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What is the demand for grains, pulses and oilseeds on the European market?

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Grains, pulses and oilseeds are major commodities widely cultivated and traded within Europe. The market for major staple food and feed is mainly supplied by nearby producing countries and multinationals. Organic crops, products with specific nutritional benefits and those targeting specific ethnic groups offer the best opportunities for small and medium-sized suppliers from developing countries.

1. What makes Europe an interesting market for grains, pulses and oilseeds?

Europe is a large user and importer of grains, pulses and oilseeds. The dependence on import combined with the shift towards sustainable and nutritional crops makes Europe an interesting market for nearby producers of staple crops, as well as for suppliers with a unique product that meets European demand and agricultural policies.

Outlook: strong demand and rising prices

In the global market, Europe is an important region for the trade in grains and oilseeds. The trade in pulses is much smaller, but gaining market share due to an increasing focus on plant protein. Overall, it is the second-most important market after Asia, which has 4.7 billion inhabitants versus approximately 527 million in Europe (EU+EFTA+UK).

In recent years the whole sector had to deal with increasing costs and higher prices for a large number of crops. The years 2020 and 2021 have shown supply shortfalls due to adverse weather conditions and uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has impacted trade and logistics, and freight rates reached new records. The demand, however, has remained strong. Depleted stocks have become a challenge in 2021 and the continuing high demand may extend the current situation for the coming years.

Rising global prices of commodity crops seemed to have an effect on smaller products as well. Only for products with high sales in the food service sector (restaurants, hotels) prices remained stable, such as for quinoa grains. Sesame also did not reach the high value of 2019. Cheaper nutritious grains and seeds, however, such as buckwheat, linseed and hempseed, went up in value.

For producers and exporters it will be important to watch out for a potential overreaction. This means that farmers may try to increase their production to a level that will result in an oversupply. This ripple effect often happens after a supply shortage and may turn around the market perspective.

Cereal grains

The overall trade in grains in Europe is increasing with a 17% higher value in 2020 than in 2016, but this growth is staying behind Asia and Australia. Most grains traded in Europe are regionally sourced.

Short term: A lower global availability of wheat due to averse climate conditions will keep prices high. The outlook for Europe’s production in 2021/2022 is mostly positive, with increases in wheat and maize and a slight decline in barley. During the Covid-19 pandemic, as a result of lockdowns and restrictions more barley was used in the feed sector and less in the beverage sector because of a drop in beer consumption. There is little need to complement European production with additional imports.

Long term: The use of cereals in food should slightly increase by 1.1% until 2030. Production areas are shrinking, but the increased yields should maintain a stable production. Europe will maintain its self-sufficiency and strengthen its competitiveness in wheat. Wheat and barley will be used less for feed purposes, and may partly be replaced by other cereals such as rye and oats. The demand for maize is expected to grow to meet an increasing demand by feed users and the industry. The import of durum wheat is also expected to be 32% higher in 2030.

Pulses

Unlike the stable or decreasing trade in pulses in the Americas, Africa and Asia (China is relying more on its own production), Europe had a higher trade value in 2020 than in the years before. In five years the European pulses market expanded with more than 27%. The higher trade value was partly caused by the increase of prices.

Short term: The total EU production of protein crops is expected to reach 4.8 million tonnes in 2021/22. This is a 11.3% year-on-year growth. In particular, European production of field peas and sweet lupins shows potential growth, which will ultimately result in a decline in imports of mainly field peas. The higher production volume goes hand in hand with a stronger demand. However, for a number of pulse crops, such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, Europe will stay dependent on foreign supply.

Long term: Between 2020 and 2030, the protein crops area is projected to increase by 37%. Agricultural policies and innovation in genetics will further increase the interest in using pulses in crop rotation. The larger production will be supported by the development of new food with plant proteins and a growing human consumption of 3.9% per year.

Oilseeds

Most oilseeds trade is covered by Asia, followed by Europe. This trade value is mainly dominated by soybean and rape seed, some of the most common oilseeds.

Short term: The oilseed production in Europe is expected to recover from the drop in 2020/2021. Covid-19 reduced the demand for biofuels, which caused a decline in rapeseed. Rapeseed is still responsible for the biggest volume in oilseed production, but most significant growth will come from sunflower and soybean.

Long term: On the long term, sunflower seed and in particular soybean areas in Europe are projected to continue expanding towards 2030, while rape seed production will go down slightly. Domestically grown soybean will provide a protein source for human consumption, and the need to import soybean for feed or food will likely decrease.

Tips:

Europe is a net importer of many grain cereals, pulses and oilseeds

For many grains, pulses and oilseeds, Europe depends on external suppliers. Some of the main crops are typically imported as high-volume bulk products, often used for processing into compound animal feed. For the consumer market, some products are used as a staple food and others as high-value ingredients for a wide range of food products.

Commodity import for the animal feed industry

In wheat and barley, Europe has high self-sufficiency. Rapeseed, soybeans and maize are very common as import products which complement European production and are often managed by large-scale international grain and seed companies. Europe’s feed sector has a structural shortage of protein meal, which makes it very dependent on imports.

The European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) indicates that only 23% of the cereals in Europe are used for human consumption and 61% goes to the feed sector. Maize, soybeans and barley are almost exclusively destined for the feed market.

There are several food crops that have a net import volume in Europe. Many of these products have a minor production in Europe. As a result there is a dependence on import and an opportunity for developing countries to enter the market.

Rice (not included in Figure 3) is one of the main food crops that are imported. Linseed and kidney beans are medium-large import products, although linseed is not only sold for human consumption. Part of the linseed import is destined for industrial and non-food uses.

Southern European production foresees partly in the demand of rice, kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas. More tropical crops such as mung beans, sesame seeds and chia seeds almost entirely come from non-European producers. Future opportunities can be found in further diversification and new products with specific nutritional properties, for example fonio from Africa.

