What is the demand for natural ingredients for health products on the European market?
Increasing consumer preference for natural alternative treatments makes Europe an interesting market for natural ingredients for health products. The strong European manufacturing industry is launching new natural health product innovations, and this development is being strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased interest in preventative healthcare is also driving demand for medicinal and aromatic plants, extracts, essential oils, seaweeds and algae, turmeric and ginger. Western European countries with large consumer markets and long histories of self-medication offer the most opportunities for exporters of natural ingredients for health products.
Contents of this page
1. Sector description
For this report, health products are defined as food supplements and herbal medicinal products. Natural ingredients with the highest potential in the European health products market include:
- Medicinal and aromatic plants
- Essential oils
- Botanical extracts
- Seaweeds and algae (spirulina and chlorella)
Table 1: Description of natural ingredients for health products with European market potential
|Product||Harmonised System code (used in international trade data)||Description|
|Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs)||HS code 121190||Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) are botanical raw materials that are mostly utilised for therapeutic and aromatic purposes in health products as well as cosmetic products. This product group excludes ginseng root, coca leaf, poppy straw and ephedra. Examples include rosemary and hibiscus.|
|Essential oils||HS code 330129||Essential oils are extracted from plants by steam or water distillation. HS code 330129 is defined as “other essential oils’’ and excludes citrus fruit and mint oils. Examples of essential oils traded under HS code 330129 are patchouli, frankincense and ylang-ylang.|
|Botanical extracts||HS code 130219||Botanical extracts are derived from processing MAPs, herbs or spices using a solvent. Generally, the original plant components are unchanged, though botanical extracts have higher concentrations of actives or nutrients. HS code 130219 excludes liquorice, hops and opium. Examples of botanical extracts include aloe vera extract and turmeric extract.|
|Seaweeds and other algae fit for human consumption||HS code 121221||Seaweed refers to a number of species of macroscopic, multicellular and marine algae which grow along rocky shorelines around the world. Seaweed varies in colour from red to black. Most edible seaweed is marine seaweed, which is part of many coastal cuisines.|
|Turmeric||HS code 091030||Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a species of the Curcuma genus in the Zingiberaceae family. The active substance of turmeric, curcumin, has multiple therapeutic properties including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cancer prevention.|
|Ginger||HS code 091012 (crushed ginger)||Ginger is the irregularly shaped root (rhizome) of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale). The plant is cultivated in the tropics. Ginger is used as both a spice in the food market and in food supplements and herbal medicinal products.|
2. What makes Europe an interesting market for natural ingredients for health products?
Europe is a significant producer, importer and consumer of health products. It is an important market for food supplements and herbal medicinal products. The market is forecast to grow as consumer interest in natural health products continues. Sustainable sourcing is increasingly important in this market.
Strong and growing European demand for health products
Natural ingredients for health products are mainly used in food supplements and herbal medicinal products, also called alternative medicine. Though data about the combined total size of these market segments are limited, market researchers predict strong and growing interest in alternative medicine and related demand in Europe. This translates into opportunities for exporters of ingredients used in such final products.
In 2020, the European market for food supplements was valued at US$15 billion. This market is projected to grow by 5.5% annually between 2022 and 2027. Europe is expected to become the third-largest market for food supplements, after Asia-Pacific and North America. According to Food Supplements Europe, 52% of European consumers take supplements to maintain their overall health.
Data about the market for herbal medicinal products are limited. Moreover, market researchers often have different definitions of this market, sometimes including herbal food supplements and cosmetic products. Globe Newswire predicts that the European herbal medicine market will reach US$35.8 billion by 2026 to become the second-largest market for herbal medicine globally, after Asia-Pacific.
Europe is the largest market for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), with an estimated value of US$33 billion (around €33 billion) in 2021. The European complementary and alternative medicine market is expected to grow at an annual rate of almost 21% from 2021 to 2028, reaching US$125 billion (around €125.6 billion) in 2028. Studies have shown that CAM treatments are most popular in Germany and Switzerland. This is partly because some CAM treatments are covered by health insurance there.
Increasing investments in innovation and research and development make Europe an interesting market for suppliers of natural ingredients for health products. The European herbal medicine and CAM industries are investing in new product development, extraction technologies and research into medicinal plants. Countries such as Germany (Schaper & Brümmer and Dronania) and Sweden (New Nordic and Apoteum) are home to innovative health product companies. In the coming years, applications of natural ingredients in health products are expected to increase.
Growing European imports of natural ingredients
Total European import volumes of many natural ingredients for health products increased over the past five years, as shown in figure 1. Of these ingredients, developing countries play a large role in the supply of:
- Essential oils (49% of 2021 European imports)
- Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) (53%)
- Ground ginger (67%)
- Turmeric (77%)
Although imports of seaweeds decreased by 14% annually in the past five years, CBI countries played a growing role in this product category. European seaweed imports from those countries grew at an average annual rate of 31%. Developing country suppliers played a growing role in supplies of extracts, from which European imports grew at an average annual rate of 21%.
For many of these ingredients, the Netherlands and Germany are key trade hubs from which ingredients are distributed to other European countries.
