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The European market potential for chickpeas

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Chickpea consumption in Europe is growing, from traditional consumption in Southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, to trendy plant-based consumption in Northern European countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), Germany and France. This healthy pulse is increasingly popular for direct consumption and as an ingredient in healthy or high-protein foods. However, global production fluctuations are looming in the background, potentially affecting exporters’ profit margins. Currently, due to global shortages, prices are good, but in 2018/2019 it was the opposite; over-supply and low prices.

When we mention Europe in this study, we are referring to EU27+EFTA+UK.

1. Product description

The chickpea (Scientific name: Cicer arietinum L.) is a pulse crop that belongs to the Leguminosae family, along with lentils, green peas, lupines and soya beans.

The most common chickpea varieties are the desi and the kabuli. These two types differ not only in size and colour but also in terms of production requirements, markets and end-uses. The kabuli chickpea, also known as the garbanzo bean, is larger and light-coloured. It is the most commonly traded and consumed chickpea type in Europe.

The desi chickpea, or Bengal gram, is smaller and darker than the kabuli chickpea and has a rougher coating. It is more oriented toward the Indian and Pakistani markets. In Europe, desi chickpeas are predominantly only in demand for consumption by South Asian ethnic minority groups most prevalent in the UK. Production of desi chickpeas is spread across the globe. Desi chickpeas are mainly grown in Africa, Asia and Australia, whilst kabuli chickpeas are mostly cultivated in North and South America and the Mediterranean, as well as Central Asia and Afghanistan where the kabuli acquired its name. 

Chickpeas are a very versatile, healthy product and can be converted to a convenient, easy-to-cook meal ingredient. They are mostly traded in dried form but retailed in canned, dried or flour form. In Europe, chickpeas are used in ethnic cuisines and products (hummus, falafel, couscous, chana masala) in addition to being an ingredient for salads, stews, and snacks. 100g of kabuli chickpeas has around 9g of protein which is about 10% of a person’s required daily intake. This puts chickpeas at the top of the list of plant-based protein food ingredients.

Chickpeas’ high nutritional content is also of value in the animal feed industry. Stocks that are not fit for human consumption are in demand for animal feed, including in Europe.

The HS code for dried, shelled chickpeas is HS 071320 (see table 1).

Table 1: Chickpea types and HS code


HS 071320 Dried, shelled chickpeas "garbanzos", whether or not skinned or split



Larger, round seeds, diameter 7-14mm, weighing about 400mg. They look like wrinkled hazelnuts.

White-cream coloured

Mostly used as whole seeds or in hummus


The chickpea (Scientific name: Cicer arietinum L.) is a pulse crop that belongs to the Leguminosae family, along with lentils, green peas, lupines and soya beans.  The most common chickpea varieties are the desi and the kabuli. These two types differ not only in size and colour but also in terms of production requirements, markets and end-uses. The kabuli chickpea, also known as the garbanzo bean, is larger and light-coloured. It is the most commonly traded and consumed chickpea type in Europe.  The desi ch

Source: Globally Cool through Dall-E

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for chickpeas?

The European demand for chickpeas is driven by the growth of modern chickpea consumption in addition to traditional consumption. Suppliers’ chances on the market are, however, also influenced by global supply and demand. The global outlook has switched from oversupply to shortages.

The war in Ukraine strongly affected supply from Russia. Russia is a key global supplier and was previously responsible for around a quarter of the global chickpea trade. In addition, Turkey banned the export of chickpeas up till March 2023 to counter high inflation. New rules regarding chickpea export were released in August 2023 and are valid until at least the 1 January 2024 (pdf).

Weather also affected several major producer countries’ crops in 2022, including the United States and Mexico, further contributing to the global shortage. Global shortages are forecast to not fully recover in 2023. According to Mundus Agri, the Indian and Canadian crops are falling short of expectations, keeping prices high.

Price hikes from global shortages reflect strength of demand

European chickpea consumption increased quickly, leading to significant growth of 55% between 2015 and 2019, exceptional for a pulse crop. Imports peaked in 2020 and decreased after that due to global supply issues and the resulting price escalation.

Supply shortages led to a reduction in imports in 2021 and 2022 but also a significant price hike. Average €/ton import prices for the European Union and the United Kingdom combined increased from €717/ton in 2020 to €1,323/ton in 2022. The fact that prices climbed so significantly reflects the strength of the demand for chickpeas.

Source: UN Comtrade (September 2023)

Modern consumption will remain unchanged

As a chickpea supplier, you need to look beyond current global supply shortage fluctuations. Reductions in imports in 2021 and 2022 were not due to reduced consumer interest in the product. The desire for healthy foods and plant-based food consumption continues to grow. European consumer attitudes are changing and these changes are here to stay. Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are expanding and in addition, more and more non-vegetarians are including non-meat foods in their diet. This concept is also known as flexitarianism. This means that the tendency towards consuming plant-based foods, which include plant-based meat replacements, is here to stay.

