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Exporting coffee drinkware to Europe

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Takes 25 minutes to read

The European market for coffee drinkware is growing. There is considerable competitive pressure from established brands with a long heritage and a sharp positioning. Focusing on designs, materials and techniques linked to your local origin gives you a good chance of success. Handmade coffee drinkware and consistent concepts also help you create an image. In addition, sustainable and fair trade values can give you a competitive edge.

1. Product description

Coffee drinkware covers coffee cups, cups and saucers, mugs, sugar bowls, milk jugs, coffee pots and spoons. These are all classified as tableware. Related implements such as water kettles and coffee grinders and makers usually come under kitchenware.

This study defines coffee drinkware as mugs, cups and saucers and uses the following codes to indicate trade:

Table 1: Product codes

Harmonised System (HS) Prodcom Description
6911 10 23411130 Tableware and kitchenware made of porcelain or china
6912 00 23411210 Ceramic tableware and other household articles – common pottery
  23411230 Ceramic tableware and other household articles – stoneware
  23411250 Ceramic tableware and other household articles – earthenware or fine pottery
  23411290 Ceramic tableware and other household articles – other
7013 33 23131160 Drinking glasses made of lead crystal (excluding stemware)
7013 37   Drinking glasses (excluding glasses made of glass ceramics or of lead crystal and stemware)



Coffee cups, mugs and saucers are typically made of glazed ceramic, allowing them to hold hot coffee (the ideal serving temperature is 68 to 79 °C) and providing insulation from the beverage. Cleansing is easy, as glazed ceramics are dishwasher-safe. Handles are optional, but do provide additional insulation for the hands as well as portability.


The preferred types of coffee among European consumers are:

  • standard black or white coffee – served in a cup, with or without a saucer, which must hold a volume of between 20 to 26 cl, or a mug, with a volume ranging from 20 to 40 cl;
  • cappuccino – served in a cup and saucer with a volume of 15 to 18 cl;
  • espresso – served in a ‘demitasse’, a cup with a volume of 5 to 6 cl, usually on a saucer.

Saucers need to be proportional to the cups, but are usually around 15 cm in diameter.


Porcelain, another common material for coffee drinkware, allows for heat retention but cools down quickly due to air bubbles in the cup. Besides glazed ceramics (stoneware, earthenware) and porcelain, glass is also used a lot for coffee drinkware, as are synthetics such as melamine. Paper and plastics are used for disposable coffee drinkware.


The cylindrical form is the most common for mugs and cups. Deviations from the ‘perfect’ cylinder add aesthetic value. Any decoration is possible, ranging from hand-painted decorations to transfers. Glazing techniques and colours add further design elements to the coffee sets.


  • Information on the outer packaging of coffee drinkware should correspond to the packing list sent to the importer.
  • External packaging labels for coffee drinkware should include: producer, consignee, material, quantity, size, volume, country of origin, and caution signs.
  • For pottery and porcelain or glass items, boxes should preferably be labelled with warning notices such as ‘FRAGILE!’ or ‘Handle with care!’.
  • EAN or barcodes on the product label are common in Europe.
  • Your buyer will specify what information they need on the product labels or on the item itself. For instance logos or 'made in…' information. This is part of the order specifications.
  • Use the English language for labelling, unless your buyer indicates otherwise.


Importer specification

You should pack coffee drinkware according to the importer’s instructions. They have their own specific requirements for the use of packaging materials, filling boxes, palletisation and stowing containers. Always ask for the importer’s order specifications. These are part of the purchase order.

Damage prevention

Properly packaging coffee drinkware minimises the risk of damage by shocks. How an item is packaged for export depends on how easily it can be damaged. Ceramic or glass coffee drinkware is generally quite fragile. Packaging should make sure the items inside a cardboard box cannot damage each other. It should also prevent damage to the boxes when they are stacked inside the container.

Dimensions and weight

Packaging must be of easy-to-handle dimensions and weight. Standards are often related to labour regulations at the point of destination, specified by the buyer. Cartons are usually palletised for air or sea transport. You have to maximise pallet space.

