Exporting teff to Europe
Teff is one of the smallest sized grains and a staple food in Ethiopia. Teff was initially exported to supply Ethiopians living abroad, but it has caught the interest of many other consumers in Europe. Its nutritional and gluten-free value make teff very suitable as an ingredient for the increasing demand in healthy bakery, cereal and snack products.
Contents of this page
- Product description
- What makes Europe an interesting market for teff?
- What trends offer opportunities on the European market for teff?
- What requirements should teff comply with to be allowed on the European market?
- What are the requirement for niche markets?
- What competition do you face on the European teff market?
- Who are your rivals?
- Through what channels can you get teff on the European market?
- What are the end-market prices for teff?
Teff (Eragrostis tef) is a grain crop and part of the family of true grasses (Poaceae), similar to millet. The grains are coloured either ivory (‘white teff’) or reddish brown (‘brown teff’) and are very small (0.5-1 mm). Around 3,000 grains of teff weigh no more than one gram. Teff is processed as a whole grain because of its small size.
Teff has its origin in Ethiopia, where it is a staple crop and often used for injera, a local type of flat bread. In South Africa, the USA and Australia, teff grass is used as forage. Teff is milled and consumed as an alternative to regular wheat flour in many other countries, such as the USA and, increasingly, European countries. Teff is high in protein and minerals, and is suitable for the gluten-free market.
There is no specific statistical code for teff. Niche cereals including teff is registered under the statistical code 1008.90.00 (see table 1), however teff is sometimes also traded under 1008.29.00, the code of millet. Be aware that teff is also imported as flour, which is not included in the trade statistics.
Table 1: Combined Nomenclature (CN) Code for Teff among other cereals, hereinafter also referred to as niche cereals
CEREALS (EXCL. WHEAT AND MESLIN, RYE, BARLEY, OATS, MAIZE, RICE, BUCKWHEAT, MILLET, CANARY SEED AND GRAIN SORGHUM)
Source: Eurostat (Comext)
Growing demand for niche cereals from developing countries
There is a notable growing demand for niche and special cereals. Although specific statistics for teff are not available, it is often considered to have a similar potential to quinoa, another gluten-free grain.
European imports of niche cereals, including teff and amaranth, rose from 6,200 tonnes in 2013 to 7,800 tonnes in 2017. In quinoa, European imports have grown from 9,300 to 27,000 tonnes over the same period.
Europe offers you a new market for teff, which is still underdeveloped. Industry sources expect to trade more teff in the coming years, although the growth in imports has been slow in recent years.
- For general information about the demand for grains and pulses in the European market, visit the CBI Market Intelligence Platform.
Germany and the Netherlands are the largest importers
The principle importers of niche cereals into Europe are Germany and the Netherlands. These countries imported respectively 3,000 and 2,200 tonnes. Together they represent almost 70% of the total European import. The United Kingdom and Belgium occupy a significant part of the remaining import.
As an exporter you will find the largest consumer market for niche grains in Germany, thanks to a large cereal and bakery industry. The Netherlands re-exported over 37%, making the country an important hub for your niche grains. The United Kingdom has an interesting market for gluten-free products, which could explain its growth over the past years. Teff has become available in major UK retailers such as Sainsbury’s and Holland & Barrett.
- Maintain a broad focus on Europe, but realise that the number of buyers are still limited and mainly concentrated in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Interest in new, authentic food
Many European consumers are prepared to try out ‘new’, authentic products. The story behind teff, depicting it as an ancient grain from Ethiopia, will appeal to food journalists and curious consumers alike. Although still a niche product, teff is often referred to as the next traditional superfood. Nonetheless, it has not yet entered into exponential growth like other authentic grains and seeds, such as quinoa and chia seeds.
- If possible, create a good story around your product. Include information about its origin, social impact or traditional cultivation.
- Search the internet for online shops and retailers to explore new products with teff.
Teff popular as a gluten-free health food
In Europe about 1% is diagnosed with coeliac disease, according to the Dr Schär Institute, but there is a much larger group that is affected by an allergy or intolerance for gluten. Food media inform consumers about healthy eating and increase the awareness of allergen-free diets. This attention will be beneficial for the further growth of gluten-free grains such as teff.
Italy and the United Kingdom are the leading markets for gluten-free food. Germany, the Nordic countries and Poland (now an emerging gluten-free market) are also consumers of gluten-free products such as teff.
