Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

10 tips to find buyers on the European oilseeds market

Takes about 15 minutes to read

Finding buyers in the European market can sometimes be difficult task for oilseeds exporters. This is not because there are few buyers. There are many buyers in many different product uses, segments, niches and channels. The key is not to underestimate the task. Do thorough market research. Don’t seek a buyer for just one container or this week’s production or the stock in the warehouse. Instead look for long term sustainable relationships. The tips below can help you when trying to find buyers.


1 . Know what you are looking for 

Look carefully at your own business before you start looking for buyers. Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Who do you want to be?

In oilseeds, buyers have had many bad experiences in the past, so consider what makes you stand out as a reliable trade partner. Have a marketing story that is true, engaging and builds on your profile as a reliable partner.

Find out how your products are used in the European market. How do market trends such as healthy eating, traceability, lighter vegetable oils, convenience foods and ethnic foods, apply to your business? How do buyers requirements for food safety, quality management and process certification apply to your business? Do they create an opportunity? In which segment is that opportunity?

Once you have the answer to these questions, you can start looking for buyers. Many online resources can assist you. Pay particular attention to the channels and segments to target and make sure that you can meet buyers’ product demands in the target segment.

If you offer lower-quality products, the oil crushing, petfeed or animal feed market may be your target segment.

For higher-quality products the bakery or confectionary segments could make more sense. The key to good research is to set out with a picture of what you are looking for in this complex value chain.

Tips:

2 . Create a buyer profile

Good market research starts with getting a picture of the overall oilseeds market structure, including the market segments. Then investigate the buyer requirements in each segment, as buyer requirements in oilseeds differ from one segment to another.

 The next step is to assess which of the buyers’ requirements you can meet at present and which can be met by changes to your business. Be realistic and make sure that the changes you target are achievable.

Investigate what you need from the buyer in terms of orders (volume and timing), payment terms, market information and other support. Are you just looking for a buyer or are you looking for a long term partner?

Write down the features of the ideal buyer for your enterprise and use this as a template for your research. How many of the identified features can you match with real potential buyers? The closer the fit the more likely you are to be successful in finding and keeping the buyer.

Finding buyers to profile online is not difficult. There are many sources such as buyers own websites, trade association websites, trade fair websites with lists of exhibitors and statistical services which offer information on specific export/import trade which is listed by the name of the buyer are referenced by the product (see the tips blow).

The oilseeds sector has buyers of all sizes ranging from huge multi-nationals all the way down to local importer distributors. Large companies may be easier to find but they often need only large volume shipments especially in the oil crushing segment. Small and medium importers may be more flexible especially in the bakery, snack food and bird food segments.

Tips:

  • Write down the features of an ideal buyer for your enterprise. Use this as a template for your research.
  • Look at company websites or the websites of trade associations (see below).
  • Find exhibitor lists on trade fair websites (see below). These often provide lists of companies categorised by market segment and/or product type.
  • Find buyers that match your buyer profile.
  • Read our study about buyer requirements on the European oilseeds market.

3 . Contact sector associations and trade associations

The oilseeds sector does not have a single trade or sector association which can answer all needs when conducting market research. This is due to the wide and varied nature of the sector.

However, there are a number of options to help with the task. These are mainly linked to researching via the oil crushing sector or the cereals sector trade associations but also look at associations in the edible nuts sector as bakery and snack ingredients are often handled by the same companies.

The main roles of sector associations in European oilseeds are:

  • Representation of the trade/sector and advocacy at Government and/or European Union level.
  • Form contracts and terms to facilitate trade.
  • Arbitration on contract and quality disputes.
  • Training and information.

European trade associations in oilseeds don’t publish lists of members. The only way to access a list of members is to join the association. This may or may not be open to exporters from non-European countries. However, the websites of the trade associations do offer relevant information on how business in the sector is conducted, current issues for members, contract terms and dispute resolution.