Opportunities for developing country suppliers

Europe will focus more and more on sustainable agriculture and expand its production of organic and protein crops. Despite a higher priority for locally produced crops, imports from outside Europe are expected to continue to increase in the future.

In the long term, the amount of agricultural land in Europe is expected to continue falling. Improved farming practices and innovation should maintain a stable output of arable crops. Temporary shortfalls and the demand for lesser known cereals are likely to be the drivers of international sourcing.

As a supplier you need to be competitive to attract buyers. Countries with large growing areas generate large affordable volumes and already have a strong trade relation with the European Union. They are generally more attractive to buyers. To stay ahead of your competition it is important to keep yourself informed with regard to production forecasts, but also trade measures and subsidised cultivation programmes.

Tips:

Developing countries play an important role in the supply

Developing countries represent a large part of the trade value of grains, pulses and oilseeds to Europe. Their market share in the total supply (including intra-European trade) is 23% in grains, 34% in pulses and 38% in oilseeds. For specific niche products or tropical crops their share is even higher. For commodity crops it can be an advantage to be geographically close to Europe or have the possibility for large-scale cultivation. For smaller crops, specialisation will be most relevant.

Nearby countries, such as Ukraine and countries in the Black Sea region, benefit of the supply of dry bulk commodities such as maize, wheat, barley and rapeseed in particular. Preference is not only due to logistical reasons, but is also often a result of strong trade relations and agreements between the EU and these countries. Examples include the Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kazakhstan. Other countries benefit from their ability to produce on a large scale. For example, Brazil offers large-scale production of maize and soybeans.

Countries that focus on crops that are less common for cultivation in and around Europe such as sesame seeds, quinoa, groundnuts or cowpeas, often have a specific competitive advantage in terms of climate, environmental conditions or experience. Some products are unique to a certain region, such as quinoa from the Andes (Peru, Bolivia), teff from Ethiopia or fonio from the Sahel region in Africa. For quinoa and teff there have been several initiatives to adapt and grow the grains within the European climate.

Grains from developing countries

Grains showed the most significant growth in supply from developing countries until 2019, mainly because of growing imports of maize from Ukraine and Brazil and rice from Pakistan. Rice maintained its growth in 2020, but overall grain imports declined in 2020 to a similar level as in 2018.

For wheat and maize there is an abundant supply from Canada, the United States and Europe itself. Grains that typically originate in developing countries are aromatic and Indica rice from Pakistan, India, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, quinoa from Peru and Bolivia, fonio from the sub-Saharan region, and millet from the Ukraine.

Table 1: Main non-European suppliers of grains to Europe in 2020, in € million

Exporters of grains

EU imports in € million

Market share

Growth 2020

compared to 5 year average

Main product(s)

Ukraine

1,864

30%

-8%

Maize, wheat, (barley)

Canada

842

13%

24%

Wheat, maize, (canary seed)

Brazil

724

12%

11%

Maize, rice

Pakistan

421

7%

48%

Rice

India

350

6%

6%

Rice

United States of America

347

6%

-20%

Wheat, rice, maize

Source: ITC Trade Map

Pulses from developing countries

The import value of pulses from developing countries is very stable and generally makes up just over 50% of the non-European supply. In 2020, the value increased to €570 million mainly due to a higher import value of kidney beans and lentils.

Kidney beans and lentils are major products from Canada and the United States, but kidney beans are also a common import product from developing countries such as Argentina, China, Ethiopia and Egypt. This is followed by chickpeas from Mexico, lentils from Turkey and mung beans from Myanmar. Developing countries also play a major role in niche varieties such as adzuki beans (from China), cowpeas (Madagascar, Myanmar and Peru) and pigeon peas (Malawi, Kenya and Peru).

Table 2: Main non-European suppliers of pulses to Europe in 2020, in € million

Exporters of pulses

EU imports in € million

Market share

Growth 2020

compared to 5 year average

Main product(s)

Canada

241

22%

-3%

Kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas

United States of America

152

14%

-6%

Kidney beans, lentils, (peas, beans, chickpeas)

Argentina

150

14%

26%

Kidney beans, chickpeas

Turkey

102

9%

45%

Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans

Russia

84

8%

44%

Peas

China

83

8%

-5%

Kidney beans, mung beans, (lentils)

Source: ITC Trade Map

Oilseeds from developing countries

The import value of oilseeds from developing countries went up considerably in the past two years. This shows the strong European dependence on the import of soybean and rape seed. But imports of groundnuts and sunflower seed also went up in 2020. Brazil leads the supply in soybean. Ukraine supplies most low-erucic acid rapeseed (LEAR), but is also increasing its supply of sunflower seed.

Soybeans and rapeseed may be the biggest commodities, but many other oilseeds are supplied by developing countries as well. For example, India is the number one supplier of sesame, Paraguay and Bolivia produce most chia seeds for the European market, Kazakhstan is the largest supplier of linseed and Argentina leads the supply in groundnuts.

Table 3: Main non-European suppliers of oilseeds to Europe in 2020, in € million

Exporters of oilseeds

EU import in € million

Market share

Growth 2020

compared to 5 year average

Main product(s)

Brazil

3,115

27%

33%

Soybean, groundnuts

United States of America

2,183

19%

-11%

Soybean, sunflower seeds, groundnuts

Canada

1,702

15%

80%

Low-erucic acid rapeseed, Soybean, linseed, mustard seed

Ukraine

1,486

13%

31%

Low-erucic acid rapeseed, soybean, sunflower seed, linseed

Argentina

830

7%

24%

Groundnuts, sunflower seeds, soybeans

Australia

420

4%

-32%

Low-erucic acid rapeseed, poppy seed

Source: ITC Trade Map

Tips:

  • Focus on having a variety of customers and avoid too much dependency on the European market. Successful exporters often have strategic buyer relations in important regions, including large markets such as the United States and China.
  • Keep up to date with developments in the Black Sea region by monitoring the news on UkrAgroConsult.
  • Specialise in typical products from your region and supply niche markets if you are not a large exporter. Niche markets can be more profitable, but be aware that they could also entail high risks and volatility.