As an exporter you can expect to see teff in trending news topics as well as a variety of new healthy food products, for example in:
- bakery products such as bread and pastries;
- savory snacks such as biscuits;
- nutritious sport food, such as protein bars and shakes;
- breakfast cereals;
- and as gluten-free flour for home cooking.
Organic is important for ‘healthy’ grains
Increased attention to health, environmental and social responsibility is leading to rapid growth of the organic sector. Teff is regarded as a healthy grain and has a potential for growth in the organic food segment. Health shops and organic grocery stores often include teff or teff products in the range of products they carry.
- If you offer certified organic teff, search for importers who specialise in organic products through directories, such as the International directory of organic food wholesale & supply companies (Organic-bio), or at special trade fairs for organic products such as Biofach in Germany.
- Find out what other trends offer opportunities on the European market for grains on the CBI marketing intelligence platform.
What legal and non-legal requirements must my product comply with?
The General Food Law, which regulates food safety in the EU, also applies to teff. Suppliers must make sure that teff exports are traceable and that safety systems such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) are in place.
The maximum permissible levels of contaminants, such as heavy metals and mycotoxins, are laid down in EU Regulation 1881/2006. All the provisions of this regulation that apply to cereal-based products are also relevant to teff.
Maximum Residue Limits
The maximum residue limits (MRLs) for pesticides that might be used on teff can be found in the EU Pesticide Database. Use search terms such as ‘teff’ or ‘common millet / proso millet’ and the type of pesticide to find the corresponding MRLs. Maximum residue levels are also laid down in EU Regulation 396/2005. You should be aware that for organic teff there must not be any traceable residues, which often means less than 0.01 mg/kg.
In the European Union allergens need to be declared on the label. If you want to sell your teff as a gluten-free product, you need to make sure these substances are not contained in your product, for example due to cross-contamination. The most drastic method of ensuring this is when such substances are not even present in your factory.
When you want to sell teff as gluten-free product it cannot contain more than 20 mg/kg of gluten. Up to 100 mg/kg can be marketed as ‘very low gluten’. European companies that specialise in gluten-free food may be stricter than the European regulation.
You can find additional information by reading the following documents:
- European Union Factsheet on contaminants;
- European Union Factsheet on new rules on pesticide residues in food;
- European regulation on gluten-free food.
- Read the information on the factsheets and regulation above.
- Find out about the general export requirements for teff by consulting the EU Trade Helpdesk: fill in the product code for niche cereals (10089000), the country of origin and the destination of the teff to find the information required.
There are no official European marketing standards for the commercialisation of teff. The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) lists marketing standards for other cereals, pulses, legumes and vegetable proteins, including millet and wheat. You can use these standards as a reference for niche grains such as teff.
Important characteristics your buyer will or may be interested in include:
- falling number;
- purity level;
- moisture level;
- colour sorting;
- grain conformity;
- absence of foreign matter or abnormalities, and
- nutritional value (e.g. protein content).
You can possibly find an example of the product specification of teff on the websites of suppliers.
Buyers often require samples, which should be representative of the product delivered.
Labelling must comply with the regulations applying to the European market. Read more about food labelling on the EU Trade Helpdesk and in EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the information to consumers. For consumer products you are also obliged to provide the nutritional information.
The following items should be indicated on the label of a teff product; in case of product packed in bulk, some of the items may be mentioned in the commercial documents:
- Official product name
- Physical condition or treatment
- List of ingredients and allergens
- Class, size (code), number of batches, net weight in metric units
- Statement that the product is destined for human consumption
- Best-before date or use-by date
- Instructions or special conditions for storage or use
- Place of origin or provenance
- Name and address of the importer established in the EU
- Name and address of exporter
- Lot marking on pre-packaged foodstuffs (to ensure traceability of individual batches)
In addition, the label should include any certification logo (if applicable) and/or retailer logo (in the case of products marketed under a private label).
English is often used for bulk labelling, unless your buyer indicates otherwise. Multilingual labels are commonly used on consumer packaging, but the language of the destination country must be included in any case.
Packaging and handling
There is no packaging standard for teff. It is important to have reliable packaging for the small teff seeds or flour. Polypropylene or strong kraft paper bags with a capacity of 25 kg are recommended for teff grains, while teff flour is usually packaged in paper bags.
Different buyers may have different preferences. When packing your product, you should take European legislation for food contact materials into account.
- Find general information on buyer requirements for grains and pulses in the European market available on the CBI Market Intelligence Platform.
What additional requirements do buyers often have?
