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Through what channels can you bring your product onto the European market?

Takes about 7 minutes to read

The increased focus on health, food safety, traceability and food security in Europe is reshaping the market for oilseeds. Retailers are increasing their influence along the supply chain, while traders are becoming supply chain managers. The growing importance of quality and sustainability raises the standards for suppliers, but also provides room for more sustainable and trust-based relationships between suppliers and buyers. 

The European market for oilseeds can be segmented according to end-use industries. In general, there is a distinction between the use of oilseeds for: 

  • human consumption  

  • animal feed 

Human consumption

Oilseeds for human consumption can be segmented into: 

The crushing industry, which refers to the crushing of oilseeds into vegetable oils. The Federation representing the European Vegetable Oil and Proteinmeal Industry (FEDIOL) (2016) estimates that Europe crushed around 47 million tonnes of oilseeds in 2014, led by Germany and France. Rapeseeds account for the largest share of the European crushing industry, followed by soybeans and sunflower seeds.  

The edible seed industry, which can be divided into two subgroups: 

  • Food manufacturing: oilseeds are used as ingredients by various food manufacturing industries and are further segmented into food processing (e.g. spreads and sauces) and snacks. Within food manufacturing, taste profile and oil content of the oilseed are the most important elements. These factors will determine the suitability of your product for specific applications.   

  • Confectionery: oilseeds are used as a topping on breads, bakery products and confectionery to enrich their appearance and texture. Within this segment, the physical characteristics of your oilseed, such as uniformity in colour, shape (whole seeds) and a very high purity level, will become the most important requirements. Buyers will pay special attention to these factors, which will define the acceptability (or unacceptability) of your product. 

Within the crushing and edible seed industries, oilseeds can be further segmented into types of products: 

  • Commodity products: Characterised by high volumes, low value and standard quality.  

  • Speciality products: Associated with lower volumes, as well as high quality, high value and certification (niche market).  

 segmentation of oilseeds 

Animal feed 

The animal feed industry is also relevant for oilseeds. This segment covers oilseeds used in the nutrition of various animals, including pets / birds.  

Oilseeds used in pet nutrition are usually above oil-crushing grades, but below the quality for human consumption. This concerns parameters such as size, purity, oil content and general appearance. For example, while your seeds can somewhat differ in size when used as pet food, they should be consistent in size when used directly for human consumption.   

Common oilseeds used in pet food are: 

  • Niger seeds; 

  • sunflower seeds;  

  • groundnuts; 

  • safflower; 

  • sesame seed and  

  • linseeds.  

Tips:

  • See the FEDIOL website for more detailed statistics about the European oil crushing industry.Go to the  website and find the links to the different sector associations’ website. This is a good way to find and download the member lists of members by sector and/or by country.
  • See our study on oilseeds for pet food in Europe for more information on this segment, including legislative and other requirements, market channels, trends and price. 
  • Investigate the different end-use industries for your product and find new opportunities on the market. The following sources can give you a better idea of the use of oilseeds in different industries: The websites of companies Bora Agro Foods and Mamta Commodities (India) compare different grades of sesame seeds for different end uses, along with their specifications. The website of the National Sunflower Association (USA) provides a short explanation of the different sunflower seed grades and their end uses. On the website of DO-IT (Netherlands), you can browse through different product specification sheets for various (oil)seeds. Among other items, these sheets often highlight the ‘use’ of each seed, for example: Rapeseed (seeds used to press oil, for food and feed). 

2 . Through what channels can you bring oilseeds onto the market?   

Figure 2 Trade structure for oilseeds 

Exporters of oilseeds in developing countries mostly sell their products directly to importers. Sometimes agents or brokers are involved.  

Importers supply these products to their own clients in the vegetable oil industry (crushers) and in the edible seed industry. For example:  

  • food manufacturers;  

  • bakeries;  

  • packers;  

  • other industry players.  

Direct trade with end-use industries such as crushers or food manufacturers is an option for more advanced exporters. This is a growing market channel in the oilseed sector.  

