Exporting groundnuts (peanuts) to Europe
In Europe, about 550,000 tonnes of groundnuts are consumed each year. Most groundnuts find their way into Europe through the Netherlands. Imports continue to grow. Specific market opportunities can be found in the growing markets of Central Europe and Eastern Europe. Food safety certification supported with frequent laboratory tests and joined with corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards can additionally provide a great advantage to European markets suppliers.
Contents of this page
- Product Description
- Which European markets offer opportunities for exporters of groundnuts?
- Which trends offer opportunities on the European market for groundnuts?
- With which requirements should groundnuts comply to be allowed on the European market?
- What competition will I be facing on the European groundnuts market?
- Which channels can you use to put groundnuts on the European market?
- What are the end-market prices for groundnuts on the European market?
Groundnuts, also known as peanuts, either in the pod or in the form of kernels, are obtained from varieties of the species Arachis hypogaea L. The name groundnut is derived from the fact that peanut pods develop under the ground, which is uncommon as most nuts grow on trees.
Groundnuts are classified as both a grain legume and an oil crop due to their high oil content. Although the botanical definition of groundnuts is legumes, groundnuts are usually referred to nuts in trade and culinary classification.
Groundnuts are cultivated in the semi-arid tropical and sub-tropical regions of nearly 100 countries in six continents between 40° latitude north and south of the equator.
This study covers general information regarding the market of groundnuts in Europe, which is of interest to producers in developing countries. Beside raw and roasted groundnuts, this study also covers processed groundnuts such as peanut butter. Please see the Table 1 with the products and their product codes.
Table 1: Products in the product group of groundnuts
Combined Nomenclature Number
120210 (until 2012 HS revision)
120241 (from 2012)
Groundnuts in shell
120220 (until 2012 HS revision)
120242 (from 2012)
120230 (from 2012)
Groundnuts for sowing
Prepared or preserved groundnuts in packing larger than 1 kg net
Roasted groundnuts in packing smaller than 1 kg net
Other prepared or preserved groundnuts in packing smaller than 1 kg net
The basic quality requirements for groundnuts are the following.
- Free of flavours, odours, living insects and mites
- Maximum moisture content of 10% for groundnuts in pod and 9% for groundnut kernels. In practice the maximum moisture required is usually even lower (for example less than 6.5%)
- Maximum 2% of mouldy, rancid or decayed kernels
- Maximum 30% of broken/split kernels
- Less than 2% kernels with skin (regarding shelled and skinned peanuts)
- Maximum of 4% of total defects
- Non GMO products
The most frequent specific quality requirements are the following.
- Grading – Grading categories for groundnuts are not officially defined in the European Union. The most frequent used grading classification is from the United States. In this standard, grades are defined by the number of groundnuts counted in one ounce (for example 38/42 or 40/50). The size is combined with the name of the groundnut type or variety (e.g. super jumbo Virginia in shell 9/11). However, grading classification from other producing countries may be used as well.
- Type (variety) – The most common varieties are: Runner (most commonly grown in the United States and Argentina), Spanish (most grown in South Africa), Hsuji (Spanish type round shape variety grown in China) and Virginia (large kernel type typically found in gourmet snacks).
- Form – The most common forms are: in shell, red skin, blanched, splits and blanched splits.
- For quality requirements for groundnuts refer to Codex Alimentarius Standards.
The type of peanuts and the name of the product must be shown on the label, and either ‘groundnuts/peanuts’ or ‘groundnuts/peanuts in-pod’. It is common for export packaging labelling to also includes the crop year.
Information about non-retail packaging has to be given either on the container or in accompanying documents. Packaging labelling must list the following information:
- name of the product
- lot identification
- name and address of the manufacturer, packer, distributor or importer
- storage instructios.
However, lot identification, and the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, distributor or importer, may be replaced by an identification mark.
In the case of retail packaging, product labelling must be in compliance with the European Union Regulation on food Information to consumers. This regulation defines nutrition labelling, origin labelling, allergen labelling and legibility (minimum font size for mandatory information) more clearly.
This regulation came into effect on 13 December 2014 but the obligation to provide nutrition information from 13 December 2016. Please not that according to this regulation, peanuts are listed as products causing allergies or intolerances and therefore allergen advice must be clearly visible on the retail packaging (see Picture 6).
There is no general rule for the export size of the packaging of groundnuts, but the most common size of export packaging is 12.5–25 kg for peanuts kernels and 25–40 kg for peanuts in shell.
