate.

Beside the listings of sector associations, there are no specific databases for the fresh fruit and vegetables sector. General databases and trade platforms are mentioned below.

  • Organic Bio: International directory of organic food companies;
  • Green trade: A marketplace for organic products;
  • Tridge: Platform that provides data on global trading and a supplier database, and facilitates trade transactions;
  • Kompass: Global Business-to-Business (B2B) database;
  • Global buyers online: a place to search for the latest trade leads from buyers and importers from all over the world;
  • Europages: Directory of European companies; a professional portal that encourages business-to-business exchanges.

7. Contact your local business support organisations

Contact your country’s chamber of commerce, sector association or local business support organisations (BSOs) to see whether they have tips or services to find potential buyers of fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe.

Sector associations in your home country will be able to provide you with relevant information about your sector. Some will also be able to give you information on your target market in Europe. As a registered member of a sector association, potential buyers from Europe also have a way of finding your company.

Business support organisations and trade promotion agencies go further with their assistance in finding potential buyers. Among their activities are the organisation of trade missions and trade fair participations.

Examples of sector associations

South Africa: Fruit SA, a non-profit organisation of the South African fruit industry with several member associations such as the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA) and the South African Table Grape Industry (SATI).

Peru: AGAP Peru defends the interests of the agricultural sector and is linked to specific associations such as the association of Hass avocado producers (ProHass).

Chile: The Association of fruit exporters from Chile (ASOEX) represents exporters and has created the website Fruits from Chile to promote the products of its members.

Morocco: The Moroccan Interprofessional Federation for the production and export of Fruits and Vegetables (FIFEL) groups together a number of associations such as the Moroccan association of fruit and vegetable producers and exporters (Apefel). Together with the government, they have run the programme “Maroc Vert” (2009-2020). Within this programme, large public and private investments improved the performance of the agricultural sector, both economically and socially.

Jordan: Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables (JEPA) trains and helps its 250 members to export their products.

Ethiopia: The Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association (EHPEA) promotes the interests of its producing and exporting members in flowers, vegetables, fruits, herbs and cuttings, contributing to the horticulture industry boom in Ethiopia.

Examples of export & trade promotion agencies

Peru: PromPerú, the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (Mincetur), and the Exporters Association (ADEX) are strong promoters of Peruvian export products. Every year they organise an impressive pavilion with exporters of fresh fruit and vegetables at Fruit Logistica in Germany.

India: The Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) covers fresh fruit and vegetables, among other sectors, and has introduced the trade portal Agri Exchange, where they connect buyers and suppliers.

Egypt: The Export Development Authority (EDA) is involved in trade missions and trade fair participation for Egyptian exporters, including in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector.

Guatemala: AGEXPORT is the exporters association in Guatemala which prepares companies for export and which connects them to international markets.

Commercial attachés working in your country’s embassy in Europe are a point of contact as well. They often have useful information about the market. Economic or commercial attachés are sometimes very much involved in helping you enter a market – the service level is different for each country.

8. Participate in European support programmes

There are organisations in Europe that help exporters from overseas with support programmes and useful information. Several of them promote imports from developing countries and can also help you to get in contact with European importers. Check with them to see whether there are specific programmes for your country or possibilities to find buyers for your product.

Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI):

In addition to an extensive range of market studies, CBI in the Netherlands offers export coaching programmes that help you to access the European market. They are only open for application during the application period and for the selected countries of a programme. CBI has a starting projects for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables in Ethiopia (2021-2025), Lebanon (2019–2023), Jordan (2018–2022), and recently closed projects in agrofood in Moldova (2018-2021) and Central America (2018–2021). Check the current projects for the latest details.

Import Promotion Desk (IPD):

The IPD brings together the interests of German importers with those of exporters in emerging growth markets. Fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the sectors in which they operate. The IPD supports companies from developing countries to present themselves at trade fairs in Europe. In 2020, the IPD supported a selection of suppliers from Egypt, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Peru, Ghana, Ukraine and Ivory Coast during Fruit Logistica in Berlin. In 2021, they presented companies from Ecuador, Colombia and Peru and showcased specialities from Egypt, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Ukraine at the Fruit Attraction fair in Madrid.

SIPPO:

SIPPO helps business support organisations (BSOs), such as chambers of commerce and export promotion agencies, to increase their export promotion capacity and services to export-ready companies. The supported BSOs that work with natural ingredient exporters can be found in 8 countries: Colombia, South Africa, Indonesia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Serbia and Tunisia. Additionally, SIPPO supports BSOs with export promotion services in processed food products from Peru, Colombia, South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco.

Finnpartnership:

Finnpartnership has a mission to increase commercial cooperation and to promote business partnerships between companies in developing countries and Finland. They offer a free-of-charge matchmaking service for companies in developing countries to help find business partners in Finland.

Open Trade Gate Sweden (OTGS):

OTGS cannot link you directly to buyers, but they provide market access information, answer questions and offer valuable tips on how to find a business partner in Sweden or in the rest of Europe.

