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The European market potential for table grapes

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Being one the largest fruit categories, the table grape market in Europe is very mature. Grape companies that are anticipating on the trends such as seedless grapes and sustainable packaging will be most likely to participate on large markets such as the United Kingdom and Germany.

1. Product description

In the fresh trade, most grapes (scientific name: Vitis vinifera) are table grapes destined for raw consumption. This factsheet focuses principally on fresh table grapes, unless the data is only available for fresh grapes.

There are many different table grapes available, varying from white-green to red and dark blue. In Europe, the seedless varieties are most popular for consumption, such as the white-green Thompson and Sweet Globe, and the red Crimson, Flame Seedless and Ruby. There is a wide range of new varieties, complementing or replacing the older existing varieties. Many of these grape varieties are produced under license. The seeded varieties are in decline (see trends below), but still widely cultivated and available, such as the white-green Italia, the red Globe and Victoria red.

Table 1: Product code and varieties

Harmonized System (HS) code

08061000 Fresh grapes

08061010 Fresh table grapes

Commercial varieties (examples)

Seedless

  • White: Thompson, Sweet Globe, Sugraone, Regal, Centennial, Autumn Crisp, Cotton Candy
  • Red: Crimson, Flame, Ruby, Sweet Celebration, Timco
  • Black/blue: Summer Royal, Melody, Autumn Royal, Sable Seedless

Seeded

  • White: Italy
  • Red: Red Globe, Victoria Red
  • Black: Sweet Jubilee

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for table grapes?

Grapes are one of the most demanded fruit in Europe. The market is mature and consumption is relatively stable, but imports occur year round and will gradually increase due to a declining production in Europe.

Grapes are a major fruit in Europe

Table grapes are among the most popular fruits in European consumption. The market for table grapes is mature, with large volumes and a relatively stable demand all year round. This means there are several supply windows throughout the year during which you can step in and meet the demand.

With a value of 1.4 billion euros table grapes have the highest import value after bananas. The import volume has gradually increased from 602,000 tonnes in 2015 to 694,000 tonnes in 2019 (see Figure 1). This reflects an import growth of 3 to 4 percent per year. Prices can always fluctuate throughout the year, but the annual average of grape prices (import value per kilo) is very stable and often does not vary more than 5%.

Supply shortages in Europe can temporarily increase the need for external supply and oversupply is relatively easily absorbed. Retail promotions for (in-season) grapes are common. Over time the demand for grapes will continue to grow slowly, but no sudden big increases in consumption should be expected.

Figure 1: European imports of table grapes (from non-European suppliers)

European imports of table grapes (from non-European suppliers)

Source: Eurostat / Market Access Database

Tips:

The European table grape production is decreasing

Europe is the largest grape producer in the world, and a top-five producer of table grapes. But production costs in Europe are increasing and growing grapes is becoming less profitable. This creates opportunities for non-European suppliers that are competitive and overlap with the European season.

Europe produced 24.2 million tonnes of grapes in 2019. Only an estimated 1.7 million tonnes were table grapes for fresh consumption, while less than a decade ago the production was still more than 2 million tonnes (see Figure 2). Italy, Spain and Greece are the main producers of table grapes for the European supply. Italy is Europe’s main supplier with a stable production of around 1 million tonnes of table grapes per year.

With European production decreasing, you can expect a growing need for imported grapes, especially early and later in the local season (June or November). At the same time, the increasing adoption of late varieties allow Spain and Italy to be on the market longer and reduce the need for imports. If Europe does well with production, it will have a positive trade balance and export volumes will be greater than imports – this happens most often in August and September.

The bulk of the imported grapes arrive between December and May. This should be the main focus for most of the foreign suppliers.

Tip:

3. Which European countries offer most opportunities for table grapes?

Most imports from non-European suppliers is registered by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Unlike in the United Kingdom, the peak grape consumption in Germany and France takes place during the European season. Off-season, mainland Europe is mostly supplied through the Netherlands. Spain and Poland may also become better transit hubs in the future for foreign suppliers with exports to respectively southern and eastern Europe.

Map 1: Total imports of fresh grapes (mainly table grapes) per country, including European supply, in 2019 in 1000 tonnes


Source: ITC Trademap

The Netherlands: a logistical hub for table grapes    

The Netherlands is an important logistical hub for long-distance table grapes. Therefore you can use the Netherlands either for its logistics or for finding different trading companies that can distribute your grapes throughout Europe.

The Netherlands is the principle entrance point for table grapes into Europe. From here, a large volume is re-exported to the rest of Europe. This is especially true for long-distance table grapes from southern Africa, South America and India, but also for grapes from Egypt and Namibia. With 303,000 tonnes, the Netherlands exports more foreign grapes than most European countries are importing individually (see Figure 4). Germany is the main destination for grapes that are re-exported by the Netherlands.

The Netherlands usually offers a good reflection of what is happening in Europe. South Africa continues its growth as the principal supplier to the European market. Peru and India have clearly increased their exports of competitive, seedless grapes at the expense of Chilean grape growers (see Table 2).