The type of packaging can also be very different. However, the most frequent types of export is in vacuum bags in cartons for groundnuts, polypropylene woven bags for peanut kernels and gunny (jute) bags for peanuts in shell. Sometimes cans are also used as a packaging without labelling or can be branded according to the buyers’ request. Retail packaging is very different but it is not very often used in imports from the main export origins.
- For more information about labelling and food contact materials, see our study about buyer requirements for processed fruit and vegetables.
The Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom offer opportunities for developing country exporters of groundnuts. Furthermore, large markets opportunities can be found in the growing markets of Central and eastern Europe.
Lower imports from China
- In the long term, the European market for groundnuts is expected to steadily increase. This increase is likely to be driven by changes in consumption patterns of European consumers including raising demand for vegetable sources of protein instead of meat. Regular fluctuations in imports will continue to be influenced by the harvested crops rather than changes in demand.
- Increasing domestic consumption in China provides a big opportunity for suppliers from other countries. China has also been facing quality problems, for example aflatoxin contamination. European buyers are therefore actively looking for alternative suppliers.
- European imports of groundnuts into Europe have been relatively stable in the last few years, not showing any significant growth. The average annual import growth rate was −1% in value in the last five years (2012–2016) but increased by 3% in quantities. This means that average import prices of groundnuts were decreasing.
- Imports from developing countries is showing a slight decrease of the annual rate of −3%. On the other hand, developed countries are gaining market share in Europe at an annual rate of 13%.
- In 2016, European import of groundnuts reached €1.54 billion and 1.06 million tonnes.
Central and eastern European countries increasing imports of groundnuts
- The European market for groundnuts is concentrated and the three largest importers (the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom) accounted for almost 60% of total imports. Most groundnuts find their way into the European Union through the Netherlands. Other important ports for peanuts are Hamburg in Germany and Felixstowe and Tilbury in the United Kingdom.
- Central European, Eastern European and Baltic countries are expected to increase imports of groundnuts more intensively comparing to western Europe. Within Europe, the countries with the highest import growth in quantity of groundnuts in the last five years were Belgium (19%), Estonia (15%), the Czech Republic (14%), Austria (14%) and Luxembourg (12%).
- All types of shelled, unprocessed groundnuts had the highest value of imports in 2016 with a 59% share, followed by roasted groundnuts.
- Imports of peanut butter are increasing, especially in Germany, which increased the import by 1400 tonnes in the last six years, and in Poland, which increased imports by 1600 tonnes in the last five years.
Argentina still the leading supplier but high increase of imports from Egypt
- The leading developing country supplier of groundnuts to Europe is Argentina, followed by China and Brazil. However, Egypt has almost doubled exports to Europe in the last five years, from €18 million in 2012 to over €34 million in 2016.
- Developing country suppliers with the most significant growth in groundnut exports to Europe in the last five years were Vietnam (27% annual growth), Chile (104%) and Ghana (148%) but with relatively small volumes between 30 and 300 tonnes.
- Identify who the biggest importers of your product are in selected large or fast-growing markets. Start by searching the internet or read more about supply chains in Europe in our study on market channels and segments for edible nuts and dried fruit.
- Besides aiming to export to the Netherlands, which is the largest European supplier, consider countries that are facing growth in imports such as Eastern, Baltic and Central European countries. However, by finding a reliable trading partner in the Netherlands you can supply the whole of Europe through the one point.
- Learn from developing country exporters who are gaining share on the European market, such as Egypt, Vietnam, Chile and Ghana. Information about edible nuts industry and export strategies of fast-growing countries can be found on their sectoral association websites (e.g. Brazil sweet and snacks association or American Peanut Council) as well as on main market information portals such as FoodNews.
- Consider exporting peanut butter, as the majority of leading importing countries have shown a stable increase in imports of this product in the past several years.
European re-export of groundnuts is increasing
- As the European climate does not allow intensive groundnut cultivation, exports usually means re-exporting imported products. However, large quantities of peanuts are not simply re-exported but first undergo further processing. The most common processing method is roasting (but also other operations such as blanching, salting, dicing, sieving or grinding). Therefore, the largest European exporters can be potential competitors to developing country suppliers of processed groundnuts, yet could also could serve as partners in supplying unprocessed groundnuts.
- In terms of value, European exports (including intra-European trade) of groundnuts grew since 2012 by an annual rate of 3% and reached €716 million in 2016. In quantity, exports grew by 7% and reached 387 thousand tonnes in the same period.
The Netherlands is dominating the exports of groundnuts
- Exports are very concentrated and the Netherlands alone accounts for 56% of total exports. Dutch exports are driven by re-exportation of groundnuts imported from Argentina, the United States and China.