Cost reduction

Nesting or stacking the items inside the container reduces costs. While packaging has to provide maximum protection, you must also avoid using excess materials or shipping ‘air’. Waste removal is a cost to buyers.


Importers are increasingly banning wooden crating and packaging due to their unsustainability and high material and disposal costs. Economical and sustainable packaging materials are more popular. Using biodegradable packaging materials can be a market opportunity. For some buyers, it can even be a demand.

Consumer packaging

Consumer packaging for coffee drinkware adds value to the product in the form of branding. Usually, gift-wrapping is provided at point of sale. The inner box can often be used for this.

2. Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of coffee drinkware?

After a shift away from Chinese imports caused a dip in 2013, European imports of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware are increasing. Developing countries supply more than 40% of these imports. Europe’s main importers of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware are Germany and the United Kingdom. Their large market for developing countries makes them especially interesting.

(!) Because no specific trade data are available for coffee drinkware, these statistics cover glass drinkware as well as ceramic tableware and kitchenware in general.

Where is consumer demand located?

  • European demand for glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware increased between 2012 and 2016. With an average annual growth rate of 4.1%, it reached €3.3 billion in 2016.
  • Demand is highest in Italy (€1.1 billion), followed by Germany (€444 million), France (€383 million) and the United Kingdom (€362 million).

What is the role of European production in supplying European demand?

  • Europe’s demand for glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware is higher than its production. This drives the need for imports, making Europe an interesting market.
  • European production of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware also increased between 2012 and 2016. With an average annual growth rate of 6.4%, it reached €3.1 billion in 2016.
  • Italy is responsible for 35% of European glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware production.

Which countries are most interesting in terms of coffee consumption?

Coffee consumption in Europe is relatively stable at around 3.1 billion kg p/a. In terms of total coffee consumption, Germany is leading with more than 400 million kg p/a, followed by France and Italy. Per capita, Scandinavian consumers drink the most coffee, up to 12 kg p/a in Finland!

Due to the success of coffee pod and capsule concepts like Senseo, Nespresso and Tassimo, single-serve coffee is becoming increasingly popular in Europe. Retailers in Northern and Western Europe are expanding their assortments of single-serve methods.


  • As Europe’s main coffee consumers, Germany, France and Italy are interesting target markets for coffee mugs, cups and saucers.
  • With the largest coffee consumption per capita in Europe, Scandinavia is also interesting.
  • Offer coffee mugs, cups and saucers suitable for serving single-serve and specialty coffee.
  • For more information, see our studies about trends on the European coffee market and European demand for coffee.

Which countries are most interesting in terms of imports from developing countries?

  • European imports of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware dipped in 2013, mainly due to a dip in imports from China. Since then, however, they have recovered strongly. This corresponds to an average annual growth rate of 1.7% over the entire period, with imports reaching €2.7 billion in 2016.
  • In the coming years, European imports are expected to keep growing moderately.
  • With €1.1 billion, developing countries account for 41% of European glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware imports. This share is predicted to stay fairly stable in the coming years.
  • In reality, many of the exports of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware from Western European countries are re-exports of products manufactured in developing countries.
  • Germany is Europe’s leading importer of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware, with €496 million in 2016. The United Kingdom follows with €350 million.
  • When it comes to imports from developing countries, Germany and the United Kingdom are also leading with €207 million and €232 million respectively. For the United Kingdom, this is ⅔ of its total glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware imports!
  • China dominates European glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware, with 30% in 2016. This used to be 37% in 2012, illustrating a shift away from Chinese imports.
  • Other leading suppliers from developing countries are Turkey (4.2%) and Thailand (3.4%).


  • Study your options in Germany and the United Kingdom. Their strong imports of products from developing countries make them especially interesting markets.
  • Compare your products and company to the strong competition from China, as well as Turkey and Thailand. You can use ITC Trademap to find exporters per country. You can compare on market segment, price, quality and target countries.

What role do exports play in supplying European demand?

  • European exports of glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware consist mainly of trade within Europe.
  • Germany (€500 million) is by far Europe’s leading glass drinkware and ceramic tableware and kitchenware exporter, followed by France (€304 million). Germany’s leading position in both imports and exports of these products illustrates its role as a key European trade hub.

