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The European market potential for fonio

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Since its official authorisation in 2018, the European market for fonio has been growing slowly. While there is a long way to go before fonio becomes a mainstream product, this grain holds great potential to become an alternative for wheat. This is even more likely in view of the growing demand for organic and gluten-free staples, especially in countries such as France, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

1. Product description

Fonio is an ancient grain traditionally cultivated in West Africa, in the Sahel region. It is a key food in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal and Nigeria. Two main types of fonio are cultivated: white fonio (Digitaria exilis) and black fonio (Digitaria iburua). White fonio is the best known type outside of Africa.

Fonio grain is used in dishes such as porridge and couscous. It can be used as a substitute for rice and wheat. Fonio can also be ground or mixed with other flours to make bread. It has been described as a great substitute for grits. In some northern regions of Togo, it is used for making beer.

Fonio is a fast-growing crop that reaches maturity in 6 to 8 weeks after sowing. While it can grow on very poor soils, the small size of its grain (1-1.5 mm) and the prevalence of traditional post-harvest techniques (threshing and winnoing) make its cultivation and processing labour intensive.

As with rice, processing fonio is a 2-step process:

1. Hulling, in which the rough grain is dehusked to produce a hulled (‘decorticated’) grain. 2. Whitening, in which the bran is removed to produce whitened fonio.

While fonio has had its own code in the Harmonised System (HS 100840), there is no code for fonio flour or other fonio-derived products. In Europe, fonio obtained novel food status and was authorised for sale in December 2018 under implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/2016.

Figure 1: Fonio grains and fonio harvesting

Fonio grains and fonio harvesting

Source: Wikimedia Commons - adjusted photos from Jose Hernandez, Public domain; James Courtright, CC BY-SA 4.0; KAG1LP2MDIAKITE, CC BY-SA 4.0


2. What makes Europe an interesting market for fonio?

The European market for fonio begins to grow

Even before fonio was authorised for sale in the EU in 2018, some buyers had already been importing small amounts of it since 2012. These small amounts were likely used for testing, for product development or to supply a small market segment of ethnic foods (Figure 2), as well as for non-food uses such as birdseed. Unless major disruptions in the grain markets take place, in the coming years, fonio will probably continue its steady but modest growth of recent years.

Figure 2: Fonio products

Fonio products

Source: Open Food Facts, adjusted from: kiliweb, CC-SA 3.0; kiliweb, CC-SA 3.0

Once fonio obtained authorisation for sale, its adoption in the European market began at a steady but slow pace. Between 2016 and 2021, fonio imports into the EU increased from 172 tonnes to 422 tonnes (Figure 3).

Having started as a product sold mostly through organic food and other specialty outlets as well as webshops, fonio is nowadays found at many regular supermarkets. In the Netherlands, fonio is sold at Jumbo supermarkets, while Carrefour sells fonio in France.

Important to know: Fonio has remained relatively new and unknown

Despite its growing market share, fonio has remained rather unknown among European consumers. At this point in time, it will take a significant marketing effort to mainstream fonio.


  • Seize every opportunity to make European buyers acquainted with fonio. You can do so at trade fairs such as the Free From Expo and the iba bakery trade fair in Germany, or at one of the major international food trade fairs, such as Food ingredients Europe, SIAL, Anuga and BioFach (organic).
  • Look for potential buyers on trade fair exhibitor lists and trade association member lists such as COCERAL, company databases such as the organic-bio directory, and EUROPAGES. Consider that fonio is still being adopted only by front runners, and therefore these lists will mostly help you build future prospects.

A versatile grain with mainstream market potential

Fonio is not only a grain free from gluten, but has also been rated as promising flour material. Because of this, fonio is well placed to compete with other specialty gluten-free grains such as millet, quinoa, amaranth and teff.

Despite this, fonio still accounts for only a small proportion of the total niche grains imported into the EU. Grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and millet, and to a lesser extent teff and amaranth, are more commonly found in the EU market. Fonio is expected to follow a trajectory similar to the trajectory of quinoa and teff: in less than a decade, quinoa has become the specialty grain with the highest import value in the EU. This shows that promotion and awareness-raising among consumers can be a powerful tool for growth. But to get there, fonio sellers will have to overcome other challenges such as providing a steady supply of quality grain.