Consumer interest in natural health products expected to continue
Consumer interest in natural health products has been growing for years. There is also growing interest in preventative healthcare, in which natural health products and their ingredients play an important role. Demand for natural ingredients for health products received a boost from the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to continue growing.
During the recent pandemic, rising consumer health awareness drove demand for health products. At a global level, over 50% of consumers look for products with botanicals that they believe will improve their immune, digestive and mental health.
According to Nielsen MarketTrack, the sales value of the European plant-based sector increased 49% from 2018 to 2020. The plant-based food market reached €3.6 billion in 2020. According to a global study conducted by Mintel, the five most innovative countries for plant-based food are the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.
Business Insights predicts that demand for plant-based ingredients in food supplements will grow considerably. The global market for plant-based probiotics is predicted to grow by 6.7% annually from 2022 to 2032, with Europe as the largest market.
Sustainable sourcing is important in natural ingredients for health products
Wider adoption of healthier lifestyles is boosting sales of natural and clean label health products. Natural and organic health products are thought to be safer and high-quality alternatives. A survey on behalf of Food Supplements Europe shows that 56% of respondents pay attention to organic, natural or non-GMO labelling when purchasing supplements.
This coincides with growing demand for organic products. In 2020, European organic retail sales reached €52 billion, growing by nearly 15% compared to the year before. For some natural ingredients for health products, buyers say there is almost no market for non-organic certified ingredients. Examples include moringa and baobab.
Though difficult to calculate, the organic share of the total natural ingredients for health products market is still small. Organic certification is more common for food supplements than for herbal medicinal products, which cannot be labelled as organic. Opportunities for certification are higher if a food supplement is positioned more as a food-type product, rather than a medicinal-type product. Buyers also use organic certification as a sign of quality and traceability.
Demand for sustainably sourced ingredients is furthermore growing among both consumers and European buyers. Consumers are increasingly concerned about sustainability and ethical production and want to know the origins of products. European buyers are becoming more active in sustainable resource management to ensure future availability.
Many health products contain wild-harvested medicinal and aromatic plants that are at risk of overharvesting or threatened with extinction. Good practices and responsible sourcing, following standards such as FairWild, are essential to secure future supplies of natural ingredients for health products.
Another problem for European buyers of natural ingredients for health products is poor quality and safety controls in countries of origin. Adulteration and heavy metal contamination are major issues with medicinal plants and pose serious health risks to health product consumers. More and more buyers therefore want exporters to have certified quality and food safety management systems in place.
- Focus on the food supplements market as opposed to pharmaceuticals. In Europe, natural ingredients are used in much larger quantities in the supplements and CAM sectors than in generic medicine, which uses mainly synthetic ingredients.
- Inform buyers about how your ingredients can help consumers improve their health and wellbeing. If supplying active ingredients, focus on their nutritional or health qualities. Do not make medical claims. For information about EU regulations regarding claims, see the European Commission website.
- See the CBI study on buyer requirements for natural ingredients for health products, which provides an overview of regulations for exporting natural ingredients for health products to Europe, and for organic certification.
- See the CBI study on which trends offer opportunities or pose threats in the European natural ingredients for health products markets. This study provides useful information about the European health products market as well as recommendations to increase your chances of market access.
- See the CBI studies on moringa and baobab for more information about the European market potential for these products.
3. Which European markets offer most opportunities for natural ingredients for health products?
Western European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, the UK, Spain and the Netherlands are the most attractive national markets for suppliers of natural ingredients for health products. The Netherlands is an important entry point for these natural ingredients. Figure 2 below shows the leading import countries for each product group included in this study.
These countries have the biggest processing sectors and consumer markets. Large health products manufacturers that use natural ingredients are also located there. Some of the largest producers of supplements are located in Western European countries. Table 2 provides an overview of the characteristics of these main markets.
Table 2: Characteristics of leading European markets for natural ingredients for health products
|Production||Processing||Trade||Herbal medicinal products market||Food supplements market|
Large EU producer of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs)
|Largest extraction industry||Largest importer, largest share of imports from developing countries||Largest EU market, also interest in aromatherapy||Large market|
Large EU producer of MAPs
|Strong extraction industry|
Main importer of MAPs/extracts
|Mid-size market||Largest EU market, limited in herbals|
|France||Large EU producer of MAPs (for cosmetics)||Strong extraction industry|
Main importer of MAPs/extracts
|Large EU market, also interest in aromatherapy||Large market|
Small EU producer of MAPs
|Strong traders in MAPs/extracts||Mid-size market (relatively large interest in Ayurveda/TCM)||Large market, focus on multi-herb products|
|The Netherlands||Limited producer of MAPs||Limited extraction industry||Important trade hub for natural ingredients, large share of imports from developing countries||Mid-size market||Mid-size market|
|Spain||Large EU producer of MAPs||Strong extraction industry||Important and growing importer of MAPs for processing industry||Mid-size market||Small but fast-growing market|
Germany at the centre of herbal medicinal products in Europe
Germany has the largest consumer market in Europe, and German consumers are increasingly health-conscious. With growing consumer interest in plant-based products and a strong extraction industry, the German market offers opportunities for exporters of natural ingredients for health products.