What is the effect of real private consumption expenditure on European demand?

  • Private consumption expenditure is an important indicator for the European home decoration market. The sector is closely linked to economic conditions. When money is tight, consumers postpone buying non-essential items until they have enough disposable income.
  • Between 2017 and 2019, European private consumption expenditure is expected to increase. This means that consumption of decorative products is likely to rise. Especially in emerging markets, consumers will have more money available to spend on decorating the home. Consumers in mature markets already spend a fair amount of money on decoration, so growth in their consumption will be moderate.

‘Slow’ or ‘to go’: coffee drinking moments

Busy urban lifestyles often reduce breakfast to hurried food intakes. Coffee drinking during the early-morning rush needs to be quick and convenient. Therefore, breakfast tableware consists of everyday basics, often with a mug instead of a cup and saucer. Inexpensive, unassuming crockery is used for this ‘to go’ user moment. Coffee at work also falls into this category, because the coffee drinkware in the workplace is often equally basic, sometimes disposable.

European consumers also appreciate more intense coffee drinking moments, such as at the end of a meal, weekend breakfasts, or private get-togethers. ‘Let’s have a coffee’ is an invitation to some quality time. Here, the enjoyment of coffee drinking takes a central place. These are precious ‘me-time’ moments of ‘slow coffee’ drinking, which is accentuated by some nice drinkware. The idea is to drink your favourite coffee, from your favourite cup or mug, with your near and dear ones.

A number of consumers are developing into real coffee connoisseurs. They take pride in preparing and sharing specialty coffees with friends, and derive status (admiration) from it. These ‘home baristas’ grind (and sometimes even roast) the coffee themselves and serve it in the most appropriate, extra-special cups.

Generally, ‘me-time’ moment consumers will be less price-sensitive than rush-time users. Home baristas form a small top segment in coffee drinkware.


  • Study the developments in coffee consumption in Europe. Coffee drinking and gifting trends directly influence consumer needs in drinkware. Check our studies about coffee, also to investigate different coffee drinking cultures across Europe.
  • Cater for the various coffee drinking moments and offer the right drinkware for the right occasion. Be aware that the same consumer may prefer different drinkware for different occasions. Have a different price-value mix in mind for each.
  • Communicate the main values of your offer to the consumer’s various coffee drinking moments, rather than to the type of person (demographically). Extend the number of moments for which your coffee drinkware offers solutions by developing both ‘slow’ and ‘everyday’ coffee sets.
  • Extend your consumer market segment to include coffee at work or in catering places. Such project market marketing requires its own mix in terms of product features, price strategy, distribution and communication. Usually, price and durability are key factors here.

Freedom of choice

When it comes to drinkware, European consumers are quite mature and prefer to make their own, individual choice in coffee cups and mugs. They require freedom of choice, rather than buying what everyone buys or the industry prescribes.

Complete matching sets of dinnerware, or coffee sets specifically, that are bought in one go seem a thing of the past. Modern-day consumers match different coffee drinkware to different emotions, and compose and arrange their own coffee sets. This can even go as far as combining new purchases with flea market finds and freely mixing and matching cups and saucers.

Another trend is doubled-edged. Some consumers are becoming more formal in their coffee rituals, strictly using the right drinkware for their specific coffees. For them, a cappuccino comes in the right cup, with a saucer, in the exact dimension, as the Italians would do it. On the other hand, other consumers are rapidly dropping conventions in drinking coffee and just doing whatever is convenient or feels right. This is causing the disappearance of the ceramic coffee pot and the saucer.


  • Cater to the diversified coffee drinking preferences of the European consumers, for example by offering mugs in a variety of sizes.
  • Don’t invest in coffee pots, as they have limited commercial appeal.
  • Offer flexible collections of cups and saucers than can be mixed and matched, with saucers optional.
  • Offer choice or options, such as patterns in different colourways or shapes.

Identity and personality

In an overcrowded tableware market, authenticity becomes key. This translates in two ways. Firstly, consumers want to express themselves and stand out from the crowd. They are able to do so by making individual choices in coffee drinkware, as they do in tableware generally. Equally, brands want to differentiate from others in their segment and need to show a personality or signature of their own.