You need to use organic production methods as laid down in European legislation in order to market organic teff in Europe. Offering organically cultivated teff will be a popular move in the health food sector. The demand for organic teff is often difficult to fulfil with the current supply.
Current legislation for organic products is defined by Regulation (EC) No 834/2007, but the European Commission proposed new rules for organic farming in 2014, as part of its future policy framework. After implementation on 1 January 2021, imported products will also have to comply with the single set of European production rules.
- Read about organic farming and guidelines in Europe on the EU website on organic farming.
- Take extra precaution with organically produced teff. Avoid the use of any chemical pesticide and cross-contamination. Residues in organic products are one of the main problems for your importer.
Food safety certification
As food safety is a top priority in all Europeanfood sectors, you can expect most buyers to request extra guarantees from you in the form of certification. Food management systems and certifications that are recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) are widely accepted throughout Europe.
If you are a supplier of teff, you may find one of the following certification schemes useful, depending on the role you play in the supply chain (production, distribution or processing):
- Food Safety System Certification 22000 (ISO 22000);
- BRC Global Standard for Food Safety (British Retail Consortium);
- IFS Food Standard (International Featured Standard).
Social compliance & sustainability
European buyers are paying more and more attention to their corporate responsibilities concerning the social and environmental impact of their business. This is facilitated by programmes and initiatives such as:
- The Business Social Compliance Initiative (amfori BSCI);
- The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI);
- The Global Social Compliance Programme (GSCP).
New health ingredients, such as teff, typically attract a great deal of attention in the food media. This means their social and environmental effect are also susceptible for attention, both positive and negative. As an exporter it is best that you work completely transparent and use your social responsibility as a strength.
- Check your company’s current performance, for example, by performing a self-assessment. Details of how to do this can be found on the amfori website.
Fair Trade and environmental certification
Fair trade and sustainable certification, such as Fair for Life, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade, is still a niche requirement for teff, but it can help your product to stand out from other competitors and attract consumers who are more aware of these issues. If the teff sector and the number of smallholders further expand, fair trade certification will also become more significant.
- Find a specialised European buyer who is familiar with sustainable and/or fair trade products. Use the CBI Tips for Finding Buyers to help you in your search.
What are the opportunities and barriers?
Teff is a relatively new product in Europe. The number of importers of teff is still relatively small compared with those for other special or niche grains. This means that there is still an unexplored potential for teff.
Strict testing of health grains
However, as with any gluten-free or health ingredient, the buyer requirements will be stringent. There cannot be any contamination with wheat or other gluten containing grains.
European buyers will get samples analysed in the laboratory to ensure they are receiving the right quality. Laboratory tests in Europe can differ considerably from those performed in the country of origin in terms of parameters tested and residue levels that are considered to be permissible.
- Make sure your product is absolutely clean and sound. Ask your buyer to have a sample tested in a laboratory in his own country to verify this, and keep counter samples for added security.
- Prove yourself to be a reliable supplier in order to establish a long-term trade relation. Efficient communication and meeting agreements are essential to build trust.
Limitation due to patent
A broad patent on teff flour and processed products has restricted the free use of teff flours in several European countries. The initial research was based on Ethiopian processing methods and 12 local teff varieties, although the patent does not mention these specific varieties. According to several experts, among which the Fridtjof Nansens Institute, granting such broad patent is controversial. Ethiopian authorities have recently protested against the patent holder at the ICC Court of Arbitration in Paris and want to reclaim their right for the international commercialisation of their traditional food staple.
The patent issue is possibly one of the reasons that the current use of teff in Europe is still limited. But it has also prevented Ethiopia to safeguard their genetic resources.
What are substitute products?
Teff is an alternative cereal grain for bakery and breakfast products. It is often sold as wholegrain flour or processed into puffed grains or flakes for breakfast cereals or porridge.
As a gluten-free grain type, teff can be replaced by other gluten-free grains and seeds, such as quinoa, amaranth, cañihua, millet, buckwheat, sorghum or oats (though oats are often contaminated by wheat gluten).
Just like quinoa, teff has the advantage of being a traditional grain with a very specific origin, which can be beneficial in its branding or marketing.
- Make sure you can guarantee a minimum availability and be honest about your capacities as a supplier, especially when targeting the food industry or when working with relatively new products.
- If you wish to supply the gluten-free market, you must take care to keep your teff seeds completely separate from gluten-containing grains post-harvest and during processing.