Table 2: Dutch imports of table grapes, in 1.000 tonnes

 

2015

2019

change in %

Total non-European supply

224

281

25%

South Africa

79

93

18%

India

20

61

207%

Peru

42

52

25%

Chile

41

30

−25%

Egypt

15

19

27%

Brazil

11

13

13%

Namibia

11

10

−6%

Argentina

4,1

0,8

−80%

Turkey

0,4

0,7

52%

Morocco

0,3

0,3

10%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tips:

  • Make use of Dutch traders when you have difficulties in entering different European markets. Dutch importers often have wide experience in trading and are familiar with the different European preferences. Dutch fruit companies have a no-nonsense mentality, so calling or visiting them often works better than e-mailing.
  • Find some of the table grape traders on the member list of the Dutch Fresh Produce Centre, the organisation that looks after the interests of the fresh fruit and vegetable sector in the Netherlands.

United Kingdom: mature table grape market

The United Kingdom is probably the most mature import market for grapes. The market is saturated and the best way to enter this market is by replacing other suppliers with better prices or through new varieties, original packaging and other innovations (see trends below).

United Kingdom is a typical destination market with large imports and high consumption. The country imported 282,000 tonnes of grapes in 2019 and exported only a very limited volume (see Figure 4). The British consumer eats on average over four kilos of grapes per person per year. So you can find a wide variety of grapes on the market, but only little growth can be expected.

The British market is slowly becoming a price fighting market. Market saturation, oversupply and devaluation of the British pound (linked to Brexit) result in strong pressure on grape prices.

For competitive suppliers the United Kingdom remains an important market. A main advantage of the United Kingdom is that most grapes are imported directly from diverse origins. Suppliers from South Africa, Chile, Egypt, Peru and India all successfully export grapes to the British market.

Tip:

  • Invest in product innovation to stand out on the British market, for example in special grape varieties or packaging options. Get inspiration by seeing what kind of grapes are already on the British market, for example in the assortment of the Tesco or Waitrose supermarkets.

Germany: attractive market size

Germany has a lower consumption per capita than the United Kingdom, but as a country it offers the largest European market for table grapes. Your main challenge in supplying the German market is the indirect (via trade hubs) and regional import as well as the high standards of discount retailers.

From the total import volume of 310,000 tonnes in 2019, 287,000 tonnes stayed in the country (see Figure 4). This makes Germany the largest European market for fresh grapes. Whereas the United Kingdom imports directly from countries such as South Africa and Chile, Germany mainly sources its grapes from Italy and through logistical hubs such as the Netherlands. Germany’s consumption peaks during the European season. There is little growth in the German grape market and there has even been a slight decline in the last three years (2017-2019).

Discounters are increasingly dominating the market working with smaller margins. Most large food retail chains have a discount concept, such as Netto of the Edeka-Group, Penny of the Rewe-Group and Lidl of the Schwarz-group. To give an idea about the size of these discounters, the number of outlets vary between 2200 and 4320.

As a supplier, it is important to realise that supermarkets and discounters in Germany have high requirements but at the same time expect a reliable economic offer. This means you can potentially sell significant volumes to these retailers if your product meets all the requirements. The largest part of the overseas imports for supermarkets concerns seedless table grapes.

Tips:

  • Try to get into a supply contract with a supermarket or discounter for a reliable supply and a stable price. But be prepared for extensive paperwork such as filling in your actions on food safety and sustainability and submitting your pesticide spraying registers.
  • Adopt different quality and sustainability standards to enter the German market. Read more about these standards in the buyer requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables and in the study about exporting fresh fruit and vegetables to Germany.

France: third-largest end market

A preference for local and in-season fruit makes France a smaller market for foreign grapes than Germany or the United Kingdom. But with a population of over 66 million consumers and a large history in grape production, it is still the third-largest destination market for imported grapes. Most grapes are sourced in Europe.

France is one of the larger grape producers in Europe. In 2019 almost 5.5 million tonnes of fresh grapes were produced – but most were destined for the winery industry. In table grapes France is not very competitive and production is much smaller, estimated at 46,000 tonnes in 2019. French growers lack a wider variation of commercial cultivars for export and their climate is not as ideal as further south in Europe. For that reason, the French consumption of fresh table grapes depends partly on the supply from Italy and Spain.

Like in Germany, the peak consumption in France takes place during the European season. Locally produced table grapes such as the black muscat and chasselas (both used for wine and fresh consumption) get higher prices in retail. But there is competition from other local fresh fruit such as peaches, apples and pears, which have a higher production than fresh table grapes.

Competition of local fruit and a dominant supply from European growers make it difficult to find ample opportunities during the European season (July to November). Off-season, France sources most table grapes from South Africa, Peru, Chile and Morocco.

Tips:

Poland: offers opportunities for eastern suppliers

Surprisingly Poland is among the largest importers of table grapes. Because of its geographic location, Poland offers most opportunities for suppliers from the east.