Major trade hubs include ports in northwest Europe

The most important ports for grains, pulses and oilseeds are the ports of Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp. Here intercontinental ships arrive and food products are efficiently distributed throughout the rest of Europe by train, road and inland waterways.

Belgium and the Netherlands are typical trade hubs, in particular for specialty crops that arrive on container loads. There are numerous logistical service providers and traders that facilitate the distribution of all kinds of grains and seeds. But these countries have relatively small storage capacity for bulk products. For that reason, bulk products are shipped or re-exported to countries such as Germany and France.

The largest storage capacity for bulk products can be found in France, mainly due to the large national grain production. Rouen in France is the leading (inland) port for transhipment and the export of European cereals. It shares connections with the ports of Paris and Le Havre. From here the cereals harvested in the northwest of France are shipped primarily to Spain, North Africa and China.

In the East, the ports along the Danube river play an important role for exports from Eastern Europe to Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Romania and its port of Constanta are playing an increasingly important role in the export of cereals.

Health food markets offer potential for non-commodity suppliers

There are several market segments that provide opportunities for products related to special dietary needs or health. The demand for organic and plant-based products are the strongest drivers of the human consumption of healthy grains, pulses and oilseeds, but smaller segments such as gluten-free and fair trade also offer growth opportunities for specific grains.

The demand for sustainably produced products is also expected to increase, with initiatives such as Responsible Soy (RTRS) and Sustainable Rice (SRP). The production of RTRS-certified soybean was nearly 4.8 million tonnes in 2020, twice as much as in 2015. SRP-verified rice has recently been introduced with the first retail brands in Europe. They expect European retail demand for sustainable rice to have doubled by 2025 with a potential market share of 50%. Most of these initiatives focus on larger commodities, but in the future you can expect a similar demand for the sustainable production of smaller products.

Organic: Nordics and German-speaking countries are strong markets

The organic market in the European Union and the UK has reached a total retail sales value of €45.0 billion, after a growth of 8% from 2018 to 2019. Scandinavian countries and German-speaking countries are strong markets for organics. Organic production within Europe is growing but not sufficiently to meet the demand. The demand for imported organic crops remains strong.

Products with specific health benefits or nutritional value such as quinoa and chia seeds are often sold on the organic market. According to industry sources, there is also growing interest in new sources of organic pulses. The increased demand also applies to organic feed crops needed for the production of organic meat, eggs and milk.

China has the largest agricultural area for organic cereals, pulses and oilseeds in the world. At the same time, European buyers indicate that they want to move away from Chinese imports and focus more on Europe-grown organic products. Currently in the European Union, 4.3% of the grain production area is certified as organic, 21.6% of the pulses area, and 3.1% of the oilseeds area. The high organic share in dry pulses reflects the demand for local organic pulses as well as the efforts of farmers to improve soil fertility. The goal for the European Union’s Green Deal includes the target of reaching 25% of EU agricultural land under organic farming by 2030.

As a supplier, you can take advantage of the growing demand for organics if you are able to follow the strict European organic procedures and offer European buyers a good alternative for Chinese and European products.

Table 4: Overview of the European organic market

Organic retail sales

per country 2019 in € million

Organic share in total retail sales 2019

Organic market growth 2018-2019

Germany (11,970)

Denmark (12.1%)

France (13.4%)

France (11,295)

Switzerland (10.1%)

Estonia (13.2%)

Italy (3,625)

Austria (9.3%)

Belgium (11.7%)

Switzerland (2,912)

Sweden (9.0%)

Denmark (9.7%)

United Kingdom (2,679)

Luxemburg (8.6%)

Germany (9.7%)

Sweden (2,144)

France (6.1%)

Finland (9.5%)

Source: Willer, Helga, Jan Trávníček, Claudia Meier and Bernhard Schlatter (Eds.) (2021): The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2021. Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, Frick, and IFOAM – Organics, International, Bonn (v20210301)

Vegan: Going strong in Germany and the United Kingdom

The search for plant-based proteins is becoming important for the sales of pulses and protein food crops. Flexible meat consumption can be marked as a main driver. But the demand for vegan and vegetarian foods is also increasing.

According to a private research of the Berlin retailer Veganz, the number of vegans in Germany doubled between 2016 and 2020 to 2.6 million. Although there is little comparative data within Europe, Germany and the United Kingdom are believed to be the leaders with a 29% share of global vegan food and drink launches from July 2017 to June 2018.

Many of the vegan consumers in Europe look for vegan versions of sausages and cold cuts (45.5%), vegan alternatives for cheese, and plant-based baked goods (38.6%) and snacks (32.9%).

The growing demand for vegan products provides room for product innovation and a more extensive use of pulses in European diets. The current vegan market consists predominantly of soybean products. There is unexplored potential for other high-quality, food-grade protein sources such as lupins and peas, which are both common in European production. More specialised brands may also use chickpeas, beans or other ingredients to attract consumers.

Table 5: Overview of the European vegan market

Vegan product launches

Percentage of global launches 2017-2018

Germany (15%)

United Kingdom (14%)

France (4%)

Spain (4%)

Italy (3%)

Austria (3%)

Sources: FiBL-AMI survey 2021, Mintel, Euromonitor International, Statista

Figure 6: LikeMeat, a German innovator creates vegan, gluten free and organic products

LikeMeat, a German innovator creates vegan, gluten free and organic products

Source: Unsplash - photographer & cook: Line Tscherning

Gluten-free: Opportunities across Europe

At a global level, Europe is the second-largest market for gluten-free foods and beverages with an estimated share of 25% in 2016. The European gluten-free market is expected to reach €6.3 billion by 2020.