Heritage is one way for brands to do so: showing your own history (the first Wedgwood dinner service was made in 1763) or your production story builds trust. Origin is another: patterns or shapes that are derived from local culture. Handmade is also extremely valued in a category (tableware) that is quite industrialised. Consistency, too, helps create a fan base and allows consumers to collect within a style group: Alessi represents inventiveness, Seletti humour, Bunzlau Castle cobalt blue.


Check the following identity elements and see where you could create an image on the market:

  • History of your organisation, process or industry – what story can you tell to help the consumer add a dimension to your product features?
  • Production stories: what materials, techniques, cultural meanings do your products have that are a source of learning and inspiration to a consumer eager to hear and tell new stories? Origin is good, but don't be too ethnic. At the level of your product lines, make sure the binding factor is clear; this can be a shape, colour, or literally a story.
  • Handmade – hand-thrown, hand-painted, hand-stencilled, hand-formed, an individual manufacturer’s name or even impression of a thumb: it all adds to the personal touch of the product, and as such adds value. Emphasise the handmade element in your design and marketing. Trigger the consumer’s senses (texture, colour, combinations of materials).
  • Be consistent in your concept – focus on and become known for one special feature, look and feel, or story, instead of being ‘everything for everybody’. This does not mean you can’t change or innovate. For example, Le Creuset are extending into tea and coffee in the same signature style as their famous cooking pots.

Made in Europe

An ongoing trend is that a chunk of the production of coffee drinkware (and tableware in general) takes place in Europe. For mass-market ceramics, this is driven by the need for lower quantities, smaller runs, lower logistical costs and greater control over quality and the frequency of buying. High-volume production is often located in Eastern Europe, where labour is relatively cheap.

Another driver for this trend is the existence of a great European tradition in the production of tableware – especially in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Portugal, where experience can date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of these manufacturers may manufacture the specials at home, whilst outsourcing their volume needs. Particularly in the higher segments, small studios throughout Western Europe serve their small niches with handmade pottery.


  • Be lean in your production, study and (re-)negotiate logistical costs constantly, offer flexibility in production runs, reduce packing costs and offer margin differentials for longer-term customers.
  • Differentiate on design, story and identity. Study your importer to anticipate their cycle of product development and take the initiative in offering new design ideas or directions based on an intimate knowledge of their positioning and best sellers.
  • Offer one-stop shop benefits: concepts for different categories (such as dinner- and kitchenware), consumer packaging, or even food and non-food. You can do this by offering a broad collection based on a particular raw material (such as porcelain or stoneware), teaming up with colleagues in your area, or horizontal integration.


Many European consumers collect items like coffee drinkware. This may seem contradictory to the desire for freedom of choice, but it is a very valid driver of consumption in home decoration (compare with statuettes, wall plates, tea spoons).

Collecting is a gradual process and part of the satisfaction is to work towards a full collection of something over a period of time. Rather than buying a complete set in one go, consumers want to add new items to their collection gradually.

A complete collection can consist of cups in one theme (such as butterfly decorations), by one designer (for example everything by Clarice Cliff), a time period or a brand (such as Wedgwood 1920s), or whatever drives the collector. Needless to say, ‘complete’ also means collecting both the cup and matching saucer if that was the original pair. Collectors may freely combine vintage finds (bought at flea markets or auctions) with newly bought items, depending on their theme.


  • Be collectible. Offer a variety of decors around one theme; add new items to your existing lines every new buying season based on the same design element (a shape, decor, etc.).
  • Mugs are especially suitable for this, as they are also seen as stand-alone items in dinnerware and gift categories.

Going green

In ceramic tableware, certifications related to socially and environmentally cleaner production are increasingly embraced. However, this forms a Business-to-Business rather than Business-to-Consumer value in this category. This is also because the consumer does not automatically associate ceramics with a possible depletion of raw materials (as in wood) or environmental pollution (as in plastics).

