Which trends offer opportunities on the European fresh fruit and vegetables market?
There are opportunities for fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe thanks to the increased popularity of healthy, natural and organic products. Consumers look for good taste and a convenient purchase. They have also become more aware of social and environmental issues. More integrated social and certification programmes are introduced together with an increased exchange of information along the total supply chain. Meanwhile, product innovations will improve customer experiences and taste. These developments require you to specialise further and to integrate actors within the supply chain.
The total value of the European trade in fresh fruit and vegetables is increasing gradually year by year. There is an increasing preference for locally grown fruit and vegetables, but the import of out-of-season and exotic products continues to grow as well.
Health has always been a strong selling point for fresh fruit and vegetables. In coming years, the importance of communication on the health benefits of these products will increase.
Especially in north-western Europe, products with specific health characteristics such as berries (blueberry, açaï, cranberry, physalis), avocado, pomegranates and papaya have become more popular. The continuation of this development has been confirmed by the fact that leading retailers have started to embrace these products. Despite their growing popularity, however, many health foods remain specific to relatively wealthy consumer groups and specialised import companies.
Popularity of pure and organic continues
A significant group of European consumers are increasingly seeking pure and natural products. This aspect is a principal reason for them to buy organically produced fruit and vegetables, because these products are associated with health and better taste.
The organic food market in Europe grew over 10% in 2015. The market share for organic food in Europe varies from around 1% in most eastern and southern European countries up to 7% or 8% in Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria. In terms of volume, Germany offers you the largest market for organic food. Organic food consumption is developing exceptionally well in relatively wealthy countries.
Although still considered a niche, the organic market is expected to grow over the next years. Research company Technavio predicts that organic food and drinks will grow by a combined yearly average of approximately 7% in Europe until the year 2020. For 2015, they identified the following top vendors in Europe: Tesco, Metro, Carrefour, Ahold and the REWE Group. There are also specialised organic retail chains, such as Denn’s Biomarkt in Germany and Austria, Biocoop in France and Ekoplaza in the Netherlands.
Organic requirements will become difficult for developing countries
Often, the demand for organic products exceeds supply, making it easier to find buyers and better margins. However, it can be challenging for exporters in tropical climates to comply with the increasing organic standards in Europe.
After several years of negotiation, a new set of regulations are set to be implemented in July 2020. According to the European Council, this new agreement aims to guarantee fair competition, prevent fraud and improve consumer confidence. Importers have already started tightening the rules.
However, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) argues that it many small organic producers in developing countries will very likely not be able to meet the requirements which are designed within the EU context, due to different socioeconomic and geographical conditions. The administrative burden and costs might be a problem as well. This fact means that you as a producer will have to evaluate very well your potential as organic supplier.
- When focusing on organic fruit and vegetables, find specific market partners that are well integrated in this segment and have knowledge on European legislation.
- Consult Organic-world.net and IFOAM reports for detailed information on organic production and sales in Europe.
- For organic requirements, see also the Buyer requirements on the CBI market intelligence platform.
Consumers combine price-consciousness with luxury spending
The market for special niche products is growing. Niche products and new varieties will continue to emerge, providing unique taste and triggering consumer indulgence, particularly on the high-end market.
The market for fresh fruit and vegetables has traditionally been driven by price, but today’s market has become more dynamic. Retail discounters are claiming increasingly greater market shares, while consumers are complementing their price-conscious shopping habits with an interest in exotic or special quality fruit and vegetables.
Fresh products such as avocados, mangoes and sweet potatoes have shown a strong growth in annual imports of 10% to 20%, while other, more common products such as oranges and tomatoes have seen little fluctuation.
Branding enhances consumer experience
In addition to consumers’ preference for exotic and special quality fruit and vegetables, taste and experience are playing an increasingly important role. Consumers are willing to pay premium prices for products that have consistently good taste. Branding and storytelling are necessary tools to support the marketing of exceptional taste experiences.
Demanding and changing consumer habits motivate suppliers to diversify and innovate. To make innovation possible, exporters from developing countries will need to supply a constant quality.
- Make sure that you use excellent seasonal planning and logistics. Poor quality and immature fruit will hurt consumption and also your reputation.
- Use the superlative taste of your product as a marketing tool, on packaging, or through magazines or the internet. Be familiar with taste preferences per country or region.
As lifestyles are becoming more fast-paced, and interest in easy and convenient foods is increasing. Especially in north- western Europe, retailers are responding to this trend with freshly cut fruit, snack vegetables, seedless fruit, easy peelers, prolonged shelf life, individually sized products (for example, mini-papayas or mini-watermelons), ready-to-eat products and e-commerce. Although the demand for convenience products in other parts of Europe is still low, it is on the increase.
Specific trends with growth potential include ready-to-eat and ripened fruit. An underlying development is the improvement of ripening processes for fruits such as mango, avocado and papaya in the importing country, which is more convenient for the consumer and cheaper in transport than supplying already ripened fruit.
- Use the right seeds or varieties, as well as seasonal planning and meet all logistic requirements to acquire a good position in the supply of convenience fruit and vegetables. For example, supply mature fruit that can ripen in a conditioned environment before it reaches the consumer.