Most sources valued the 2021 German food supplements market at between US$2.1 billion (€1.97 billion) and €2.7 billion, representing a growth of 2.1% compared to the year before. Germany has the second-largest food supplements market in Europe, after Italy. Pharmacies are an important distribution channel for food supplements in Germany, selling 85% of these supplements. These sales have furthermore increased in recent years, reaching growth rates of 5% annually in the 2017-2020 period.
A 2021 survey of 1,041 German consumers indicated that 70% had used food supplements in the previous 12 months. However, as this survey was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear to what extent consumption will continue at similar levels after the pandemic. Data were collected in three rounds between 2020 and 2021 and showed that 16% of respondents had consumed herbs or herbal products in the previous 12 months, and 12% had consumed herbal supplements such as algae oil. Minerals and vitamins are still very popular among German consumers, making up over half of the country’s food supplements market.
Germany has a long tradition of using herbal medicinal products, which make up a large part of the German pharmaceutical market, especially in the form of self-medication products. In 2021, German sales of over-the-counter herbal and homeopathic medicines amounted to almost €2 billion. This represents 29% of Germany’s total over-the-counter medicine market.
The cultivation of MAPs also has a long tradition in Germany, especially in the eastern states. Several German MAP producers are active in this market, focusing especially on ingredients for herbal medicinal products. They provide high quality and excellent documentation to gain a competitive advantage.
There is strong industrial demand in Germany for both raw materials and further-processed ingredients for use in health products for the domestic and international market. In terms of trade, Germany is one of the largest importers of several natural ingredients for health products; see figure 2. The country is also a key importer of raw materials such as medicinal and aromatic plants, which are used in its extensive processing industry.
France focuses on herbal health products
France is an attractive market for exporters of natural ingredients for health products. This is a large and growing consumer market that values plant-based food supplements. French consumers have traditionally relied on subscription medicines and food supplements for their health needs, making France one of the largest European markets for food supplements.
France has one of the largest markets in Europe for herbal medicinal products. This market is dominated by traditional Western herbal medicinal products, especially homeopathic medicines, which focus mainly on preventative health.
France is a large and growing consumer market where consumers rely on subscription medicine and food supplements to meet their health needs. In 2021, the French food supplements market was worth €2.31 billion, up 6.3% compared to the year before. This market is expected to grow in the coming years, especially through online distribution channels. According to Synadiet, the French association for food supplements, online sales grew by 16% from 2020 to 2021.
A 2021 Synadiet survey showed that 81% of the French population have a positive image of food supplements. Around 58% of French consumers had used supplements in the previous two years. The natural quality of supplements is the primary driver for consumers to buy them.
Traditional Western herbal medicinal products, especially homeopathic medicines, dominate the French herbal medicinal products market. The focus of these products is mainly on preventative health. France is one of the main markets for herbal medicinal products in Europe, surpassed only by Germany. However, up-to-date market information is limited.
France is a substantial producer of MAPs, mostly for the essential oils and cosmetics industries, and is the largest EU importer of essential oils and botanical extracts; see figure 2. In addition, the country has a large extraction sector, supplying the herbal medicinal product, food supplements and cosmetics sectors. French producers offer high-quality consumer products at competitive prices, supported by documentation and market communication.
Italy is the number one food supplements market in Europe
Italy is an attractive market for exporters in developing countries. It is the largest importer of essential oils in Europe, with a thriving natural health products manufacturing industry. In addition, Italian consumers have a long history of using locally produced botanicals for herbal medicinal products and traditional medicine.
Italy is the leading food supplements market in Europe. In the 2014-2020 period, this market grew by on average 8.2% annually, and was worth €3.8 billion in 2020. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, which also closed retail outlets in Italy, the food supplements market increased by 2.8%. Pharmacies are the main distribution channel, selling around 80% of food supplements.
The Italian Association of Health Products and Manufacturers reports that the COVID-19 pandemic drove Italian consumers to take better care of their health. According to Ipsos market research, Italian consumers use food supplements to feel fitter (87%) and because they feel the need to take care of themselves (84%). In 2021, over 58% of the Italian population claimed to be regular food supplement users.
In 2019, the market for food supplements containing an active component of plant origin was valued at €469 million. This accounted for 16% of the total Italian food supplements market, which declining slightly, by 2.2%.
The Italian herbal products market amounted to €2.5 billion in 2019, up 6.4% compared to two years earlier. This represents around 10% of the country’s total pharmaceutical market. However, this figure includes both herbal medicinal products and supplements. More and more Italian consumers are using products with natural active ingredients, especially for mild health issues. Popular ingredients include passionflower, lemon balm, propolis, fermented red rice yeast, arnica, aloe and calendula.
Italy is a large European producer of medicinal and aromatic plants. Compared to other major European countries, Italy relies less on non-European imports of natural ingredients for health products. However, the Italian market still offers opportunities for raw materials grown in tropical climates. In addition, Italy is the largest importer of seaweeds from developing countries, making it an interesting market for seaweeds; see figure 2.