The growing attention to gluten intolerance will open opportunities for gluten-free grains, such as quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, fonio and teff. According to The Association of European Coeliac Societies (AOECS) an estimated 1% of the European population suffer from coeliac disease. Scientific research indicates that coeliac disease is most common in Nordic countries such as Finland and Sweden. The forecasted sales per capita is highest in Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom (see Table 6). In the United Kingdom and Italy, gluten-free products are even subsidised by the government.

Sales of gluten-free products do not depend only on people with coeliac disease, because an increasing number of gluten intolerant and health-minded consumers make Europe an important market for gluten-free products. For example, in the United Kingdom up to 13% of consumers avoid gluten altogether. In Italy, approximately 50% of food companies produce gluten-free products.

Mordor Intelligence calculated an annual growth rate of 11.1% up to 2025 (CAGR). This growth will continue to provide a market for many of the typical gluten-free grains and pseudo-grains, but also increase the use of alternative ingredients, such as pulses in bakery products.

Table 6: Overview of the European gluten-free market

Gluten-free per capita spending

2015 in USD

Forecast 2020 in USD

Finland (27.5)

Finland (34.5)

Norway (20.5)

Norway (28.5)

United Kingdom (15)

United Kingdom (24)

Ireland (13.5)

Ireland (16)

Italy (10.5)

Italy (15)

Switzerland (11.5)

Switzerland (11)

Sources: Statista

Figure 7: Crisp bread with 20% teff flour of the leading gluten-free brand Schär

Crisp bread with 20% teff flour of the leading gluten-free brand Schär

Source: M. Vrenssen

Fair trade: A growing niche

According to Fairtrade International, global sales of Fairtrade products rose by 8% in 2017 to nearly €8.5 billion. Your best chance to market a fair trade product is generally in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and France (see Table 7). The highest sales per capita were registered in Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden.

Most fair trade labels focus on products such as bananas, cocoa, coffee and cotton. For grains, pulses and oilseeds the number of fair trade-certified companies is more limited, and often more of an additional added value than a requirement. Specialty rice, quinoa and fonio are some of the most suitable products in this sector for fair trade certification. This is because these are strongly related to small-scale producers. Fairtrade International has also defined minimum prices and premiums for amaranth, flaxseed, millet, peanuts, pulses, sesame, sorghum and soybean.

Table 7: Overview of the European fair trade market

 

Fair trade retail sales 2015 in € million

Growth in retail sales in 2015 (1 year)

Fair trade retail sales 2017 in € million

Growth in retail sales in 2017 (1 year)

United Kingdom

2,139

-5.0%

2,014

7%

Germany

978

18.0%

1,329

15%

Switzerland

475

9.0%

631

12%

France

442

13.0%

561

5%

Sweden

349

19.0%

394

6%

Ireland

251

10%

342

26%

Netherlands

223

4.0%

290

8%

Austria

185

24.0%

304

13%

Sources: Julia Lernoud and Helga Willer - The Organic and Fairtrade Market 2015 and Fairtrade Annual Report 2017-2018

Table 8: Global Fairtrade sales volumes reported by product 2017-2019, in metric tonnes

 

2017

2018

2019

Oilseeds and oleaginous fruit

6,404

4,826

16,886

Rice

11,043

11,940

9,659

Cereals (such as quinoa)

1,508

1,564

3,763

Source: Fairtrade monitoring report, 12th edition.

Tips:

Agricultural policies put more focus on protein crops

Europe has seen the implementation of several policies and initiatives that will create new opportunities for sustainable and protein crops, but also put more focus on local production. The EU wants to increase domestic production and become less dependent on imports. Of the total demand for crude protein, only 36% is currently covered by domestic production. At the same time, there is an ambition for a protein transition and to replace meat consumption with plant protein.

In Europe, consumption of pulses is relatively low compared to the rest of the world. But since 2013, production has increased significantly from around 3 million tonnes to a five-year average of 5.3 million tonnes between 2015 and 2019. Part of this growth can be attributed to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), supported by the Europe Soya Declaration. Its greening measures have identified nitrogen-fixing crops like pulses as ecological measures for sustainable agriculture.

In June 2021 the EU reached an agreement for the implementation of a new CAP. The new CAP will incorporate the sustainable ambitions of the European Green Deal, and will be a key tool in reaching the ambitions of the Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies.

In simple words, you could say that the European strategy is facilitating a transition:

  1. To become less dependent on the import of protein crops
  2. To realise a more sustainable agriculture in Europe
  3. To increase plant-protein in consumer diets

The development of plant proteins in the EU will prioritise the production of pulses, in particular peas, fava beans and soybeans. Scientists have also called for more bean and lentil production in Europe. The increasing availability of protein crops in Europe could threaten imports from developing countries. One way to counter this is by making sure your production is attractive in price and superior in sustainable practices.

However, the increased attention for plant-protein in agriculture and consumption can also become a driver for demand. In this scenario you can expect greater imports of pulses for human consumption. This will mainly concern demand that is less likely to be fully met by EU production, such as for kidney bean, chickpeas or lentils.

However, as a producer or producing exporter, you must be cautious with increasing or switching to producing pulses for the European market. Demand is easily overestimated. The EU policies will also require more and more sustainable products from its foreign suppliers, including organic.

Tips:

  • Make sure you have a buyer for your product before producing for the European market, and discuss which pulses will have most potential.
  • Use pulses as a rotational crop. They enrich the soil with nitrogen, being ideal as a rotation crop for cereals.
  • Check out the CBI study on the EU Green Deal to learn more about what policy changes are expected and what impact it will have on your business. Read the factsheet on EU legumes to see some of the trends in leguminous crops.
  • Find out which are the authorised organic control bodies in your country to certify your production as organic and use the official EU organic logo.