Figure 4: European import of grains with non-European origin in 2021, value in millions of Euro

European import of grains with non-European origin in 2021, value in millions of Euro

Source: Eurostat (2022)

*HS Code 10089000 (Cereals (excl. wheat and meslin, rye, barley, oats, maize, rice, grain sorghum, buckwheat, millet, canary seeds, fonio, quinoa and triticale)

Important to know: highly promoted new products are risky

While new products may hold great market potential, promoting them comes with a risk. Often, the prices of these products are inflated, which leads to overproduction and eventually to losses for producers and exporters. The fact that fonio is already widely consumed in West Africa is an advantage. However, as a supplier you should not underestimate the risks that come with highly promoted new products.


Combining crops can be encouraging for European buyers

European buyers of third-country imports do not like taking risks. Since the demand for fonio in Europe remains small, it is likely that importers will want to deal with small volumes. One way of encouraging importers to buy fonio is to pair this product with other, more mainstream products that are often grown together with fonio, such as sorghum, peanuts, cowpeas, pigeon peas and sesame. Combining products is not only a good way to spread risks but can also contribute to saving logistic costs.

Important to know: a steady supply is crucial to secure a market

As with every product that enters the European market for the first time, securing a permanent spot for fonio in the marketplace will depend on how it is managed as an export product. Buyers will be interested in fonio if it proves to be a profitable product that is worth promoting.

Guaranteeing a steady supply of high-quality fonio is crucial to secure a market in Europe. To achieve this, challenges related to the processing of fonio must be overcome. Given the small size of the grains, fonio requires intensive manual labour (particularly to remove sand from the product). This, combined with the producers’ lack of experience with European food import regulations, the low capacity of fonio farmers to produce large harvests and insufficient food safety management systems, could result in failure for fonio.

In an effort to improve the quality and competitiveness of fonio in Africa, CIRAD and Yolélé have been testing and validating mechanised post-harvest techniques for fonio. As a fonio exporter, you may want to explore the possibilities to adopt these technologies to improve the quality of your product efficiently.


  • In creating your export strategy, you may want to consider different types of grains, seeds and pulses. This will help you diversify the assortment you offer to buyers, thereby spreading risks.
  • Do not begin offering fonio to buyers unless you are fully aware of and sure that you meet all the relevant market requirements for Europe. When offering fonio to potential European buyers, make sure to present samples, supply conditions, price information, export volumes and detailed information on the production and processing processes.

3. Which European countries offer most opportunities for fonio?

Since fonio gained its novel food status in 2018, demand in Europe has been growing modestly but steadily. Countries including the Netherlands, France and Italy have been promoting fonio for several years already. In Spain and France, the population of immigrants from fonio-producing countries continues to grow. Germany and Belgium are important consumers of bread and beer, and the market for these products in those countries is dynamic and open to new ingredients, such as fonio. In all countries, a growing market for organics and superfoods offers great potential for fonio.

There are a few aspects you should look at to determine the European market potential for fonio. For example, you can check import data for fonio and other grains. You can also look at the size of the organic or gluten-free market, as well as other subsectors within the bakery sector.

Table 1. Overview of fonio imports to the EU in 2021


Import from non-European countries, in 1,000 euros

Import from non-European countries, in tonnes







United Kingdom












Other EU countries







Source: Eurostat (2022)

France – largest fonio market in Europe

France is the biggest importer of fonio in the EU. In 2021, France imported 571 tonnes of fonio, which is 59.5% of the total fonio imports into the European Union.

France is a growing market for fonio. Imports have increased significantly, from € 55 thousand in 2017 to € 180 thousand in 2021. Specialised companies such as Gaia have played an important role in this growth, promoting and selling several organic and fair-trade certified fonio products.

Even though import volumes are still small, France dominates fonio imports in the EU; between 2020 and 2021, the amount of imported fonio more than doubled from 251 tonnes. Most of France’s imports of fonio originate from Mali (63.0%), Senegal (18.4%) and Guinea (11.9%).

France re-exports a small part of the imported fonio (15 tonnes in 2021) to other EU countries. Most of this fonio (92%) went to Spain during that period. This suggests that the majority of imported fonio is consumed domestically in France.

Fonio demand in France is likely to increase with the growing population of immigrants from fonio-producing West-African countries living in France (between 2012 and 2017, this cohort grew by 33% to over 300,000 persons). This, together with the growing demand for organic foods, offers promising opportunities for fonio in France.


  • Check if your product already complies with the European standards of organic agriculture. Check with a recognised accreditation body and get your product certified, if possible, since France could be an interesting pioneer market for organic fonio.