Either in the form of an edible seed (for direct consumption or in products such as health bars) or as a vegetable oil, these products are distributed via retailers or via the food service industry. For example: 

  • restaurants;  

  • hospitals;  

  • schools;  

  • other catering services. 

A few European countries serve as important trade hubs for oilseeds. In these countries, you can often find industry clusters where traders, crushers and manufacturers are well-connected and work in synchronisation.  

For example: 

  • The Netherlands is the main entry point for groundnuts (40% of total European imports) and hemp seeds (30%). The Netherlands also has an advanced distribution and food processing industry which channels these products into the European market.  

  • Belgium is the main importer of linseeds for crushing and industrial uses in Europe (63% of total imports). The country relies on an advanced distribution network and oil-crushing industry for this product. 

  • In the animal feed industry, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are the most relevant players, indicating that countries and segments are intertwined.  

Accessing different market channels according to your situation

These different market channels are important depending on your situation as an exporter. You should be realistic and consider the following factors of each channel: 

Importers can be interesting if you: 

  • Are able to supply the appropriate volumes. Importers need significant volumes to supply the crushing or food manufacturing industry. However, in higher value seeds like sesame seeds, there are specialised importers who deal with smaller quantities. 

  • Don’t have the financial strength, marketing expertise or logistics capability to directly supply the crushing or food industry.  

  • Can introduce novel oilseeds. Importers may be interested in broadening their assortment with commercially interesting products, especially if they offer exotic, new and health-related opportunities. 

Brokers and agents are intermediaries in the buying and selling of orders. Some are independent whilst others are retained purchasing or sales agents. 

They can be interesting if you:  

  • Have limited experience on how to export to European countries, and therefore need guidance on your export activities. 

  • Need an intermediary with the knowledge to evaluate and select interesting buyers. 

  • Need a partner who is trusted within the sector and who can make up for your lack of a reputation within the sector. 

  • Are prepared to pay the commission. 

Supplying directly to the crushing industry is only interesting if you are able to: 

  • Supply very large volumes of oilseeds; 

  • Supply a product which is of consistent quality. 

Supplying directly to the food industry is only of interest if you are able to supply specialised oilseeds which are characterised by: 

  • frequent and consistent orders; 

  • workable volumes – container loads; 

  • high-quality oilseeds; 

  • complete technical documentation. 

Supplying directly to retailers is very unusual for developing country exporters. In order to supply directly to retailers, you need to supply consistent volumes within short lead times (to avoid large stocks),  meet very strict quality requirements and manage returns.  

Tips:

  • Study the different documents in our market research portfolio for oilseeds. Identify trade hubs, main end-user industries and market and marketing characteristics for your product.  
  • See our studies about products such as sesame oil, chia oil and groundnut oil for information about vegetable oils made of oilseeds.  

  • See the websites of Tesco (United Kingdom) and Holland and Barrett (Netherlands) for examples of how oilseeds are used in mixes and snacks. 
  • Examples of other food and beverage products in which oilseeds are used include smoothies containing chia seeds from Albert Heijn (Netherlands), hummus-tahini containing sesame seeds from Bio Verde (Germany) and cereal bars with groundnuts from Eat Natural (United Kingdom). 
  • For an example of food supplements and protein powders, see the website of REWE (Germany), a company that makes hemp protein powder.  

  • Use your knowledge and contact with the industry to decide which markets you want to be in.  

  • Study the different documents in our market research portfolio for oilseeds. Identify trade hubs, main end-user industries and market and marketing characteristics for your product.  

  • See our studies about products such as sesame oil, chia oil and groundnut oil for information about vegetable oils made of oilseeds.  

  • Consider that the more developed markets are more demanding and take a long time to develop. If you can reach these markets, they offer sustainability, reliability and ultimately better prices. The less demanding markets are often attractive in the short term, but can come with non-performance risks on contracts, less sustainable relationships and lower prices.  

  • Focus on market channels which are suitable to your situation as an exporter. Be realistic and consider the factors of each channel as described above. 

  • See our study on trends in the European oilseeds sector for more information on the increasing influence of retailers and the changing role of middlemen.  

  • Want to find buyers? See our 10 tips to find buyers on the European oilseeds market

Please review our market information disclaimer.