The UK is a growing direct importer of natural ingredients from developing countries
The UK is a growing market with strong demand for plant-based products that support general health. Limited local production and therefore dependence on imports of natural ingredients create added opportunities in the UK.
According to Mintel, the UK food supplements market was worth £494 million (around €578.8 million) in 2020. Mintel estimated this market would grow to £515 million in 2021 (€603 million), and to £559 million (€655 million) by 2025, representing an annual average growth of 2%.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly boosted consumption of food supplements. The Health Food Manufacturers’ Association reports that 20 million people in the UK consumed supplements on a daily basis in 2020. This was an increase of 19% compared to the year before. The same survey found that 71% of UK consumers take supplements and a third started taking them during the pandemic. Key drivers for taking food supplements include general health and wellness (60.7% of UK consumers) and to optimise health (20.4%).
UK consumers are increasingly looking for natural and clean products, a trend that is also reflected in other sectors such as the food and beverage and cosmetics industries. Sales of herbal supplements increased by 68.6% at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Kantar, herbal supplements accounted for 19.6% of total supplements sales in 2020.
The UK has a strong herbal medicinal products sector, in which traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic medicine hold relatively stronger positions than in other European countries. This offers opportunities for ingredients commonly used in these traditional medicine systems.
Aromatherapy is also popular in the UK, where it is used for relaxation and preventative care rather than as a form of medication.
With limited local production of natural ingredients, the UK relies on imports; see figure 2. The UK is expected to remain an important market for natural ingredients for health products in the coming years. Although Brexit (the UK’s exit from the European Union) disrupted international supply chains, it seems to have had a positive effect on the trade in natural ingredients for health products from developing countries. While total UK imports of botanical extracts, MAPs and seaweeds decreased in 2017-2021, direct imports from developing countries increased in the same period. Similar developments can be seen for ginger and turmeric, which the UK is increasingly sourcing directly from developing countries.
The UK’s extraction industry is well developed but considerably smaller than in France, Italy and Germany. It is made up mostly of small extraction companies. The UK also has processors that import extracts from developing countries to complement their own product ranges. These imported extracts are sometimes reprocessed, but may also be sold directly to manufacturers.
Spain gaining importance, with growing supplements consumption and strong processing industry
Spain is a large processor of extracts and imports large quantities of MAPs; see figure 2. Although the food supplements and herbal medicinal product markets are relatively small compared to other countries, its continuous growth and an increasingly strong focus on preventative health treatments offer opportunities for exporters of natural ingredients for health products.
In 2020, the Spanish food supplements market was worth €400 million, according to market researcher DBK. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, this market was growing at an average annual rate of 6%. In 2020, the market expanded by 12%. However, the market is not expected to continue growing at these high rates.
Around 75% of Spanish consumers take nutritional supplements, which is close to consumption levels in European countries with longer traditions of food supplement use. According to the Spanish Academy of Nutrition, consumers take supplements to improve general health and immune functioning and boost energy. Around 29% of Spanish consumers take plant extracts such as fibre, pollen, royal jelly and propolis.
Spain is an important European producer and processor of MAPs, serving local and international demand. Though there are several large players, the sector is fragmented and includes many SMEs focused on processing domestic MAPs. Spain’s extraction and natural health products industry is growing and new companies are entering the food supplements market. This is creating a more diversified product portfolio and opportunities for developing country suppliers of natural ingredients for health products.
The Netherlands as a trade hub for natural ingredients in Europe
Though the Dutch market for herbal medicinal products and food supplements is smaller than other leading markets, the Netherlands is a key trade hub for various different natural ingredients; see figure 2. This creates opportunities for exporters form developing countries. The country furthermore depends on imports, as local production is limited.
The food supplements market in the Netherlands is growing and is expected to continue growing in the future. The Dutch food supplements association NPN reports that the market reached a value of €693 million in 2020, up 3.4% compared to 2019. Around two-thirds of Dutch consumers take supplements.
Dutch consumers mainly use supplements for preventative healthcare purposes. Around 42% of Dutch consumers take supplements to improve their overall health and 33% use supplements to support their immune system.
The Netherlands is an important entry point for various natural ingredients from developing countries. In 2021, the country’s imports of botanical extracts and ginger originated almost exclusively from developing countries (86-91%). The country also imports turmeric mainly from developing countries. Dutch imports of seaweeds have also been growing at a much higher rate than the EU average over the past five years.
- Find out which market offers the best opportunities for your company and products. You can get market information from sector associations, online distributor and retailer product portfolios and by visiting trade fairs.
- Do your own market research. Review the CBI market studies on the natural ingredients for health products sector and individual products or product groups. Also see online trade databases such as ITC Trademap or Access2Markets to download trade data for your product categories.
- See the CBI tips for finding buyers in the natural ingredients for health products sector, which provides practical guidance on finding European buyers in the European market.
- Target health product companies in Western Europe. These countries are the biggest consumers and producers of herbal medicinal products and food supplements. Consumers in these countries are also open to various types of complementary and alternative medicine.