The Netherlands – Dutch retailers early to sell fonio

In 2021, the Netherlands imported fonio for a total value of € 150,000, accounting for 10.3% of total imports into the European Union. Between 2017 and 2021, fonio imports into the Netherlands have more than doubled from 28 to 59 tonnes per year, suggesting that there is a growing market for fonio.

These imports mostly came from Burkina Faso (75.3%) and Guinea (17.3%). It seems that most of the imported fonio was used for domestic consumption, because the Netherlands only re-exported a small part (9.4 tonnes), mostly to the United States (79.1%), Belgium (10.9%) and South Africa (8.1%).

Because of its role as a global trade hub, many new products are quickly adopted in the Netherlands. This can be used to your advantage when marketing your fonio grains through Dutch trading channels. You can, for example, try to enter the Dutch market through Symfonio, a social enterprise that seeks to support organic cultivation of African crops produced by women and is one of the main promoters of fonio in the Netherlands.

As in other European markets, fonio is often sold in organic food stores such as Ekoplaza and Odin. But it is also increasingly found in supermarkets, such as Jumbo. In April 2022, Albert Heijn started selling fonio in bulk in Rotterdam, and at least 50 more Albert Heijn supermarkets will follow in the rest of the year.


United Kingdom – major market for alternative grains

Since the official introduction of fonio on the European market, the United Kingdom has remained among the top-3 importers in the region. The demand for fonio in the UK relates to a number of factors. First, the UK market leads the way in the development of gluten-free alternatives due in part to the population that relies on these products. Approximately 10% of consumers in the UK follow a gluten-free diet.

Adding to this, the UK market caters to a growing number of health-conscious consumers that are receptive to new ingredients, such as fonio. Health consciousness in the UK is associated with the increase in obesity in the population in recent decades. In this context, UK consumers are increasingly looking for high-nutrition value foods, and this trend is especially affecting the baking industry, a market segment which in 2021 grew by 2.3% - a growth figure that is expected to continue in the coming years. You can tap into this trend by reaching out to heath and wellness brands, such as Aduna. Aduna currently imports fonio from women’s cooperatives in Mali to supply the UK market. Likewise, Ibémi promotes organic fonio in the UK and France and serves more European countries through its webshop, including Belgium, Sweden, Germany and Spain.

Belgium – major importer from Guinea

Belgium has been one of the biggest importers of fonio since 2017, though the imported volumes have varied over the years. In 2021, Belgium imported 19 tonnes (or € 18,000 worth of) of fonio. These imports mostly came from Guinea (75%), Burkina Faso (7.0%) and Senegal (6.8%).

Belgium re-exported most of these imports (14 tonnes in 2021), mostly to Germany (50.6%), France (29.3%) and the Netherlands (15.0%). Like Germany, Belgium has a long tradition of beer brewing and the diversity of Belgian beers is among the world’s largest. For that reason, Belgian consumers are more open to new ingredients in beer, and fonio offers an interesting alternative.

Spain – immigrants from West Africa

In 2021, Spain imported € 24,000 worth of fonio, or 9 tonnes. Although Spain imported larger volumes of fonio in 2017, imports halted between 2018 and 2020 for unknown reasons. Even so, with the steady increase of the immigrant population from fonio-growing countries in West Africa, Spain is a promising market for fonio.

Most of Spain’s fonio imports in 2021 came from Burkina Faso (67.5%); the remainder was imported from the Netherlands (32.5%). Over half of these imports (nearly 6 tonnes) where re-exported to other European countries, most importantly Portugal (63.8%), France (35.1%) and Italy (1.1%).

Italy – large wheat-processing industry

Italy was among the first European countries to adopt fonio. The application to authorise fonio as a novel food in Europe came from the Italian Obà food group, which assessed the Italian market and the potential of fonio. Obà serves both the consumer and the business-to-business markets with fonio grains and flour. These pioneering companies are crucial to the promotion of fonio as a new ingredient in Italy’s traditional food market.

Italy’s fonio imports are increasing. In 2021, the country imported € 79,000 worth of fonio. Compared with 2017, Italy imported twice as much fonio in 2021, from 12 to 25 tonnes.

However, Italy does not import much fonio directly from fonio-producing countries. Most of Italy’s fonio imports originated from the Netherlands (81.2%), and a much smaller amount directly from Senegal (17.3%).

It seems that Italy mostly imports fonio for domestic consumption, because the country only re-exported 2 tonnes in 2021, almost all of which went to the Netherlands (99%).

Italy offers good prospects for fonio and could be a good first-target market. Having a large wheat-based industry, there is interest in alternative gluten-free products in the Italian market.