2. Which European markets offer most opportunities for grains, pulses and oilseeds?

You can find demand for grains, pulses and oilseeds everywhere, although with some regional differences. Spain imports most grains for the animal feed market, while Germany has a large oilseed sector and interesting niche markets for grains and seeds related to healthy or special diets. Ingredients for traditional or ethnic consumption (especially pulses) can be best explored in Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. The Netherlands is a distribution hub for many grain and seed ingredients, and so is Belgium for linseeds.

Germany: leads in imports of oilseeds

In the overall sector of grains, pulses and oilseeds, Germany has the largest overall demand. This is especially because of its large share in oilseed imports. Rapeseeds are mostly sourced within the EU. Soybeans are imported from developing countries or transhipped via the Netherlands.

Importing and processing of oilseeds, as well the industrial use of cereals, is most dominant in North-Western Europe. In 2020, Germany was the leading user of oilseeds with €4.4 billion in imports and 12.9 million tonnes of oilseeds crushed, which is equivalent to 27% of the total oilseed crushing in the European Union. Part of this industry is driven by the making of biofuels and animal feed. Feed and starch-based products such as biopolymers are expected to be the main forces behind the demand for wheat and maize.

Besides grains and seeds for industrial use, Germany also imports a high value of linseed and groundnuts, and it is the largest importer of sesame, poppy seeds, millet and several niche cereals and seeds from developing countries. These ingredients fulfil the demand of bakeries, food packers and manufacturers.

With a growing number of health-conscious consumers and the highest retail sales value in organic products, there will be future opportunities to introduce new (organic) seeds and cereal grains that meet the expectations of a healthier diet. For example, Germany has the highest import value in niche oilseeds from developing countries (HS 120799) such as chia seeds, and has become the biggest importer of quinoa in 2020 (surpassing France).

Netherlands: distribution hub for grains and oilseeds

The Netherlands is a large importer of grains and oilseeds. Many of these products are re-exported, either directly or after processing.

The Netherlands is the largest importer from developing countries, with major imports of soybeans, (low-erucic acid) rapeseed, maize and ground nuts. Germany is the main reason for the Dutch bulk import, as it uses the Netherlands as a logistical hub for these commodities.

The Netherlands also has a relatively large share in Europe’s feed production at just over 9% and it is home to some of Europe’s largest feed producers and service providers in animal nutrition, including ForFarmers, Agrifirm Group, De Heus and Nutreco. These companies put the Netherlands on the first place in the top of global animal feed exporters, with an export share of 13.9% in 2020.

As an experienced re-exporter with distribution channels throughout Europe, the Netherlands is a good place to enter the market with niche products. The country is the most prominent trader of lesser known grains and oilseeds. It is the second-biggest importer of sesame and niche oilseeds like chia seeds from developing countries, and it plays a significant role in the trade of new grain ingredients such as quinoa, teff and fonio. These special ingredients are traded by companies such as Tradin Organic, Doens Food and Rhumveld.

The Netherlands also uses its hub function as the largest importer of organic agri-food imports. In 2019 the Netherlands imported 1.04 million tonnes of organic agri-food products. This is double the amount of the number two importer, Germany, with 0.43 million tonnes.

Spain: high need for imported feed grains

Spain has one of the highest import values from developing countries in soybean and grains (mainly maize and wheat), because of a large demand for feed crops. Additionally, it is also the largest importer of dry peas.

According to the European Feed Manufacturer’s Federation (Fefac), Spain produced nearly 15% of the 165 million tonnes of compound feed in Europe. The Spanish livestock sector is large but the country has a structural deficit of local feed grains. For that reason, Spain is a huge net importer of maize, wheat and barley. It is responsible for a third of the European import value of maize from developing countries (€894 million, mainly from Ukraine and Brazil), almost a third of wheat imports (€76 million, practically all from Ukraine), and a fifth of the soybean import (€726 million, mainly from Brazil).

Besides the demand for feed grains, Spain is also the main importer of dry peas, and together with Italy, one of the main importers of kidney beans and chickpeas from suppliers in developing countries. According to BusinessWire stronger demand for dry peas can also be attributed to the growing interest in vegan food.

Pulses in Spain are both a traditional food as well as a potential ingredient for plant-based enthusiasts. The trade value of most pulses (besides peas) has not shown an increase up to this point, however, the higher interest levels of health-oriented consumers and a possible revaluation of traditional cuisine may lead to growth in the future.

Italy: biggest importer of wheat and pulses from developing countries

Italy’s high demand for grains and pulses comes in large part from the food industry. Most of the imported ingredients are intended to support the traditional cuisine and typical Italian products.

For suppliers in developing countries, Italy is the largest market for wheat, including durum wheat, and for pulses, such as kidney beans and chickpeas. Making traditional pasta, the most typical Italian food item, requires durum wheat and many Italian recipes call for white kidney beans or ‘cannellini’ beans. Take into account that Italian buyers look for these specific varieties.

The size of the gluten-free market also provides opportunities for alternative grains, such as quinoa, teff and fonio. Fonio was authorised as a food by the European Union after the application of Italian company Obà.

Belgium: a main player in linseed

Belgium has a similar profile to the Netherlands, offering a logistical entrance into the European market, but with a much lower total value and mostly specialised in linseed.

Belgian import excels in linseed, mainly coming from Kazakhstan, Russia and Canada. Imports from Kazakhstan are increasing with ups and downs, recording 180 thousand tonnes in 2020. Belgian companies such as Van de Putte Group and Flaxseed Trading are specialised in linseeds and responsible for more than half of Europe’s imports and processing of linseed into oil, food ingredients and feed. Linseed products are then often sold to Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France.

With good access by sea and a strong processing industry for grains and pulses, Belgium is also relevant for other products from developing countries. With a value of €3.8 million, Belgium is the second-largest European market for millet from developing countries after Germany. In northern Europe, Belgium is also one of the major importers of kidney beans. In 2020, there was also a diversification in suppliers of dry peas, which led to an increase in imports from Ukraine from €26 thousand in 2019 to €4.8 million in 2020.