4. Which products from developing countries have most potential on the European market?
European demand for natural ingredients for health products has been increasing for years and this trend has been strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Brands within this sector are innovating more, both in final products and in ingredients that support health. This growing consumer demand for natural health products and botanicals creates opportunities for natural ingredients for food supplements and herbal medicinal products.
Medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs), essential oils, botanical extracts, seaweeds and algae products, turmeric, and ginger are all popular natural ingredients in the European market and play an important or growing role for developing country suppliers. However, the food supplements sector is trend-sensitive, bringing the risk that the popularity of a natural ingredient may not last. Although quality requirements are stricter in the herbal medicinal sector, buyers in this sector are more likely to stay with the same supplier.
Medicinal and aromatic plants
The range of MAPs used for healthcare is very large. Their potential uses are even larger, yet in practice are limited by legislation. Worldwide, between 50,000 and 70,000 plants are used in traditional medicinal systems, and around 2,000 plants are used in significant volumes in the EU. MAPs are also used in other markets, such as cosmetic products.
In 2021, EU imports of MAPs amounted to 227 thousand tonnes, of which over 50% originated from developing countries. Developing countries are therefore an increasingly important source of medicinal and aromatic plants imported by Europe. Total European import volumes of medicinal and aromatic plants increased by an average rate of 3% annually from 2017 to 2021. In the same period, the EU import value of MAPs increased by an average annual rate of 5.5%.
Germany is the largest importer of medicinal and aromatic plants in Europe, followed by Spain and France. Together, these three countries accounted for over half of the MAP import volume in 2021. These countries as well as Italy have sizeable processing industries for not only the health products market but also other industries, such as cosmetics. German traders also play a role in distributing MAPs worldwide. The same applies to natural health ingredients and extraction companies in Germany, Italy and France, which supply healthcare companies across the globe.
The main developing country suppliers of MAPs to Europe include India, Egypt, Morocco and China. In 2021, these countries accounted for 48% of MAP imports from outside the EU. China and India are sophisticated producers of a wide range of botanicals. Morocco and Egypt supply various Mediterranean MAPs and herbs, such as German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
European demand is mainly for the most commonly used MAPs, specifically those used in Western herbal medicinal products. However, in cases where there is technical documentation and a documented history of use, there is some demand for less common species with interesting active properties. This demand is mostly from the food supplements market. For example, spices used in food may also have recognised health properties. For more on this, see the sections on turmeric and ginger, below.
Quality and microbial safety of MAPs is important to European buyers. Consumers also want organically-certified health products to support a healthy lifestyle, which is driving demand for organic MAPs. Research by the International Horticulture Congress for example shows that prices for organic MAPs have been rising, especially for those certified with a French or other European quality label or protected geographical indication.
European MAP suppliers, especially those in Western European countries, have a strong position in organic and well-documented MAPs, and many suppliers enjoy close relationships with buyers. Sustainable wild harvesting remains important in Europe, especially in Eastern European countries, which are significant competition for many developing country producers of temperate (and Mediterranean) species. Most tropical and subtropical plant species are not produced in Europe for climatic reasons. This offers opportunities for developing country exporters of those species.
The MAP sector is struggling with several issues. Overharvesting of MAPs is putting pressure on wild plant populations and thus endangering plant species. In addition, accurate identification of species and variants is often problematic. Largely unregulated and non-transparent supply chains are limiting growth of the MAP sector.
- To demonstrate sustainable wild harvesting, do a resource assessment. See the CITES International standard for sustainable wild collection of medicinal and aromatic plants for more information. Use your assessment outcomes to implement a resource management system. Document your processes to make sure your efforts can be translated to your price.
- See the European Union herbal monographs for more information on properties and applications of medicinal and aromatic plants.
- See the CBI study on Exporting Immune-Boosting Botanicals to the European market for more information about MAPs and their potential.
- For more information about European herb production, see the website of the European Herb Growers Association, where you can also download the Good Agricultural and Collection Practices aimed at improving quality and safety of MAPs.
Europe is the leading global market for essential oils. Fortune Business Insights valued the European market at US$3.9 billion in 2020. European demand for essential oils is also rising, with forecasts ranging from 5.3% to 9% annual growth in the years ahead. The food and beverage and cosmetics industries make up the largest share of essential oils demand, but growing consumer awareness and interest in aromatherapy is expected to drive demand for essential oils in the coming years as well. In Europe, essential oils for aromatherapy are often regulated as cosmetic products.
Although North America dominates the global aromatherapy market, the European market is predicted to grow faster in the coming years, at an annual rate of 9.6% from 2022 to 2029. Eucalyptus, tea tree, jasmine and ylang-ylang oils are popular aromatherapy oils.
Between 2017 and 2021, the EU import volume and value of essential oils not specified elsewhere grew by around 3% annually. This figure excludes mint and citrus oils, which tend to be used more in the food and beverage industries. In 2021, these imports reached over 20 thousand tonnes. Developing country suppliers play an important role in the supply of essential oils. In the past five years, almost 50% of essential oils imported into Europe originated from developing countries. Important suppliers include China, Indonesia, India and Madagascar. In 2021, these four countries accounted for over 61% (by volume) of all EU imports from outside the EU.