Italy has a large industry that works with wheat for bread, pizzas and pastas. The country is also among the largest European markets for gluten-free products. In 2019, almost 20% of the Italian population consumed gluten-free products, despite the fact that only 6% have been diagnosed with gluten intolerance. One of the leading Italian brands of gluten-free products is Schär. The demand for gluten-free ingredients will help new grains such as fonio to gain acceptance.

Figure 5: Obà Food – Europe’s fonio frontrunner

Obà Food – Europe’s fonio frontrunner

Source: Wikimedia Commons, Gabbri.gabbri; CC BY-SA 4.0

Germany – underdeveloped potential fonio market

Germany currently imports negligible amounts of fonio. Even so, Germany is an important market and because it has Europe’s largest population, it is also potentially the largest fonio market. Like Italy, Germany is an important consumer of baked goods and beer, and producers could in the future adopt fonio as an ingredient.

Also, German consumers are becoming increasingly interested in ancient grains and foods of high nutritional value. Fonio would fit perfectly in this trend. German consumers who appreciate super grains are usually also focused on eating natural and clean products. This means that your fonio needs to be free of any chemical residues, and preferably organically cultivated. You can tap into this trend by getting in touch with Gebana, a social enterprise that in 2022 imported over 3.5 tonnes of fonio from Togo. Using a crowdfunding model to finance the import of fonio into Germany, Gebana is planning to expand its imports and facilitate direct trade between producers in Africa and consumers in Germany.


  • Find relevant German and international companies in the bakery industry in the exhibitor list of iba, the leading trade fair in Germany for the bakery, pastry and snack trade.

The growing cultivation of fonio in West Africa allows for a steady supply. Trends such as a growing demand for healthy superfoods and consumers’ awareness of the social and environmental impacts of food production are influencing the European market. These trends can potentially help in matching the increasing fonio supply with demand, but some risks should be taken into account.

Growing demand for healthy superfoods

Because of its nutritional value, fonio can tap the superfoods market, a segment that is growing thanks to changing habits around the world and especially among young consumers pursuing healthy lifestyles. Fonio grains are rich in methionine and cysteine, essential amino acids for human health that are not usually present in the world’s main cereals (i.e. wheat, rice, corn, sorghum, barley and rye). Fonio is also a good source of vitamin B, including thiamine, riboflavin and niacin, which are necessary for cell growth, development and function, as well as for energy production.

Likewise, fonio traders can benefit from the increasing demand for gluten-free grains, a segment that is expected to grow by almost 10% by 2027. For people with celiac disease, fonio is a great option because it lacks gluten. Additionally, fonio starch resists digestion and absorption by the small intestine, thereby increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels. This makes fonio a suitable food for persons seeking to control diabetes.

Highlighting the nutritional benefits of fonio will help in increasing its popularity and adoption by brands promoting healthy foods. The organic food market is also a promising venue to promote fonio’s nutritional value.


  • Identify and connect with companies supplying specialised foods to the market, such as gluten-free. Gluten-Free Passport has compiled a list of major retailers, vendors and brands selling gluten-free alternatives in Europe.
  • Promote awareness of fonio by involving grain specialists. For example, get the attention of experts and members of the Healthgrain Forum and seek their support in advocating fonio as a healthy grain.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the social aspects of food production

European consumers, and especially young consumers, are growing increasingly concerned about the social and environmental aspects of food production. Consequently, they demand that the products they consume do not deplete drinking water sources or contaminate the soil, but also that exports do not compromise the access to nutritious food of smallholder producers and their communities. As a fonio exporter, you want to show and communicate that fonio does not impact food security nor depletes or contaminates water and soil – on the contrary, thanks to the way it is currently cultivated, following traditional methods, fonio is a crop with a small ecological footprint with its main market in the countries where it is produced.


  • Learn about the positive and negative impacts of the increasing demand for other health grains, like quinoa. Learn how sustainability certification standards can help you prevent or mitigate negative impacts by reading CBI’s article on social certifications.  

New food applications influence fonio’s popularity

The official introduction of fonio on the European market spurred its development from a speciality grain into a functional ingredient. Fonio-based products such as crackers and chips are being sold online and at specialty shops. In the Netherlands, webshop Kari’s Crakers began selling fonio-chia knekkebrød (Norwegian-style crispy bread) in 2022. A year earlier, Flackers introduced organic-certified flax and fonio crackers in the USA. Also in the USA, Yolélé launched instant fonio pilaf mixes in 2020 and fonio chips in 2021. These pioneers can become your potential clients.

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

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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