Enterprise Europe Network (EEN):

EEN is the world’s largest support network that helps small and medium-sized businesses innovate and grow on an international scale. However, the network is not specialised in fresh fruit and vegetables. The Network manages a European database of business opportunities and offers assistance in finding a partner to distribute your products. There are several local Network contact points outside of Europe.

Tip:

  • Regularly check the activities of export promotion agencies such as the IPD and CBI, and apply for export support programmes that are relevant to your company.

9. Use member lists of sector associations in Europe

Look for sector associations in Europe, and find the names of fruit and vegetable traders in their member lists. You can find several associations and leading companies through Freshfel Europe, the European Fresh Produce Association.

“Freshfel Europe is a membership association, whose members and associated members are national associations, organisations, and companies with an interest in the European fresh fruit and vegetable sector. Freshfel Europe’s members are from across Europe, and work along the whole supply chain from producers to wholesalers, traders, logistics and retailers.” (Freshfel)

Its members include the following:

Germany: Deutscher Fruchthandelsverband is the German association that represents the interests of companies from all areas of trade in the fruit and vegetable sector. Its members (look for “Mitglieder”) account for approximately 70% of all fresh fruit and vegetable sales in Germany.

The United Kingdom: Fresh Produce Consortium (FCP) is the United Kingdom’s fresh produce trade association. It counts a wide variety of 700 member companies that relate to the fresh fruit, vegetable and flowers industry.

France: Chambre Syndicale des Importateurs Français de fruits et légumes frais (CSIF). On their website, you can find French importers of fresh fruit and vegetables as members (“Adhérents”). The website is in French, but you can use the translator function of your web browser.

The Netherlands: The Fresh Produce Centre, the Dutch association for companies that are active in the fresh fruit and vegetables industry. You can find their members on the website by selecting an activity or product.

Belgium: Fresh Trade Belgium is the professional federation for companies active in the fruit and vegetables sector in Belgium.

To find partnerships with producers of fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe, you can address the members of EUCOFEL FruitVegetablesEUROPE, which lists producer organisations in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

Tips:

  • Make your trade request as specific as possible when approaching sector associations. Generally, they are not there to facilitate foreign suppliers or to share extensive data on their members. However, you can try to ask for their help when you have a clear focus and make your request in the interest of their members.
  • Do some preliminary research on the companies that are on the member lists of sector associations before approaching them. Knowing what kind of company you are contacting leaves a better impression. Tell your contact why you are specifically interested in their company.

10. Attract buyers to your website

Web searches are very popular among buyers, so be sure that your company can be found by using the most common search engines. Remember that your website is the main online communication channel, and should fully reflect your business and commercial strengths.

Normally, a website is the first place where buyers will see whether you have a well-established company. If you do not appear in their web searches, or when you have an unprofessional or unfinished website, they may assume that you are not a suitable exporter and unable to fulfil their demands.

An example of a modern website in fresh fruit is Burke Agro in Nicaragua, which uses storytelling and quality images to present their business. Their story includes their main strength of being a socially engaged and sustainable company.

Things that you can do to optimise your website:

  1. Provide a complete picture of your company - Make sure that your website shows a complete picture of your company, its identity, product information (quality and sizes), packaging options, impressions of your production and processing, certifications, social and sustainable practices, and so on.
  2. Update your website regularly - To ensure a properly functioning website but also to obtain a higher listing in search engines. Regular news items about your activities or market updates on your production of fruit or vegetables can add attractive content to your online presentation.
  3. Share your website URL – Sharing your URL on different sector websites such as sector associations, trade databases and news websites (for example, in news items on Freshplaza) will help your website get better results in search engines.
  4. Use correct English - Websites should be written in good English and preferably in the language of your target market(s).
  5. Use SEO (search engine optimisation) – SEO will attract more traffic to your website. To do so, you can register for Google Webmaster Tools.

11. Use social media for networking

In order to find buyers across Europe, you can use business networking platforms such as LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the most important medium for professional use and includes relevant groups for many industries. You can join groups such as Fruit import and export (>48,000 professionals), which tripled in size in the past 2 years, the Dutch platform Groenten & Fruit (GFActueel.nl) (>3,600 professionals) or Africa Import Export Trading (>196,500 professionals), a networking community powered by Africa Business Communities for people who are professionally involved in international trade in Africa.

Other country-specific sites such as Xing in Germany and Viadeo in France are used as well, but on a much smaller scale. Alternatively, you can choose to post articles and news about your company or share videos on Vimeo or Youtube. These methods are more passive ways to let buyers find you.

When you are active on social media, make sure that your contributions are professional and enhance your company’s image. Do not spam many sites randomly with information that is irrelevant. All sites operate on the basis of implicit codes of conduct about how they should be used. The same applies to communication tools such as Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook: be professional and selective in your posts.

Tips:

Read our Tips for Doing Business with European buyers of fresh fruit and vegetables and Tips for organising your export, which can help you further understand how to enter the European market and what it takes to become a successful exporter to Europe.

This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by ICI Business.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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Trying to sell your product in Europe is not only about finding your buyer, it is about making the right impression. Know which type of buyer you are aiming for and what you have to do to become a suitable supplier.

Michel Peperkamp

Michel Peperkamp – Market expert at ICI Business