Northern European attempts to grow chickpeas

Europeans themselves are entirely convinced by the potential the chickpea market offers. Northern European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are attempting to grow chickpeas themselves, despite their climates being too wet and production being more expensive than traditional producer countries. This is a clear sign that Europeans are totally convinced by the future potential that the market offers.

Bulgaria, France, Italy, and Spain have also grown more chickpeas in recent years to cater to expanding demand. France is the most likely to achieve self-sufficiency in the years to come. 

This also means that competition from European producers is growing. There is, however, still enough room in the market for chickpea exporters from developing countries.

3. Which European countries offer the most opportunities for chickpeas?

Southern Europe (in particular Spain and Italy) is an important region for traditional chickpea consumption. This region dominates European foreign imports of chickpeas. Future growth can also be expected in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France because of an increasing demand for vegetarian/vegan food and product innovations with vegetable protein. The Netherlands is a chickpea consumer and re-exporter and also a hub for plant-based food industries.

Figure 2 shows the six largest importers of chickpeas in Europe. It is interesting to observe from a traditional versus modern consumption perspective. Italy and Spain represent Southern Europe where traditional consumption is the main use and therefore also substantial in size. In the UK, Germany and France, consumption is more modern, with the focus on health and the stronger demand for plant-based foods. It is important to add that modern consumption is expected to provide the most growth.

The large ethnic Asian population in the United Kingdom means that the UK has a combination of both traditional and modern consumption. The country is one of the leaders in plant-based foods and the largest importer of chickpeas.

It is worth mentioning that up to 2019, Portugal was making big strides as a key import market in Europe and has since fallen away. This can be partly attributed to the country’s leading supply sources, Mexico and Argentina, whose crops performed poorly in 2022. Portugal did not have the purchasing power to meet rising prices.

In figure 2 you can see imports drop in 2021 and 2022 due to global supply issues. This is particularly the case in the larger markets.  

Source: UN Comtrade (July 2023)

United Kingdom: ethnic and modern consumption

The United Kingdom has both a significant ethnic consumption of chickpeas as well as a well-developed demand for plant-based food. This makes the UK market diverse and open to a wide selection of producer countries.

Chickpea suppliers can connect to different ethnic and health-oriented market segments. Because of the large Indian and Pakistani population in the United Kingdom, there is, unlike in other European markets, a relatively strong demand for desi chickpeas in addition to kabuli chickpeas. The United Kingdom’s desi chickpeas are increasingly from Australia as Australia has gained market share from India between 2018 and 2022.

The consumption growth that occurred up till 2020 was most likely triggered by consumers looking for healthier food, which often includes kabuli chickpeas and all kinds of products that contain them. The significant drop in imports after 2020 reflects the global supply shortage caused by the Ukraine-Russia war. Canada and Turkey are becoming key suppliers of Kabuli chickpeas to the United Kingdom. They are taking the place of Argentina and Russia.

Plant-based meat sales have also decreased in 2021 and 2022. This is particularly the case in the United Kingdom. Although it is hard to identify precisely how many chickpeas were used as an ingredient, the deceleration of plant-based meat sales in the United Kingdom could also have contributed to the slowdown in imports of chickpeas witnessed during 2022. Read more about plant-based proteins in the section on trends below.

The United Kingdom is the fifth-largest market in Europe for organic-certified products. For speciality chickpeas, this certification is key – especially for the health and wellness category. For the flour used to make gluten-free products, there is a market for both organic and conventional offerings.

Italy: leading traditional consumption

Traditional Italian cuisine is home to many dishes made with chickpeas. For example, pasta with chickpeas (pasta e ceci), flatbread (farinata di ceci), chickpea fritters (panelle), chickpea salads and roasted chickpeas. These represent important drivers for Italian chickpea demand.

Further growth in Italy could come from an increasing interest in vegetarian and gluten-free food. Gluten-free is an important segment in Italy and is well-supported by the government. Italian food companies, such as the Barilla company, have developed gluten-free pasta and are replacing wheat with legumes. The new chickpea pasta contains 19 grams of plant protein per serving and is certified gluten-free, vegan, and Non-GMO Project Verified.

The importance of chickpeas for Italian cuisine and as an ingredient for the Italian food industry explains the sizeable volume of its imports. The size and growth of Italian demand become even clearer when we also consider its own production of chickpeas in addition to imports. Italian chickpea production has continuously expanded over the last decade.

Italy is also fast becoming a hub for organic chickpeas, particularly as a grower. Areas under organic legume cultivation have increased continuously between 2018 and 2021, as revealed in the reports on Italian organic farming (pdf) and on Italian agriculture (pdf).

Spain: a big traditional consumption market with fluctuating imports

Chickpeas are indispensable in the Spanish food culture. Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are used in many family dishes, including Caldo, traditional lentil, chickpea, or bean stews (such as Fabada Asturiana) for tapas, and hummus. Spanish consumers have also sought out pulses during the COVID-19 pandemic when they were spending time at home, as pulses are seen as a healthy and alternative source of protein. Nowadays many traditional consumers are switching from dried to canned or jarred chickpeas as an easier-to-use product.