United Kingdom: ethnic markets boost the sales of rice and chickpeas

The United Kingdom shows that ethnicity can be an influence in the consumption of rice and pulses.

The ethnic population in the United Kingdom consist of 7.5% of Asian inhabitants, mainly Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi. This has made it an important target market for suppliers of rice and pulses. The introduction of international food and cuisines have also influenced the eating habits of British consumers. Being the third-largest importer of pulses, after Spain and Italy, the UK market is different from other Northern-European markets.

The United Kingdom offers suppliers from developing countries the largest European market for husked and basmati rice and the third-largest for pulses. India and Pakistan are major suppliers of rice. In pulses the UK is the third-largest importer in Europe with large imports of chickpeas from India, Turkey and Argentina and mung beans from Myanmar and India. Additionally, there are niche markets for cowpeas, which amounted to 2,400 tonnes in 2020, mainly from Myanmar and Madagascar.

Now that Britain has left the European Union (Brexit), non-European supply may become even more important to guarantee buyers with a reliable and affordable stock. For grains such as wheat, the United Kingdom will still be able to import duty free from EU countries. But the supply of more exotic ingredients are less likely to travel via mainland Europe and will go directly to the UK.

Tips:

  • Gain insight into the global and European feed market on All About Feed and the website of the European Feed Manufacturer’s Federation (Fefac).
  • Investigate the specific demand and quality specifications of ethnic and traditional products. For example, Arab consumers strongly prefer larger chickpeas. Try to engage in conversations with potential buyers of ethnic foods by browsing the Europages database.
  • Improve your knowledge about the different European markets by visiting relevant trade fairs such as Food ingredients Europe, Anuga, SIAL or Biofach (for organic products).

3. Which products from developing countries have most potential in the European market for grains, pulses and oilseeds?

The best opportunities for export from developing countries can be found outside of the commodity trade. In specialist food markets, you can differentiate your company with products such as aromatic rice varieties, ‘ancient’ fonio grains, nutritious groundnuts, protein-rich kidney beans, or sesame as an ethnic ingredient.

The most promising products

Suppliers that are large or close to Europe can profit from a greater demand in commodities, such as sunflower seeds. But the most noticeable opportunities for small and medium suppliers from developing countries are in organic, traditional or high-value crops with superior nutritional properties and intended for human consumption. Therefore some of the most promising products for the European market include:

  1. Special rice varieties – from aromatic rice to sustainable and organic rice
  2. Ancient and ‘super’ grains – providing potential for new nutritious grains such as fonio
  3. Healthy oilseeds – with high-value oilseeds and popular snacks such as groundnuts
  4. Protein crops – presenting a high value and growth in kidney beans
  5. Ethnic ingredients – with a preference for versatile ingredients such as sesame seeds
  6. High volume commodities – ideal for nearby suppliers of sunflower seeds

Please note that we base our results on high-potential product data from the developing countries where CBI is active. We calculate import values in the European market for these products. We define the European market as EU27+UK+European Free Trade Association. For more data on other high-potential products from CBI countries, see the complete statistics in the annex to this study.

Tips:

  • Make sure your products are clean and sustainable when targeting the market for healthy ingredients for human consumption.
  • Specialise your company in specific grains, pulses or oilseeds that are a good fit for your region and in which you can really excel. Also consider organic cultivation or specific varieties as a way to differentiate your offer.

Special rice varieties drive European rice imports

According to Ricepedia, the annual consumption of milled rice per capita ranges from 3.5 to 5.5 kg in non-rice-growing countries of northern Europe to 6-18 kg in southern Europe. Both Japonica and Indica rice types are consumed across Europe, with a preference for Japonica rice in southern Europe because of traditional dishes such as Spanish paella and Italian risotto, and a preference for Indica in northern Europe.

Japonica varieties made up 70% of the rice production in Europe in 2019. Although Europe still produces the major share for its own consumption, the limited production of rice varieties makes Europe an interesting market for foreign suppliers.

The increasing imports mainly consist of Indica rice – in particular specialty or aromatic rice. Suppliers from developing countries will gain the best profits in exporting husked or milled rice. Broken rice is a large category, but is a low-value product. Exporting rice in the husk, or paddy rice, is less common.

Specialty rice

The European consumption of the long Indica-type grain, including specialty rice such as Basmati and Jasmine rice, and organic rice, is growing with 6% per year. Industry sources also say that ‘sustainable rice’, for example with SRP label, will increase in importance. And another niche segment of ‘fair trade’ rice could provide further opportunities for small producers.

Developing countries play a crucial role in supplying special rice varieties such as aromatic or fragrant rice. They have the greatest share in European imports of husked rice (68%). Basmati is one of the varieties that is often imported as husked rice from India and Pakistan. Especially Pakistan has gained importance as a supplier. Imports of husked rice from CBI focus countries has shown the most significant growth in 2020: 152% more than the average value in the past five years. Most of this growth came from Cambodia and Myanmar.

Rice from preferential countries

Due to the GSP+ and EBA (Everything But Arms) trade agreements, rice imports from Pakistan and Myanmar in particular have increased. In 2019, the customs tariffs on Myanmar and Cambodia have been reinstated due to concerns of the economic impact on European producers, but the duties will be steadily reduced over a period of three years.

Table 9: European imports (EU+UK+EFTA) of rice varieties from developing countries, in € million and percentage

 

Imports from the world

Imports from developing countries

Imports from the CBI Country List 2021

Product

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share developing countries

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share CBI countries

Husked or brown rice

767

23%

516

24%

68%

14.2

152%

3.8%

Semi-milled or wholly milled rice

1,603

19%

671

23%

43%

208.8

-2.3%

11%

Broken rice

284

16%

162

26%

62%

96.5

32%

38%

Rice in the husk

77

-7%

17

-31%

16%

1.1

-65%

0.5%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tip:

Fonio could become the next ancient ‘super’ grain

Cereals that have a high nutritional or gluten-free value (‘super grains’) are attractive alternatives for health-conscious consumers. Some of these cereals are considered ‘ancient grains’ when they are non-modified grains and authentic to a certain region.