Ethiopia is number one in production
Teff is a staple crop in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Around 6 million Ethiopian farmers are involved in the annual cultivation of 4 to 4.5 million tonnes of teff. The total special grain production is calculated to have been around 5 million tonnes in 2016. With just over 26,000 tonnes neighbouring country Eritrea is much smaller in production, but still significant on a worldwide scale.
Ethiopia produces such large volumes of teff that it has potentially a great competitive advantage. But despite of the growing demand in the USA and Europe, Ethiopia has not become the main exporter to these markets. Ethiopia chose for the security and stability of their local teff market and decided to ban the export of teff in 2006.
Only since 2015, Ethiopia has made concrete plans for the export of teff. Ethiopian export of teff will only be allowed when milled or processed and originating from 48 selected farms that manage 6,000 hectares. The Ethiopian government wants to secure both teff availability and affordability for local consumption. Moreover, upscaling this international trade will be a challenge for many of Ethiopian smallholders in terms of traceability, logistics and compliance with European requirements will not be easy.
Ethiopia expected to start their export in 2016 with an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 tonnes of teff flour. However, current Ethiopian exports of teff grains as well as teff flour have been limited and were somewhere around 1 or 2 thousand tonnes in 2016 and 2017. So far, injera, an Ethiopian teff bread, has probably been the most successful export product. Mama Fresh is one of the successful companies from Ethiopia exporting injera.
Note: Teff is one of the main cereals cultivated in Ethiopia and Eritrea
The number of suppliers is growing
Figure 4 shows India as the largest supplier of niche grains to Europe, followed by the USA. But in teff there is a growing number of suppliers. According to the Reporter Ethiopia, the USA, Spain, India, South Africa, Uganda and Cameroon are among the main exporters of teff. Producers in other countries such as Brazil and Bolivia have also expressed interest in the cultivation of teff.
Spain and the USA are believed to have become the principal suppliers of teff to European countries. Expect Spain to become a stronger competitor, thanks to their convenient location and growing cultivation of teff in the regions of Castilla y León and Andalucía.
- Read the general information on competition in the European market for grains and pulses.
How much power do I have as a supplier when negotiating with buyers?
The trade in teff has been limited and until recently teff products in Europe were mostly sold by shops specialised in natural and healthy food products. Now large retailers and supermarkets are starting to adopt teff products into their gluten-free assortment.
The very strong buying power of European supermarket chains will increase the pressure on suppliers to offer competitive and stable prices, reliable sourcing and strict compliance with retail standards. But as long as the availability of teff is limited, negotiating for exporters will be slightly easier.
- Read the tips for doing business with European buyers on the CBI Market Intelligence platform.
- Evaluate the possibility of integrating your supply chain with that of a strong partner in Europe. This will facilitate your access to the major retail channels or large food processors. Make sure your company is ready for such commitment.
Teff is a fairly new product in Europe, managed by pioneering importers and traders. They sell it as a gluten-free grain or flour for baking or as a healthy ingredient for snacks or cereals. In some cases the importers of niche grains are also private label packers.
The processing industry and branding companies transform teff into an ingredient for snacks and cereals (for example through puffing, milling and production of flakes). Food brands can increase the value of their product by promoting teff as its special ingredient.
The bakery industry is also relevant for teff, especially because of its gluten-free nature. France offers the highest valued bakery sector, followed by Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. In terms of volume Germany leads the industry. The opportunities for teff products are best in:
- Northern Europe, where the trend for health food is most dominant;
- Italy and the UK, where the demand for gluten-free products is strongest.
- Read about the bakery industry in Europe in the Bakery and Bake-off report, funded by the European Commission.
- Consider adding an extra process to your product and sell teff as a flour.
Specialised food channels
Teff is an ideal product for specialised trade channels such as:
- Supermarkets with ‘free-from’ sections;
- Health shops with allergen-free food;
- Specialised gluten-free brands, such as Schär, Ma vie sans gluten and Orgran.
If teff continues its growth in the specialised food channels, you can expect to see it more often among the regular products as well.
- Look for potential buyers at major trade events, such as SIAL, Anuga and Biofach. This is also a good way of checking out the European competition.
- Read about the trade channels and market segments for grains and pulses in the European market on the CBI Market Intelligence Platform. Much of this information also applies to teff.
Figure 5: Breakdown of the consumer price for teff (indicative)
Consumer prices for teff grains and flour range from 8 to 18 euros per kg, depending on the country, brand and package size. The fact that this is still a new niche product keeps retail prices relatively high.
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