Together with Romania and Austria, Poland is forming an eastern corridor for grapes from origins such as Turkey and Moldova. In 2019 Poland registered a direct import volume from Turkey of 7,478 tonnes and 1,534 tonnes from Moldova (see Figure 5). The total imports of grapes from these origins will be even higher when comparing indirect trade statistics.

Grapes with other non-European origins are often traded through logistical hubs in Western Europe such as the Netherlands, as well as Germany. If your country is located far from Poland, these countries can help getting your grapes on the Polish market.

Tip:

  • Consider going to the Bronisze wholesale market where much of the Moldovan grapes are sold. This can be a good starting point to get contacts in the Polish grape market.

Spain: potential to become a grape trade hub

Spain is the second-largest producer and net exporter of table grapes after Italy. But recent years also show increasing imports. This provides new opportunities for suppliers of counter-seasonal grapes or nearby countries that can fill in supply gaps early in the Spanish season.

Spain’s imports from non-EU countries have increased in five years from 35,500 to 52,900 tonnes in 2019. The increasing imports are an indication of Spain positioning itself as a trade hub for grapes in Europe. Especially in the last two years Spain has been growing in off-season imports. This counter-seasonal volume mainly comes from Chile (8,600 tonnes) and Peru (8,000 tonnes), which significantly increased its supply to Spain since 2018. Meanwhile the Spanish table grape harvest continues to gradually increase as well and amounted to 314,000 tonnes in 2019. Table grapes produced nearby that complement the Spanish season come mainly from Morocco (2,000 tonnes).

Tip:

By seizing the opportunities of important trends like convenience, new grape varieties and reducing the use of plastic you can stay ahead of competition and strengthen your relationship with European buyers.

Seedless and taste become leading factors for grape consumption

The European consumer has an increasing preference for convenience. This trend is positive for table grapes, because they are easy to consume and ideal as a fresh snack. To further improve the consumer experience seedless grapes are setting the new standard and are most appealing to consumers.

Seedless

Seedless grape varieties have become more dominant over the past years and their market share is expected to grow further. The United Kingdom was at the forefront of this development, but now they are the preferred variety in most of northern Europe. For example, the German market is close to 80% seedless. Southern and Eastern European markets have a more traditional consumption, including local grape varieties. Taste and price often drive the consumer purchase, but these markets will also follow the seedless trend in the next years.

Grape growers in Spain and increasingly in Italy and Greece have started a transition towards seedless grape production to meet the growing demand. Also in counter-seasonal regions such as Peru, Chile and South Africa, many growers are shifting to more seedless varieties. For example, until recently Peru primarily produced Red Globe grapes, but now many producers such as Ecosac, Pampa Baja and Pedregal also produce seedless varieties such as Crimson, Flame, Timson, Magenta or Sugraone and continue to find new improved varieties.

Seeded grapes will not disappear from the market, but their demand will depend more on attractive pricing or distinction in taste.

Taste

Because grapes are often consumed as a snack and as a product of indulgence, you must consider consumer experience as an important success factor for your product. Especially when dealing with experienced buyers, who appreciate premium quality, you can distinguish yourself with superior quality and taste. For example there is a growing niche for highly aromatic varieties such as the Sable Seedless or Cotton Candy.

Specific preferences can differ per region and buyer. Most importantly, besides offering seedless grapes, your product must be fresh, sweet and crisp.

Tip:

  • Select the grape varieties that best suit your client’s market, or find the right buyer for your variety. Visit your export market regularly to update your market knowledge and get information about new varieties from large grape breeders such as Sun World International and SNFL group.

New movement drives sustainable and plastic-free packaging

Reducing plastic and making packaging more sustainable will be key for future table grape sales. It is very contradictory to the demand for convenience, but it will impact the packaging practices of all grape suppliers.

The abundant use of packaging was already an issue in the minds of many retailers and conscious consumers. But since the European Parliament approved the new law banning single-use plastics, companies are forced to take action.

Currently most grapes are sold in punnets or clamshell packages, for example 500g, but smaller snack-sized packages such as 250g or 170g are also increasingly available. These smaller packages do not increase the total volume of grapes, but it only adds to the plastic waste.

There is a need for more sustainable packaging and exporters must be prepared for this change. Grape packers were already using more and more top-sealed punnets to reduce the plastics of lids (clamshells), and now companies have started to implement new sustainable packaging such as biodegradable and compostable carry bags for grapes and cardboard punnets (adopted by retailer Waitrose). For organic grapes, sustainable packaging such as cardboard is a real selling point.

It is good to anticipate changes and be innovative with packaging solutions. But the developments in this field are not yet finished and it will be a challenge to evaluate and implement packaging options which are suitable and acceptable in your target market. Leading retailers and organic brands are probably first to demand sustainable or plastic-free packaging, but you can expect structural changes throughout the whole table grape sector.

Tips:

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

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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