Healthy grains such as buckwheat and oats, as well as einkorn and spelt, are typically sourced within Europe. Quinoa, on the other hand, is a ‘super’ grain that European consumers widely adopted from Peru and Bolivia. Today, quinoa is leading the list of most popular ancient grains.

Millet, which has a 43% share from developing countries, is a well-known cereal in Europe. Niche suppliers Senegal and Ethiopia could benefit from a growing demand. However, in Europe its nutritional value has been somewhat undervalued for human consumption, and it is mainly associated with bird feed.

For amaranth and teff there is no exact data, but they are registered within the ‘other cereals’ that are not specified elsewhere. The search for healthy and gluten-free ingredients could provide growth opportunities, as long as there is a reliable supply of quality and clean grains. This is starting to become a reality for fonio, a new niche product in Europe’s grain consumption.

Fonio

Fonio is a traditional grain from western and sub-Saharan Africa. It obtained authorisation to be marketed in the European Union as a traditional food grain from a third country in early 2019.

Fonio is still extremely niche in Europe, but if promoted well, it has great potential opportunities for producing countries in western Africa. The current import growth of fonio can be a reason for optimism, but the current import value barely reaches a few hundred thousand euros. The next five years will be important to see if fonio will be the next ‘super’ grain in European consumer diets. You can find several pioneering companies that aim to develop fonio in Europe, such as Aduna, Gaia, Obà and Symfonio.

Table 10: European imports (EU+UK+EFTA) of ancient and special grains from developing countries, in € million and percentage

 

Imports from the world

Imports from developing countries

Imports from the CBI Country List 2021

Product

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share developing countries

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share CBI countries

Fonio

0.23

36%

0.13

56%

67%

0.12

44%

57.6%

Quinoa

99

10%

68

5%

66%

0.07

309%

0.3%

Millet

48

28%

20

35%

43%

0.27

162%

1.1%

Other cereals

86

-30%

7

6%

12%

0.27

42%

0.6%

Buckwheat

46

4%

2

-11%

5%

0.01

-6%

0.0%

Oats

246

15%

2

-30%

0%

0.04

-97%

0.0%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tip:

  • Make sure your product is authorised to be marketed as a foodstuff in the European Union. Some exotic products are ‘novel foods’, so inform yourself well about the European legislation for novel food.

Groundnuts are the most popular nutritious oilseeds

High-value and nutritious oilseeds can offer good opportunities for suppliers in developing countries. In Europe rapeseed, sunflower seed and soybeans make up 96% of the oilseed production. This leaves room for developing countries to supply most other oilseeds, especially those intended for human consumption, such as groundnuts, sesame seeds, linseed, chia seeds and lesser known seeds.

European imports of groundnuts and sesame seeds reach high values and have the highest share from developing countries. Linseed is also large in trade, but only partly used as a healthy ingredient for human consumption. It is mostly grown in the northern hemisphere, and is therefore less relevant for most developing countries.

Chia, hempseed and pumpkin seed are part of the ‘other’ oilseed group, not specified elsewhere. Their growth is relatively slow compared to other healthy oilseeds. Both hemp and chia seeds offer high contents of omega-3 fatty acids, making them popular products for health-oriented consumers. Chia is relatively new in Europe but became a multimillion business in Europe after 2013. Most of the supply originates in South America (Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina). Pumpkin seed and hemp seed are mainly supplied by China. Pumpkin seeds are a popular snack in central Europe, and are often available as an organic product in Germany and Austria.

The growing demand for therapeutic Cannabidiol (CBD), also a product derived from hemp, could drive up the cultivation of hemp as a crop in the northern hemisphere. The legal use of CBD is still under discussion, as described in the European CBD landscape in 2020 by Visual Capitalist.

Groundnuts

Groundnuts (or peanuts) are ideal as snack or as an ingredient in snacks, but in Europe a large share is also used for industrial processing such as peanut butter and peanut oil. The market size of peanuts provides opportunities for differentiation, for example in superior quality or varieties, as well as for other origins.

Developing countries have a high share in the supply of shelled and in-shell groundnuts, respectively 84% and 55%. Egypt leads the export of in-shell groundnuts to Europe, followed by China, Togo and Argentina. For shelled groundnuts, Argentina is the main supplier with a very strong growth from €514 million in 2019 to €725 million in 2020. Shelled groundnuts from Nicaragua have also seen notable growth in Europe, doubling in value in the past five years to €46.8 million.

Table 11: European imports (EU+UK+EFTA) of healthy oilseeds from developing countries, in € million and percentage

 

Imports from the world

Imports from developing countries

Imports from the CBI Country List 2021

Product

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share developing countries

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share CBI countries

Groundnuts, in shell

139

2%

75

2%

55%

42.88

8%

32.9%

Groundnuts, shelled

1040

10%

823

18%

84%

45.60

9%

4.3%

Sesamum seeds

271

13%

197

16%

75%

73.40

5%

25.2%

Other oil seeds and oleaginous fruits

409

7%

191

-1%

43%

11.81

8%

2.9%

Linseed

463

13%

144

16%

32%

1.94

-32%

0.3%

Poppy seeds

94

29%

10

5%

9%

0.04

-83%

0.0%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tip:

  • Try to arrange supplying contracts with your buyers. Production and prices of smaller crops can be volatile, especially for novelty and niche products.

Kidney beans have the highest trade value among protein crops

Peas and fava beans are produced in large numbers in Europe and are ideal for the EU’s ambition for more plant-based food. Egypt and Turkey add to the supply of fava beans, and Ukraine has increased its exports of peas in the last three years. But in general, developing countries will play a larger role in the supply of chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.