- Apart from the Netherlands, in the range of largest exporters, the highest annual export growth in value was in Belgium (22%), Germany (16%) and Italy (17%).
- The main European Union external export destination for groundnuts in 2016 was Switzerland, followed by Norway, the Russian Federation and Serbia.
- Regarding major European export destinations, the highest annual increase in exports from the European Union in the last five years were to Iraq (332%), South Africa (82%) and Iceland (27%).
- Besides targeting your exports to the Netherlands, you can also learn from Dutch exporters and their target markets within Europe. The main Dutch export target markets for groundnuts within Europe are Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Poland.
- You can also find opportunities in growing markets for groundnuts supplied by European traders and processors, such as Iraq, South Africa and Iceland.
- Learn more about your competitors in our study on competition in edible nuts and dried fruit.
The Netherlands the leader in the production of peanut butter
- Due to climate conditions, raw peanuts cannot be produced in Europe and therefore have to be imported. However, peanuts are often processed in the Netherlands or in another European country.
- Production (processing) of groundnuts in Europe is quite stable with a more significant increase in 2016.
- The Netherlands is the largest processor of groundnuts and largest producer of peanut butter in Europe. The most famous national brand of peanut butter is Calvé, now owned by Unilever, which is produced in the Blue Band Factory in Rotterdam. In 2016, this brand was launched on the United Kingdom market.
Note that the figures above show the production of manufactured goods, which includes intermediate goods as well as final goods. This implies that it is possible that there is an overlap in production data and import data, since raw materials may be imported and further processed.
China the largest global producer
- World groundnut production kept increasing during the 2016/2017 season, reaching 41.5 million tonnes of in-shell groundnuts (2% up from the previous season). As it did throughout the last decade, China clearly led global production, totalling 17.4 million tonnes, which is 42% of the world share. At a lower production level, India, Nigeria and the United States of America were among the main groundnut producing countries.
- Consider supplying European peanut processors. Processors need regular supply and they can be ready for long-term cooperation if your product is fulfilling their specifications.
Germany the largest consumer of peanuts in Europe
- The outlook for the consumption of peanuts in Europe is positive and it is expected that the consumption will experience stable growth. A driving factor in this expected growth is an increased interest in healthy eating, as peanuts are a source of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and unsaturated fats.
- In terms of value, apparent consumption of groundnuts is quite stable without large fluctuation.
- The largest European consumer of groundnuts in Europe is Germany, which had a total consumption of 97,000 tonnes and estimated consumption of 3.67 kg of peanuts per capita in 2015. Germany is followed by the United Kingdom (70,000 tonnes) and Poland (23,000 tonnes).
The Netherlands the largest consumer of peanut butter in Europe
- Groundnut consumption as snacks is seasonal in Europe, peaking in winter months, with consumption then falling towards the summer.
- The consumption of processing industry, such as peanut butter as well as peanut oil, is also expecting to increase. Cooking with peanut oil is becoming popular across Europe because of the increased interested in Asian wok cooking and the use of peanut oil for stir frying.
- The Netherlands is the third largest consumer of peanut butter per capita in the world, after United States and Canada.
- Check the website of International Nut and Dried Fruit Council for the annual global production, export, import and consumption data.
- Check the website of European Federation for Vegetable Oil Industry for information about groundnuts seed oil processors, production and trade statistics.
- See our report on Groundnut oil market in Europe about consumption and market information for groundnuts as raw materials for production of groundnut oil.
Consumer demand in vegan, gluten-free and natural food offers opportunities for exporters from developing countries. Food safety certification supported by frequent laboratory tests and joined with corporate social responsibility (CSR) standards can also be a great advantage to European markets suppliers.
Specific trends for groundnuts:
- Nuts, including groundnuts, enjoy a good reputation among European consumers. It is expected that the consumption of nuts will experience the highest growth in the snacks segment. In major groundnuts consuming countries, groundnuts are considered a healthier alternative to other savoury snacks such as crisps and extruded snacks.
- Developing country exporters can join forces with European traders and finance medical research proving the health benefits of groundnuts consumption. A clear and easy to understand health message is important to encourage consumers to incorporate peanuts into their diet.
- Oven peanuts (roasted without oil) are particularly popular among female European consumers, who are searching for methods to decrease fat intake.
- Flavoured peanuts and additional coating textures are also gaining popularity. One of the top flavours is ‘sweet chilly’. Although roasted, salty and spicy flavours continue to dominate the market, new flavours such as ‘coconut’ or ‘wasabi’ are experiencing increased sales too. Beside new flavours, manufacturers are introducing new types of coatings. For example, one of the leading peanuts brands in Europe, Ültje, recently introduced new types of coated peanuts with intense crunchiness and the intense flavour of paprika plus a hint of chilli.