There are two kinds of organisations. National organisations are country specific and international organisations which are federations of the national organisations. Examples are:

Examples of important national trade organisations are:

These are some examples. There are many trade associations each representing the different segments of the sector e.g. bakery, pharmaceuticals, oil crushing, ethnic foods, snack foods and more.

It is also important to remember that many of the associations represent the grain and animal feed trade as well as oils and oilseeds. For these reasons it is important to focus your search before visiting the websites (see the first two tips above).

4 . Visit trade fairs

Trade fairs can be an important part of your strategy for finding buyers in Europe.

In Europe there are many fairs which cover specific countries or particular segments of the market. The best starting point for an oilseeds exporter is one of the large fairs such as ANUGA or SIAL (held in alternate years). These trade fairs will give you an overview of all market segments. Such an overview is especially useful if you’ve already identified which market and segment interests you and are now starting your market entry project.

For exporters visiting a trade fair the problem is often that there are only a few buying professionals present. Everyone is there to sell, so most often you’ll meet sales representatives. You can avoid this by either making appointments in advance or looking for a senior executive of the exhibitor who will have an interest in both sales and sourcing. This can be complex for oilseeds suppliers, as in general you offer an ingredient which is part of a list of ingredients that go to make up a product.

It is rare that sales of oilseeds will be made by new exporters at trade fairs. It is far more likely that you will learn about the market structure of oilseeds, who are the potential key clients and what are the main market trends.

Don’t forget that the large trade fair websites can serve as a directory to the industry. ANUGA for example lists all exhibitors, categorised by sector and country on their website.

Here are some important trade fairs covering multiple market sectors and segments:

  • SIAL - A large diverse food fair in Paris every second year. It is a great way of developing an understanding of the market and recognising the trends.
  • Anuga – The largest fair in the world takes place every second year in Cologne. It offers the same benefits as SIAL but is larger.
  • FiEurope – One of a series of Food Ingredient/Natural Ingredient Fairs more technical than the mainstream fairs.
  • IFE - The UK’s premier food ingredients fair has an international focus and offers a good overview especially from the food ingredients perspective.

More specialised fairs:

  • ISM - a smaller fair concentrating on sweets and snacks only relevant if that is your target segment.
  • SNACKEX - This is a specialised fair organised by the European Snack Association for that segment. Interesting if you have a specific product targeted at snacks.
  • iba - A bakery fair in Munich. This may be interesting if you have products like sunflower of high quality, linseed, pumpkin seed but make sure you can approach a high quality usage before committing to this fair.
  • oils+fats - crushing segment staged in Munich. This fair is really only relevant if you have large volumes of crushing seeds.
  • Ethnic Foods Europe - Based in Amsterdam this is a highly specialised fair probably only relevant if you have an oilseed product which is value added such as tahini.
  • Speciality & Fine Food Fair - UK food fair focussed on a range of packed foods. It can be interesting for experience of UK market.
  • POLAGRA FOOD – Polish fair relevant if Poland is a target market but many major companies can also be found at the large fairs.
  • Biofach – Specialist fair for the organic sector in Nuremburg Germany. Only relevant if you are organic certified.

If you want to be successful at trade fairs:

  • Identify your goals. This is unlikely to be a selling mission. It is more likely a market research task so make sure to identify your goals accordingly.
  • Look to answer questions such as: Which market segment should we target? Which buyers? What are the trends?
  • Prepare well with market research especially which sector and use for oilseeds.
  • Plan and identify which stands you want to visit. Use your time well.
  • Rehearse a short description of your business with a clear explanation of your oilseed product and how it can benefit the buyer. Think about how you will approach an exhibitor for example more than two people approaching a stand at a time is not a good idea as it can make you look less business like and detract from communication. Sometimes this is called “the elevator pitch”. There are many examples online.
  • Make appointments with relevant people in advance or on the day for more effective use of your time
  • Make sure you have your business cards, brochures and ideally product sheets.
  • Think about what you are doing – if you approach a very busy stand, you will not get much attention. It may be better to try in the early morning when the stands are quieter. Identify the role of the person you are speaking to by asking for a business card early in the discussion.
  • Follow up with prospects after the trade show.