This extensive traditional consumption makes Spain another major market for chickpeas exporters to target, with significant import volumes reaching 57,500 tonnes in 2019. 

Mexico, USA and Argentina are key supply source countries for Spain. The fact that all three of these faced production issues in 2021 and 2022 partially explains the sizeable drop in Spain’s imports during that period. However, the country will maintain an international demand for chickpeas, because its national crop fluctuates due to the climate (legumes are often not irrigated) and because of competition with winter grain cultivation. According to Statista, Spain’s chickpea production peaked at 91,500 tonnes in 2018. During the years that followed, production has ranged from 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes.

Germany: plant-based food goes mainstream

In recent years, the vegan and vegetarian population in Germany has rapidly expanded. According to a recent survey, highlighted in USDA’s report entitled “Plant-Based Food Goes Mainstream in Germany” (pdf), nearly 8 million people followed a vegetarian diet and 1.58 million people identified themselves as vegan in 2022. In other words, nearly 10 million people are choosing to follow a diet without meat and fish or entirely without animal products. This is a major transformation considering only 100,000 Germans considered themselves vegan ten years ago.

On top of that, 55% of people in Germany are now "part-time vegetarians" or "flexitarians". Flexitarians often reduce but do not stop eating meat. They do this out of climate consideration and increased awareness of disease pandemics. At 55%, the trend has become mainstream.   

The strongly expanding plant-based food consumption in Germany is key for chickpea sales. Nevertheless, Germany’s sizeable Turkish ethnic population and the resulting importance of the take-away sector make up a key part of Germany’s demand for chickpeas. More than 40,000 “döner” restaurants and takeaways in Germany represent a lucrative business segment by offering falafel as a vegetarian option as well as the humus served in or alongside the döners (Association of Turkish Doner producers in Europe AtDid).

Germany is the largest market in Europe for organic-certified food products. In fact, meat alternatives that are made with chickpeas are usually sold in Germany under the organic label. Although there are no statistics available about the market share of organic chickpeas in Germany, the products present in physical retail are almost always organic.

France: a legume-eating nation

French consumers are increasingly becoming interested in legumes. 48% of French people now eat legumes at least once a week (Terres Inovia). France is experiencing a significant increase of “new” consumers of legumes. France also has a sizeable North African ethnic population for whom chickpeas are very much at the heart of their traditional cuisine.

Chickpeas are grown at a significant scale in the south of France in a continuously expanding cultivation area surpassing 23,500 Ha in 2020 (Terres Inovia), of which around a quarter is organic (Agence Bio). According to a Terres Inovia report there is a strong demand for organic chickpeas in France and a strong preference for locally produced legumes. However, production is not enough to fulfil the demand in France, or rather the European demand through France, as France is in fact the leading supplier of chickpeas within Europe. As table 2 shows, French export volumes are significantly higher than the country’s imports.

Table 2: French imports and exports of chickpeas (HS 071320), tonnes



















Source: Trade Map

France is the second-largest market in Europe for organic-certified food products. Organic certification is key in the segment of healthy foods, including chickpeas. A large proportion of the products currently on the market are organic-certified.

The Netherlands: a trade hub for the modern consumer

Over the last five years, the Netherlands has imported between 10,000 and 12,000 tonnes of chickpeas annually. Around a third of this volume is commonly re-exported, primarily to Germany. Domestic consumption is significant. It reflects the Dutch consumer’s interest in healthier diets and growing sales of alternative protein products. Several producers of meat alternatives that use plant-based protein sources are located in the Netherlands, such as Schouten or De Vegetarische Slager (The Vegetarian Butcher, Unilever). Retail sales turnover growth for plant-based protein products since 2017 has doubled from €102m in 2017 to €202m in 2020 (Schouten).

The Netherlands is also home to several large suppliers of products to the Indian ethnic food sector in Europe, such as AGT Poortman.


Two important trends are currently influencing the European market for chickpeas. Consumers are (re-) discovering chickpeas as a health food and food industries are seeking more and more plant-based proteins. The European food industry is also well set up to transform chickpeas into a convenient consumption food meeting the European consumer’s increasing preference for convenient food.

Consumers search for healthy food

Consumers in Europe are increasingly conscious about their health and the relationship between food and health. A recent survey commissioned by Deloitte across 15 European countries and covering 17,000 consumers revealed that European consumers are becoming more and more interested in learning about the impact of food intake and their health. They were also found to be changing their buying behaviour according to these interests.    

Increasing consumer health awareness amongst European consumers implies that they are seeking more nutritious, vegan/vegetarian foods and ingredients which are gluten free. Chickpeas match these characteristics perfectly, driving consumption growth.

According to the market research carried out by ADM, a global nutrition company focussed on transforming crops into ingredients and solutions for foods, chickpeas have a high recognition rate amongst consumers. This puts the prospects for chickpeas in a very favourable position because they represent a healthy option for those seeking healthy foods and are a product that is top of mind among consumers that aim for a healthy diet.

Figure 3: Organic chickpeas in the healthy/alternative grains segment in a European supermarket