- China, which was a large exporter of peanuts in the past, is on its way in becoming a leading importer due to increasing domestic demand. Exports have almost halved to 500,000 tonnes over the past decade, while imports have risen almost 50%. This trend can offer opportunities to developing country exporters to increase their share on the European market.
- According to industry sources in the short term an increase in prices of groundnuts on the European market is expected. Due to delays and lack of shipments from Argentina, China and the USA, European importers are facing a particular situation of very low stocks in the traditional peanut warehouses. The actual stocks are no higher than 30,000 metric tonnes. It is expected that the shortage will be even larger for bird feeds and small amounts, starting from September–October.
- There is a high demand of smaller kernels on the market so the prices of smaller sizes are expected to increase in the short term.
- The United Kingdom’s possible withdrawal from the European Union (the so-called Brexit) can have different consequences regarding predictions for the groundnuts trade. The British Prime Minister has announced that the Brexit will take place no sooner than 2019. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union have yet to begin. In the short term, no significant changes are expected apart from the weaker pound. In the long term, consumers in the United Kingdom will continue to consume groundnuts and the amount of direct imports, rather than through intermediaries, is likely to increase.
- If you are able to deliver good quality peanuts to the European market, now is a good opportunity because of the lower world supply and increasing prices. You will be in a very good position if you can offer small kernels, as they are hardly available on the European market. Even splits can have good selling potential as they are used by peanut butter producers.
- Regular information about the groundnuts crops, processing and market situation can be found on FoodNews, the leading European information service for processed fruit and vegetables.
- Concerning groundnuts, an extensive study on European market trends is already available. See our study on trends for processed fruit and vegetables.
In addition to the quality requirements mentioned in the product description, for the general overview of the buyer requirements in the European Union please refer to our study about buyer requirements for processed fruit and vegetables
All foods including groundnuts sold in the European Union must be safe. This applies to imported products as well. Additives must be approved. Harmful contaminants such as pesticide residues or excessive levels of mycotoxins and preservatives are banned. It should also be readily obvious from the labelling if a food contains allergens.
In the event of repeated non-compliance with regard to specific products originating from particular countries, strict conditions may apply. These strict conditions in practice means obligatory laboratory checks for a defined number of imported containers or trucks. Increased level of official checks for countries that have shown repeated non-compliance; these are put on a list included in the Annex of Regulation. At the moment (from June 2016), on the list for increased checks for the presence of aflatoxin are groundnuts and groundnuts products from Gambia, Madagascar and Sudan.
The increased level of aflatoxin is one of the most common issues which European importers face. In 2015, the Rapid Alert System for and Food and Feed reported 171 notifications regarding non-compliance of groundnuts found on the European markets, where aflatoxin presence was listed as the most frequent issue. In order to prevent health damage, the European Union has imposed special conditions governing the import of certain feed and food from certain third countries due to contamination risk by aflatoxins.
From January 2016, all consignments of groundnuts from Brazil must be accompanied by a health certificate stating that the products have been sampled and analysed for the presence of aflatoxins and have been found compliant with European Union legislation. The results of the analytical tests should be attached to the health certificate.
Four pieces of new legislation concerning different pesticide residues have been introduced in 2016. Developing country exporters are advised to review their treatment practices in order to confirm that groundnut kernels will not contain pesticide residues above the new limits.
The maximum content of contaminants in peanuts are the following.
- Peroxide value: max. 1 meqO2/kg
- Free fatty acids: max 0.5%
- Aflatoxins: B1 max 2 ppb (total aflatoxin: max 4 ppb)
Packaging used for groundnuts must:
- protect the appearance, taste, flavour and quality characteristics of the product. Groundnuts in bags must not be stowed together with fibres or fibrous materials, either, since oil-impregnated fibres accelerate self-heating processes and rancidity
- protect the product from bacteriological and other contamination (including contamination from the packaging material itself). When container transport is used, damage due to moisture may arise if the water content of the cargo is too high. As a result of the high oil content of the goods, dark fat spots may appear on the bags, which must therefore not come into contact with contamination-sensitive goods
- not pass on any odour, taste, colour or other foreign characteristics to the product. Groundnuts are sensitive to unpleasant and/or pungent odours.
The safety of food-contact materials must be evaluated and it must be ensured that there is no migration of unsafe levels of chemical substances from the material to the food.