France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK are the main European importers of essential oils. Together, these countries accounted for close to 85% of the total volume of essential oil imports in 2021. France is the largest importer of essential oils, which are also used in its large cosmetics industry. All of these Western European countries have strong manufacturing industries, and growing demand for relaxation therapies plays an important role in their imports and re-exports of essential oils.
Plants used in essential oil production, such as rose and clary sage, are grown in Europe. Germany is the largest European producer of essential oils, followed by France. Other producers include Italy, Spain and Bulgaria. Suppliers in developing countries should focus on niche essential oils that cannot be grown in Europe, such as frankincense and ylang-ylang.
Essential oils have a wide range of properties, including stress-relieving, anti-bacterial, soothing, refreshing and invigorating. Increasing awareness about mental health issues and the growing preference for natural alternatives to pharmaceutical drugs are expected to increase demand for such aromatherapy products in Europe.
Countries including China, India and Egypt have long traditions of using essential oils for aromatherapy. They are used for respiratory, digestive, immunity and anti-oxidant purposes and to reduce stress. Aromatherapy is also used as a complementary treatment for psychiatric disorders and chronic diseases. However, there is limited scientific evidence to prove these therapeutical benefits.
Adulteration and safety concerns are common issues for the essential oils market. Essential oils are sometimes diluted with cheaper or synthetic products. Sustainable sourcing is another key issue in essential oils production. European buyers value transparent and traceable supply chains, especially for wild-harvested raw materials for essential oils.
- See the CBI studies on exporting essential oils to Europe for information about essential oils in the European health products market.
- See the CBI study on Buyer requirements for natural ingredients for cosmetic products for more information on European requirements for essential oils.
- Visit the website of the European Federation of Associations of Essential Oils for more information about European legislation for essential oils. This website also provides an overview of member associations and member companies in Europe.
- Look up companies that sell aromatherapy products in Europe to see their marketing stories and health claims. For example, the websites of Puressentiel (France) and Primavera Life (Germany).
- Make your supply chain transparent for European buyers. Use appropriate tracking and tracing or other audit and certification systems to show where your ingredients are from.
MAPs are increasingly being processed into extracts in source countries or regional processing centres before export to Europe. As more healthcare companies bypass European processors that add no value, direct demand for extracts is increasing.
The European plant extract market is forecast to grow by 7.1% annually in the 2021-2028 period, to reach US$5.991 million by 2028. However, the health products industry is not the only one using these products. Sizeable levels of extracts are used in the food and beverage and cosmetic industries as well.
In 2021, European imports of botanical extracts amounted to over 77 thousand tonnes. This represents an annual increase of 8% since 2017.
Throughout the past five years, supplies from developing countries have grown at a much higher rate than the EU average. From 2017 to 2021, imports from developing countries increased by 21% annually. In 2021, supplies to Europe were more than double what they were in 2017. Although a large share of these supplies originated from large and sophisticated extract producers such as China and India, smaller developing country suppliers are also entering the market. Examples of smaller suppliers with strong growth include:
- Togo (+338% average annual growth in EU supplies in 2017-2021)
- Nigeria (+256%)
- Ghana (+240%)
- Cameroon (+80%)
France, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany are the leading European importers of extracts. Together, these countries accounted for 65% of total extract imports in 2021. The Netherlands is the largest importer of extracts from developing countries, with 86% of its 2021 imports originating from developing countries.
Europe has a strong extraction industry concentrated in countries with strong herbal medicinal traditions such as Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Poland. The German MAP extraction industry, in particular, is very large and processes and trades the largest share of MAPs in the EU.
Traditionally, new entrants pose a lower threat to extract producers than to producers of raw plant materials, due to the high market entry requirements for processed ingredients. The number of suppliers able to provide extracts of a suitable quality is still much lower than the number of raw material producers.
The European natural health products industry is very competitive. This, combined with European demand for high-quality products and natural ingredients, is encouraging innovation and research and development. Recent studies show the suitability of plant extracts for several potential medical treatments. For example, velvet bean extracts may be used to treat Parkinson’s disease and hawthorn extracts could treat cardiovascular diseases.
Manufacturers are capitalising on growing consumer awareness of the importance of preventive healthcare by marketing new products. Innovative supplements manufacturers are also looking for new extracts. New ingredients can help them create a distinct product profile in the market. Ingredient innovation can come from both new ingredients and growth in the use of traditional ingredients.
- Build research partnerships to research the efficacy of your extracts. Use scientific research and data to support any claims you make, as this will give you credibility.
- Review examples of technical documentation for the extracts you use. For example, see this Safety Data Sheet for ginseng extract and this Certificate of Analysis for echinacea herb extract.
- Make sure you know the segment in which your extracts will be used, as there are big differences in legislation per segment.
- See the CBI studies on Exporting aloe vera to Europe, which provide more information about entering the European market and European market potential.