Professional buyers demand certification as evidence of proper working conditions, to meet their own codes of conduct. So far, however, they have only communicated this passively, rather than using it as an active element in their positioning (‘we are green!’). It is mostly done through their website, rather than on the product label.

Green materials are increasingly valued. In drinkware, for example, pressed bamboo is marketed as a green alternative to established materials.

In an increasingly competitive market with increasingly aware consumers, it is only a matter of time before sustainability becomes a selling point for consumers. The first signs of this can already be seen, for instance through Messe Frankfurt’s Ethical Style Guide, a buyer catalogue highlighting green concepts at its fairs.

The fair trade value set forms an exception, as this is actually a consumer value. Fair trade distributers prominently communicate their social and environmental principles to their customers. In ceramic tableware, including coffee sets, fair trade distributors offer their wares in the original niche segment of fair trade resellers, but increasingly also in mainstream segments (both in consumer and project segments).


  • Be ‘green’. Be specific about the green features of your concept. Add visual content and certify if and when it adds clear benefits.
  • Consider fair trade certification. This is the most comprehensive certification around, but once your system is ready to support it, other certifications are relatively easy to acquire.
  • Assist your fair trade distributor’s marketing efforts by offering an attractive product, price and story.
  • For more information, see our special study about sustainability.

For more information, see our study about trends for Home Decoration & Home Textiles.

4. What requirements should coffee drinkware comply with to be allowed on the European market?

What legal and non-legal requirements must your product comply with?

General product safety

The European Union’s General Product Safety Directive applies to all consumer products, including coffee drinkware. It states that all products marketed in Europe must be safe to use.


  • Read more about the General Product Safety Directive.
  • Also use your common sense to ensure normal use of your product does not cause any danger.
  • The RAPEX database lists products that the European Union has rejected at the border, or withdrawn from the market. Check the database for similar products for an idea of what issues may arise.

Packaging legislation

Europe has specific packaging and packaging waste legislation. Among other things, it restricts the use of certain heavy metals. Europe also has requirements for wood packaging materials (WPM) used for transport, such as packing cases, boxes, crates, drums, (box) pallets and dunnage.

Restricted chemicals: REACH

The REACH regulation lists restricted chemicals in products that are marketed in Europe. For example, REACH restricts the use of lead in the paints and glazing of ceramics.


Food contact materials

The Food Contact Materials regulation states that home decoration products like coffee drinkware shouldn’t negatively affect consumer health or food quality. It also contains rules on labelling food contact materials.


What additional requirements do buyers often have?


Social and environmental sustainability make your products stand out on the European market. Think of sustainable raw materials and production processes. European buyers increasingly demand the following certification schemes:

  • Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI): European retailers developed this initiative to improve social conditions in sourcing countries. They expect their suppliers to comply with the BSCI Code of Conduct. To prove compliance, the importer can request an audit of your production process. Once a company has been audited, it is included in a database for all BSCI participants.
  • Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI): This initiative is an alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organisations. It aims to improve the working lives of people across the globe that make or grow consumer goods.

You can use standards such as ISO 14001 and SA 8000 to read up on sustainable options. However, only niche market buyers demand compliance with such standards.


  • Optimise your sustainability performance. Reading up on the issues included in the initiatives will give you an idea of what to focus on.
  • Buyers appreciate a good story. If you can show that you value your company’s environmental and/or social performance, this may be a competitive advantage. You can do this, for instance, with a self-assessment like the BSCI Self-Assessment for Producers, or a code of conduct such as the BSCI Code of Conduct and the ETI base code.
  • For more information, see our special study on sustainability in the home sector.

What are the requirements for niche markets?

Fair trade

The concept of fair trade supports fair pricing and improved social conditions for producers and their communities. Especially when the production of your coffee drinkware is labour-intensive, fair trade certification can give you a competitive advantage.

Common fair trade certifications are from:


  • Ask buyers what they are looking for. Especially in the fair trade sector, you can use the story behind your product for marketing purposes.
  • Check the ITC Standards Map database for more information on voluntary standards and their requirements, including fair production.

Crystalline Silica in ceramics

Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) can cause lung cancer through inhalation. The ceramics industry mostly uses crystalline silica in the form of quartz and cristobalite. Although European legislation cannot regulate working conditions in non-European countries, European buyers care about worker safety. They may demand good handling of crystalline silica during production.