New EU labelling legislation forbids misleading the consumer. Moreover, any claims that food can prevent, treat or cure a human disease may not be made.
Another change is allergens labelling, where allergens have to be highlighted in the list of ingredients. Requirements regarding information on allergens now also cover non pre-packed foods including those sold in restaurants and cafés. The list of allergens include peanuts.
Nutrition information is mandatory for groundnuts.
Common and niche requirements
- Food safety certification is often requested by European importers. The most common certification schemes accepted on the European markets are IFS, FSSC22000 and BRC.
- Environmental protection, organic and fair-trade certification schemes are becoming more and more popular in Europe. In order to be labelled within the European Union with the EU organic logo producers from developing countries must fulfil European organic farming requirements.
- The European Union regulates both organic food and drink produced and/or processed within Europe and organic goods from elsewhere (Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1235/2008 with detailed rules concerning import of organic products from third countries).
Organic products can readily be imported from non-European countries whose rules on organic production and control are equivalent to the European Union's – currently Argentina, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Tunisia, Switzerland and the United States.
For all other non-European countries, importers can have their organic products certified for import into the European Union by independent private control bodies approved by the European Commission.
- Get food safety certification. However, check with the importers and experts if the food safety certification company you engaged is recognised by European Union buyers. Independent international accredited certification companies include SGS, CIS, TÜV and Bureau Veritas.
- Specifically for groundnuts, consult the EU Export Helpdesk where you can find European Union legislation for your selected products under the corresponding codes.
- For information on commonly requested standards, check the International Trade Centre's Standards Map, an online tool which provides comprehensive information on over 210 voluntary sustainability standards and other similar initiatives covering issues such as food.
- Refer to Codex Alimentarius for practical guidelines that can support you in fulfilling requirements on European food safety legislation. Specifically for groundnuts refer to Code of Hygienic Practice for Groundnuts and Code of Practice for the Prevention and Reduction of Aflatoxin Contamination in Peanuts.
- Additionally, you can refer to Good Management Practices of the American Peanut Council which can be incorporated in individual farm operations, buying points, shelling plants, warehouses, transport providers and product manufacturers – improving the overall effectiveness of the production and processing system.
- For an overview of an independent certification programme aimed at environmental protection and corporate social responsibility, you can refer to the Corporate Social Responsibility page of Intersnack, a leading European company in the savoury snacks segment.
For more information about competition on the European edible nuts market see our competition study.
Many importers of groundnuts are also packers, in addition to conducting trading and wholesale activities. After importation, products reach different segments of the market as described in Chart 1.
In some cases, developing country exporters can also supply to different segments directly without an importer as intermediator. This is relevant for processing industry which produces peanut butter or peanut oil. However, in the majority of cases specialised importers (wholesalers) serve the supply chain as the first entry point for groundnuts from developing countries.
Chart 1: European market channels for groundnuts, 2017
- Check the website of the European Nut Association for contacts of various stakeholders in the European supply chain of peanuts such as importers, trade, industry processors and service providers.
- For more information, see our extensive study about market channels and segments for edible nuts and dried fruit. Also read our tips about doing business and finding buyers on the European market of processed fruit and vegetables.
An indication of margins according to final retail prices for canned fruit and vegetables is not very precise as the whole sector comprises many different products. The prices also vary between producing countries regarding type, size of packaging, fruit or vegetable variety and quality of products. Therefore, developing country exporters can only gain a very rough general impression of price developments.
Considering season 2016–2017, it is expected that the prices will be higher than average because of the limited supplies from the major sourcing areas, especially for ‘jumbo’ and other large sizes. When this report was written (August 2016), Argentinian quotes were around €1,350 per tonne, up almost 24% compared to January. Chinese offers have been far higher priced because of the increasing use of groundnuts as a raw material for the production of a more valuable commodity, groundnut oil. Drought in South Africa can also increase the prices. Picture 7 gives a comparison of peanut prices of Argentina and China in the last three years.
Picture 1: Argentine and China peanut prices, USD per tonne
The best option to monitor prices is to compare your offer with the offer from the largest competitors.
A very rough breakdown of the prices is shown in the table below:
Table 2: Groundnuts price breakdown
Steps in export process
Type of price
Source: Author’s compilation based on industry sources
Please note that the share of the retail price which is paid to farmers varies a lot between producing countries and the type of product. It will also vary from year to year, depending on market conditions as retailers tend to keep stable prices for final consumers even though import prices tend to fluctuate.
If the farmers add value to their produce through differentiated quality, food safety, certification and processing steps, they can ask higher prices.
Please review our market information disclaimer