Seaweeds and algae products
The popularity of edible algae is increasing in Europe. The versatility, high vitamin and mineral content and antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties as well as high protein content of edible seaweeds make them attractive ingredients for health products.
Seaweeds are high in nutrients (especially iodine), though composition differs per species. Seaweeds contain several vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fibre. Moreover, seaweeds have high levels of antioxidants. Based on these properties, European health products mainly use seaweeds for weight management, general health and wellbeing, exercise recovery, and also for immune support, detoxing and digestive health. Seaweeds for health are commonly sold as capsules/tablets containing seaweed powder or extracts or pure seaweed powder.
The global algae products market was estimated at US$10 billion in 2019 and was predicted to grow by more than 7% annually from 2021 to 2026. Although the European seaweeds for health market is small compared to the Asian markets, it is expected to grow. For example, the European algae protein market is anticipated to grow by 6.14% annually between 2020 and 2025, and predicted to reach US$1.6 billion in 2031. Spirulina and chlorella are among the most popular microalgae used in food supplements.
Demand for spirulina is being driven by rising consumer awareness of its health benefits and growing demand for healthier products. In 2019, the global spirulina market was estimated at US$393 million. Annual growth of 10.5% is predicted from 2020 to 2027, when it will reach almost US$898 million. Approximately 70% of the world’s spirulina is produced in China, India and Taiwan. Other producers include the United States, Thailand, Pakistan, South Africa and Myanmar.
Chlorella is the second-most important microalgae. Market growth is being driven by growing consumer interest in protein-rich diets and the development of innovative chlorella products. The global chlorella market is predicted to reach US$412 million by 2028, growing at an annual rate of 6.3% from 2021 to 2028. Europe is estimated to account for the largest market share of this product in 2021.
A major constraint on the supply of chlorella is the demanding production process, which requires carbonated water and artificial light. This makes it relatively expensive to produce, leading to higher prices. More research is therefore needed to improve production methods. Low consumer awareness of chlorella’s health benefits is also limiting market growth.
Figure 5 shows that the import volume of seaweeds and other algae fit for human consumption to Europe decreased between 2017 and 2021. This was mainly due to a significant drop in UK seaweed imports from Spain. EU imports from CBI countries increased significantly over the past five years, averaging an annual rate of 31% (see table below). These countries are therefore playing an increasingly important role in supplying seaweeds to Europe.
Table 3: Import volumes of seaweeds and other algae fit for human consumption to the EU and the UK, in tonnes, 2017-2021
|CBI country supplies to EU (in tonnes)||9.7||7.3||4.5||51.2||35.7|
Source: Eurostat (2022)
Italy, Germany and the Netherlands are the largest importers of seaweed from developing countries. Imports to all three countries increased 13-14% over the past five years.
The sustainability of both cultivated and wild-harvested ingredients is a major concern for European consumers and companies. Buyers are becoming more active in the sustainable management of natural resources they use. Consumers are demanding more sustainable products and want to know where their products are sourced from, and are increasingly aware of the social and environmental impact of their purchasing behaviour on production countries.
Seaweeds are very well positioned to respond to this sustainability trend, as they require no land, fertilisers or fresh water. Moreover, several seaweed species grow fast, seaweeds are better at absorbing CO2 than trees and they improve water quality by extracting nutrients such as nitrogen. Seaweed production can also provide an alternative livelihood in coastal communities. With most fisheries depleted, seaweed cultivation can create new employment opportunities.
The sustainability of seaweed production is expected to become increasingly important in the future. As European consumers look for more environmentally-friendly products, seaweed’s low environmental footprint will make it more attractive to European buyers and consumers.
Figure 7: Spirulina tablets and powder
Source: Canva (2022)
- Target your seaweeds to Western European importers of seaweeds from developing countries, especially leading importers such as Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
- For more information on research into the health benefits of seaweeds, consult scientific resources such as Elsevier Science Direct (paid access), Google Scholar or Examine.com.
- If your seaweed is not certified, promote the sustainable and ethical aspects of your production process. Buyers may ask you to support your claims with certification or documentation of your sourcing and sustainability practices. For example, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council has a sustainable seaweed standard.
- See the CBI studies on Exporting seaweeds to Europe, which provide more information about entering the European market and market potential.
Turmeric is an increasingly popular botanical for food supplements and is authorised for use in herbal medicinal products. Growing consumer awareness about turmeric and demand for immunity-supporting food supplements offer opportunities for developing country exporters of turmeric.
The roots of turmeric contain several active components. The most researched component is curcumin. Turmeric root powder and extracts are marketed for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In European health products, turmeric is mainly used for immune support, digestive health and joint health. Other applications include liver support, cognitive function, mental wellbeing and heart health. In herbal medicine, turmeric powder and extracts are authorised for relief of mild digestive problems.
The European curcumin market is expected to show the strongest growth worldwide, with predicted annual growth of 13% from 2021 to 2027, to reach US$41 million (€38.3 million) by 2027.