5 . Develop a system to find buyers

Success in finding buyers demands that you have a good system for market research, customer identification and customer engagement. This is a demanding task in the oilseeds sector due to its diversity.

If you are selling oilseeds like rapeseed for crushing it can be straightforward – get a list of millers, figure out their requirements and then develop a good customer relationship management method.

However, if you are supplying oilseeds that are for multi-use and/or multi-segments, like sesame, linseed, sunflower seed or Niger seed, then you’ll need a good system to make sure that you find the right client in the right segment in the right market.

A system for finding oilseeds buyers might look like this:

  • Carry out market research online by using our market information, and for example ITC Trade Map. Also use the websites of trade associations (see above), buyers and competitors.
  • Select your channel, segment and markets based on the products you want to sell and your ability to meet buyers’ requirements in those markets.
  • Identify your ideal buyer’s characteristics.
  • Research and pick out a list of buyers that you think match your needs.
  • Profile the highest potential customers to see how they match your business and your ideal buyer profile.
  • Select the best fit and target those buyers with professional, well prepared and clear communication.
  • Remember that buyers in Europe are open to sustainable relationships, not one-off sales.

6 . Contact trade promotion agencies

Trade promotion agencies provide information, support and market intelligence to help you find your way in international export. Lots of European countries provide these services, including:

Organisations such as embassies and trade promotion groups such as The Netherlands-African Business Council (NABC) organise trade missions. These are good opportunities for meeting interested buyers; buyers who are already interested in your country and product. Contact these organisations for information about participating.

There are also export promotion agencies involved in oilseeds. These can give good, specific information on how to approach the oilseeds market and on key buyer requirements:

7 . Keep an eye on trade press

There are trade publications that provide market information on the oilseeds sector. Most of these are subscription based but some will allow you to download specific issues or read the headline articles for free. They include:

8 . Use reliable online sources

There are other services available online which will give you information and trade intelligence, including importers shipments and even copy bills of lading. Most of these services offer a free trial period before subscription. For example:

Forwarders and inspection agencies can also be excellent sources of information. They know which documents and tests are necessary. They may have experience of exporting to European countries and can advise on the best approaches. Go and see your export forwarder or customs broker. Discuss your needs and ask what other oilseed exporters do.

9 . Don’t neglect niche markets

There are increasing opportunities for oilseeds in niche markets. Oilseeds like sesame, linseed and sunflower have small but growing markets in the organic, ethical, fair trade and sustainable niche markets. This is a general market trend, but is especially relevant to high value oilseeds. High value oilseeds are seen as healthy foods, produced by small holders, offering the potential for high social impact.

You must research whether or not this is a relevant opportunity for your products and if the premiums paid make it worthwhile. Often smaller companies can access the market by developing niche market outlets. Buyers may be more likely to assist with the development of certification as the products are in short supply. 

These specialised markets may or may not be suitable for you but are well worth checking out before making decisions on market entry.

Tips:

10 . Make sure you are visible and can be found online

The oilseed sector is a sector with low visibility and poor transparency. It is also developing quickly, with changes in market and demand trends.

Unfortunately, a number of developing countries have a poor reputation with European buyers, because the companies they have worked with have proven to be unreliable. You need to prove to a potential buyer that working with you will be better than previous experiences.

Do not forget that while you are looking for buyers; some buyers are trying to find new suppliers. Therefore, make sure you are visible.

When buyers are approached by a new supplier, they first validate the company by checking them online. Your online presence will not make a sale for you in oilseeds but it can get you past the first step with a potential buyer.

Tips:

  • Make it easy for buyers to find you online. Have a website. Make sure that it tells your story. Bear in mind that the story is often as important as the product or the certification.
  • Include information about your ability to meet buyers’ requirements: certification etc.
  • Use social media. LinkedIn, Facebook and other platforms offer ways to establish a personal and corporate presence online and ways link to buyers. Make a profile online today, even if you do not have a website yet.