Certification becomes more important than the product itself
Food safety and certification have become leading aspects in the trade of fresh products. GLOBALG.A.P. has become the standard certification, while the required maximum residue levels (MRLs) are becoming stricter than the legal limits. It seems that buyers nowadays are more concerned about certification than about the product itself. Experienced buyers resent the fact that more and more fresh fruit professionals only focus on paperwork and lack actual product knowledge.
The paper trail and the strict requirements are a challenge for every producer and exporter. At the same time, if applied well, these aspects can improve your competitive position.
- Work together with importers on tracking and tracing systems. Gain an advantage by demonstrating good conduct and consistent compliance with food safety standards.
- Certify and organise your production before exporting to the Europe. Be professional; your supply chain is only as strong as the weakest link.
- Be up to date with MRLs and food safety requirements. Check the Buyer Requirements.
Sustainable produce is becoming mainstream
In all links of the value chain, people are gaining interest in more sustainable and responsible fruit and vegetables. This trend relates to many aspects such as working conditions, water use and waste management, among other things.
Customer awareness is growing thanks to increased transparency. In addition, retailers and traders throughout Europe are joining forces in the Sustainability Initiative Fruit And Vegetables (SIFAV), coordinated by the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). They aim to make all imports from Africa, Asia and South America 100% sustainable by 2020.
Industry sources mention the conservation of water resources as one of the principle concerns in the production of fresh fruit and vegetables.
You can anticipate this development by demonstrating that your product has been produced in a sustainable way, both socially and environmentally.
- Invest in social and sustainable practices and certification to maintain your position in the European market in the future and increase the value of your product. Make your product supply chain transparent by using a website and QR-codes. These can give insights to consumers about the product, the people and the plantation.
- Read about the various social compliance programmes and certificates (for example BSCI, ETI, Fair for Life, GSCP and Fair Trade).
Specialising role for importers
As a result of increasing competition and buyer concentration, the role of importers and wholesalers is changing. They become more specialised and are looking to establish a unique market position.
Importers and distributors focus more and more on “just-in-time” delivery, trying to shorten their supply chain to retailers and saving on warehousing costs. Importers that supply to large retail formulas prefer to work with large producers and large quantities. They handle the European logistics without having their own facilities. If plant space is needed, they hire it temporarily. Importers that sell from their own warehouses have difficulties in competing with importers that have arranged their logistics externally.
As a smaller exporter, you would do best to search for opportunities within a broader spectrum. This approach also includes traders that do not have direct access to supermarkets and that specialise in other segments or niche markets.
- Define your strategy and choose an appropriate marketing channel based on the strengths of your company, preferably before closing any contracts.
- Find a large importer/distributor if you focus on bulk production and make sure that you can handle the strict logistics planning. Work with specialist importers if you supply smaller quantities of special products.
Specialisation is often accompanied by vertical integration. Supply lines are becoming shorter and more efficient.
Contacts between farmers, traders and retailers are becoming closer.
Recent experiences have also yielded examples of integration with a negative impact. For some, investments in warehousing and logistics had significant financial consequences when the economic crisis occurred in 2008.
Nevertheless, the key to future development resides in integration for the purpose of specialisation. Control throughout the entire value chain is essential in order to build expertise in specific products and to comply with the strict delivery terms of large retailers.
- Profit from the experience of your buyers and business partners. In some cases, joint ventures with European companies could improve your market position in the Europe.
When the United Kingdom announced that it would leave the European Union after a referendum vote, companies expressed their concerns for the potential consequences. The fresh fruit and vegetable sector is also affected, mainly because of its international nature. Nobody knows exactly what the long-term effects will be, but the most notable changes so far have been:
- a decreased availability of affordable labour due to the large number of foreign workers that are leaving the country;
- a devaluation of the British pound.
The United Kingdom is an important market for exporters from developing countries. However, with the current pressure on prices, you would do best to look for additional or alternative markets.
Eastern Europe is emerging
Currently, the market for tropical fruit and exotics in eastern Europe is still relatively small, but it is considered a growth market. Countries such as Poland and Romania are following the same trends as the rest of Europe. They are starting to buy more and more tropical fruits such as mangoes and avocados. With consumption still being low, they have more room to grow.
Consumers in eastern Europe are very price-conscious, while exotic and tropical fruits are relatively new to most consumers. A good way to enter this market is through importers in western Europe that are extending their business to Central and Eastern Europe. It is also a good market for fresh products that do not reach the higher standards in western Europe. Remember that payment behaviour may also be less strict.
- Invest in your European contacts and look for possibilities to extend exports to upcoming European countries. Visit trade fairs such as Fruit Logistica or invite importers and retailers for company visits.
The European market is highly regulated
Individual Member States of the European Union maintain strict control over the fresh food market. Decisions by the European Union and its Member States can have a major influence on your market. Recent examples of European interventions are:
- compensation and subsidies for farmers in Europe;
- phytosanitary restrictions on South African citrus due to the threat of black spot;
- European policy against genetically modified fruit and vegetables.
- Keep up to date with European rules and regulations on food safety, genetic modification and phytosanitary requirements; for example, via www.efsa.europa.eu or through the RASFF system for Food and Feed Safety Alerts for temporary import restrictions.
- Be aware of the importance of plant health and the high quality of border checks, which may cause rejection from the European market or ultimately wider import bans.
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