Figure 8 shows that European turmeric import volumes increased at an average annual rate of 10% between 2017 and 2021. Developing countries are major suppliers of turmeric. Globally, India is the largest turmeric supplier. Total European turmeric imports amounted to 25 thousand tonnes in 2021, valued at over €65 million. The UK is the largest turmeric market in Europe, followed by the Netherlands, which is an important trade hub for turmeric.
The share of organic turmeric is still small in the European market, but demand is growing. This is largely driven by consumer demand for organic health products, but organic certification can also help you stand out from the competition by showing the traceabilty of your turmeric. Peru is the main supplier of organic turmeric to Europe. The Netherlands, Spain, Germany, the UK, France and Italy are important importers of organic turmeric. South-east Asian countries with tropical climates could become future competitors in this market, depending on quality, price, food safety and seasonal availability.
With its potential for supporting immunity, turmeric has also benefited from growing consumer demand for immune-boosting health products. In 2021, Food Trending named turmeric one of the most sought-after ingredients. European brands are responding to this consumer demand by introducing immune-supporting health products such as wellness shots that support a healthy digestive and immune system.
Ingredient companies and final product manufacturers are also capitalising on turmeric’s popularity and developing turmeric-derived ingredients with higher levels of effectiveness. For example, ingredient suppliers are producing turmeric with higher bioavailability than standard turmeric extracts.
Figure 9: Turmeric
- Find out the concentration of curcumin in your turmeric, as this is linked to turmeric’s health benefits. European buyers want turmeric with higher curcumin levels. Work with a local university to test your product.
- Consider targeting smaller, fast-growing turmeric importers, such as in Eastern Europe. Though they currently import in lower quantities, it may be sufficient if you are a small exporter.
- For more statistics on Curcuma longa, see online sources such as ITC Trademap or the Indian Spices Board. Although the Indian Spices Board focuses on spice production, it also lists useful sources for turmeric exporters, such as turmeric exports from India and turmeric cultivation practices. Be aware that trade data do not distinguish between use for food and use for health products.
- If you target the pharmaceutical industry, be sure you can meet high regulatory and buyer requirements for herbal medicinal products. See the CBI study on Entering the European market for turmeric for more information about the requirements.
Europe is an interesting market for exporters of dried ginger. Demand has grown significantly over the past four years and this trend is expected to continue. Though ginger is mainly used in the food industry as a spice and food ingredient, it has good potential for use in health products as well. Globally, the pharmaceutical market is the second-largest segment for ginger products.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is used in various supplements, for example in the form of tablets or herbal teas. Ground ginger and ginger root extract are used most in health products. Trade data on ginger root extracts are included in the figures on the botanical extracts trade.
Herbal monographs are available for dried, ground ginger, which permit claims for the use of ginger for digestive health and to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness. A relatively new application is for its antioxidant, antimicrobial and antibiotic properties in food supplements that support the immune system. In traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, ginger has traditionally been used to help treat common cold and flu-like symptoms.
Ginger is also increasingly being used in aromatherapy, for which there is growing demand. Ginger oil is used for its stimulating and warming effects, to enhance concentration and to relieve stress, anxiety and fatigue. Ginger oil is imported under the product group of essential oils not specified elsewhere; see the section on Essential oils above.
Developing countries play an important role in the supply of ginger and supplied 67% of crushed or ground ginger in 2021. EU imports of ground ginger grew at an annual rate of 9% from 2017 to 2021. Although most ginger imported into Europe originates from China, Peru or Brazil, imports from CBI countries are growing at a much faster rate, averaging around 11% a year over the past five years.
The most interesting markets for ginger are the top two in Europe: Germany and the Netherlands. These countries import very large volumes of ginger from developing countries, and so are good focus markets. The UK and Spain may also be interesting markets as they import large shares of ground ginger directly from developing countries.
Health benefits associated with ginger can be found described in, among other places, blogs, vlogs and health magazines. They often state that ginger consumption helps to relieve digestive problems, flu and stress. Due to its growing popularity, ginger is increasingly being used as a food supplement and in herbal teas.
As an ingredient for digestive health and immune support, ginger can potentially benefit from growing consumer demand for health products that help to maintain good immune and digestive functioning. Both market segments were performing strongly before COVID-19 and were further strengthened by the pandemic. In Europe, the digestive health products market is predicted to grow by 7.3% annually between 2022 and 2028. The European market for immune health supplements was estimated at US$11.8 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow by 6.2% annually between 2021 and 2026.
In addition, digestive and immune health are increasingly being tied together. In 2021, 68% of global consumers said they see a link between their digestive functioning and immune health. Brands are capitalising on this by offering products that target multiple health issues. This translates into opportunities for ginger, which is used for both applications.
- Find out if your ginger can meet the requirements for the food supplements or even herbal medicinal market. Ginger is used in a wide variety of products, which all have different legal and buyer requirements.
- Target leading Western European countries that import ginger from developing countries. The largest markets are the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany, while Italy and Spain may also be interesting.
- See the CBI study on Exporting dried ginger to Europe for more information on its potential as a spice.
This study was carried out on behalf of CBI by ProFound – Advisers In Development.
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