For more information, see our study about buyer requirements for Home Decoration & Home Textiles.

5. What competition do you face on the European coffee drinkware market?

The competition for coffee drinkware does not differ significantly from the sector in general. Refer to our 10 tips for doing business with European buyers.

6. Through what channels can you put coffee drinkware on the European market?

The market channels and segments for coffee drinkware do not differ significantly from the sector in general.

Market channels

Coffee drinkware is widely available at offline and online retail places, ranging from hypermarkets, garden centres and general home stores to department stores and kitchen specialists.


E-commerce in home decoration is increasing and can help you reach a broader range of customers. Retailers often combine online and offline channels. Consumers research and purchase products online, shopping around and comparing prices on home decoration items. Small (gift) items like coffee mugs or cups and saucers are especially suitable for this. To supply e-commerce you must be able to work with individual packing and labelling, as well as limited minimum orders.


Trade associations and fairs

These trade associations and fairs are useful sources for finding trading partners in Europe.

Market segments

As discussed, the market for coffee drinkware can be broadly segmented into ‘rush-time’ and ‘me-time’ users.

‘Rush-time’ consumers are found in the low and mid-low markets, consisting of everyday basics where price and design are accessible. Distribution is intensive, through one-stop shops such as supermarkets and garden centres, department and large home stores and online. Communication mainly focuses on value for money. Particular European manufacturer brands and retailers’ own brands occupy this segment.

Moment consumers with ‘me-time’ values are found in the mid to mid-high markets, as well as the luxury end of the market. In the mid segment, the mid-market department store offers diversity in brands with trendy and affordable coffee sets. Communication focuses on the user moment (‘breakfast’, ‘moment to yourself’, socialising) and on gifting.

At the mid-high to higher end, specialist coffee and tea shops, kitchenware specialists and premium department and design stores offer handmade items, sometimes limited edition. Communication focuses on the craftsmanship and the idea of the gift to yourself and to your nearest and dearest. At the upper end of the market, items become really special. This can be through their design (especially shape and material), scarcity or brand name.

As coffee drinking has become mainstream, and coffee drinkware part of the overall look and feel of the home, distributers of general home decoration collections now also offer coffee sets. Such ‘lifestyle’ brands have broadened the landscape for coffee drinkware, moving it away from tableware specialists. This offers more opportunities for entering the (mid) market, but possibly lower volumes per order, as such lifestyle brands don’t stock dinnerware in large quantities.

The lower-end segments are only promising if you are able to offer large volumes at sharp prices, and as such have a fairly industrialised process. Mid- and mid-high segments are suitable if you can offer differentiation and are aiming at smaller segments, but with the possibility for small price premiums. Higher-end segments are suitable if you can offer exclusive designs based on exciting, (semi-)handmade techniques.

7. What are the end-market prices for coffee drinkware?

Table 2 gives an overview of the indicative prices in the low, middle and high market segments.

Table 2: Indicative consumer prices of coffee drinkware

  Low-end Mid-end High-end
Mugs (medium/large) Up to €5/up to €7 €5-€15 €15 onwards
Cup & saucer Up to €7 €7-€15 €15 onwards
Cappuccino cup, with saucer Up to €7 €7-€15 €15 onwards
Espresso cup, with saucer Up to €5 €5-€8 €8 onwards

Consumer prices depend on the value perception by the consumer in a particular segment. This is influenced by your marketing mix: product benefits, promotion (brand or not, communication of product benefits), points of sale (reseller positioning), and a matching price.

Shipping, import and handling add 25% to the price of your coffee drinkware. Wholesalers account for a further 100% mark-up. Finally, retailers may add another 100-150% to the price.


  • The value perception of your product in the chosen segment determines its price. The quality and price of your coffee drinkware must match what is expected in your chosen target segment. To determine your price, study consumer prices in your target segment and adjust your price accordingly.
  • Understand your segment. Offer a correct marketing mix to meet consumer expectations. Adapt your business model to your position on the market.

Please review our market information disclaimer.