Kidney beans

Kidney beans supply both the mass market and traditional consumers. Although they have a lower protein content than peas and fava beans, they are equally an excellent addition to the upcoming vegan trend and plant-based diets.

Trade data show that kidney beans have the highest trade value of all pulses in Europe, with significant growth in 2020. The kidney bean segment is diverse with numerous different varieties. Developing countries play a large role in supplying Europe – around 46% of the total trade value is connected to developing country suppliers. This means there are opportunities for a variety of supplying countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia and Madagascar.

Table 12: European imports (EU+UK+EFTA) of protein crops from developing countries, in € million and percentage

 

Imports from the world

Imports from developing countries

Imports from the CBI Country List 2021

Product

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share developing countries

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share CBI countries

Kidney beans ‘Phaseolus vulgaris’

496

20%

211

31%

46%

33.7

37%

7.8%

Other beans ‘Vigna and Phaseolus’

41

13%

18

15%

44%

2.7

-16%

4.8%

Chickpeas

206

-9%

96

-10%

47%

1.4

-21%

0.6%

Lentils

247

4%

62

26%

30%

1.8

-16%

0.6%

Peas

317

20%

38

8%

11%

2.1

-56%

0.2%

Fava beans

94

11%

9

-5%

8%

5.7

-14%

4.7%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tip:

  • Be original with pulses. Focus on niches and special qualities, such as organic pulses, or add value through storytelling. Get inspiration to tell your story by watching These Are My Pulses videos on pulses.org.

Sesame is at the top of ethnic ingredients

Several imported grains, pulses and oilseeds are typical ethnic products; these are often traditional crops in the origin country, but (semi-)exotic for European consumers. Among the products with a large ethnic demand in Europe are sesame and mung beans. Kidney beans and chickpeas also have a large number of ethnic consumers. More niche products include adzuki beans, cowpeas, pigeon peas and teff.

Mung beans are a typical Asian crop. In Europe, they are mostly used for sprouting, but whole dried beans are often found in the ethnic segments as well. The average import value from developing countries was €30 million in the past five years. The import value of sesame seeds is many times larger, and has a similar market share of developing country suppliers.

Sesame

Developing countries are responsible for around 75% of Europe’s trade value in sesame seeds. For many years, India has been the main supplier of sesame seeds. In 2020, Nigeria, Turkey, Uganda and Guatemala completed the top five of suppliers.

Sesame has an import value of nearly €200 million from developing countries. This value represents both an ethnic market as well as a common ingredient for the bakery sector. Besides in the bakery sector, sesame is used in traditional eastern European sweets, in Asian dishes and in tahini, a sesame paste. Sesame (tahini) and chickpeas complement each other in another typical product, namely hummus. Hummus consumption in Europe has been skyrocketing as a popular spread and dip with Arabic origin.

Table 13: European imports (EU+UK+EFTA) of ethnic ingredients from developing countries, in € million and percentage

 

Imports from the world

Imports from developing countries

Imports from the CBI Country List 2021

Product

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share developing countries

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share CBI countries

Sesamum seeds

271

13%

197

16%

75%

73.4

5%

25.2%

Mung bean

41

23%

30

26%

74%

12.8

11%

28.3%

Cow peas

10

9%

8.0

10%

81%

1.2

56%

16.9%

Small red ‘Adzuki’ beans

7

18%

3.0

25%

49%

0.2

-37%

1.4%

Pigeon peas

4

34%

3.2

38%

93%

0.7

59%

24.5%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tip:

Sunflower seeds offer potential for nearby suppliers of high volume commodities

Large-volume products from developing countries include commodities such as maize, soybeans, rapeseed and sunflower seed. They are relatively easy to market through large corporations such as ADM, Cargill and Bunge at prices that depend on the stock market.

For most commodities, except for wheat, Europe depends on imports from developing countries. And most of these crops, except for soybeans and groundnuts, mainly come from nearby countries. In the near future Europe will aim to increase its production of soybean and sunflower seeds, but still count on its neighbours to meet part of the demand. In this light, Moldova will have an opportunity to extend its current supply of sunflower seeds to Europe.

Sunflower seeds

With an import value of €106 million from Moldova, sunflower seeds are the most important commodity crop (based on countries on the CBI country list). In the last four years the Moldovan supply decreased, while the general imports from developing countries increased. When looking at a longer period, imports from Moldova have duplicated in the last decade.

The production of sunflower seeds in Europe is expected to grow in the long run. This reflects a growing demand for oilseeds for different purposes. A majority of seeds is destined to be processed by oil crushers, but there is also potential for confectionery-grade seeds.

Table 14: European imports (EU+UK+EFTA) of large-scale commodities from developing countries, in € million and percentage

 

Imports from the world

Imports from developing countries

Imports from the CBI Country List 2021

Product

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share developing countries

5 year average

growth 2020 compared to 5 year average

Share CBI countries

Sunflower seeds

2,022

20%

323

25%

17%

100

-5%

3.9%

Maize

6,083

5%

2,631

2%

42%

48

-23%

0.6%

Soya beans

6,104

8%

2,863

21%

53%

22

-23%

0.3%

Low erucic acid rape or colza seeds

4,850

11%

871

37%

22%

18

3%

0.3%

Wheat and meslin

5,491

-7%

315

-42%

4%

64

-78%

0.3%

Source: ITC Trademap

Tips:

  • Stay in contact with major international grain and vegetable oils trading companies when you want to sell large-volume commodities. Finding a market for your commodity crop should not be difficult when working with multinational traders.
  • Check the international commodity prices and food policies on the FAO Food Price Monitoring and Analysis and the EU agricultural outlook 2020-30 to keep yourself up to date with the global market.
  • Compete in large-scale production and price, or find specific niches to move away from the commodity trade, such as organic soybeans, non-GMO maize and pesticide-free grains. Sustainable production is a precondition for making your supply future-proof.
  • Check the CBI product studies to get more detailed information on promising products for developing countries.

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

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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