Which trends offer opportunities or pose threats on the European processed fruit and vegetables market
Over the past year, the leading trends influencing the processed fruit and vegetables market in Europe involved sustainability, especially environmental issues such as waste reduction, changing consumer habits towards more personalised and healthier diets, food safety, transparency and convenience. Investing in more sustainable production and partnerships with European buyers to develop and promote healthy and sustainable products will increase opportunities for exporters from developing countries.
Contents of this page
- Sustainability continues to shape the future of the European market
- Sustainable packaging should be high on everyone’s agenda
- Health benefits of food and drinks draw more attention
- Vegetable alternatives to animal products in high demand
- New processing technologies and digitalisation
- Consumers become more health-conscious and better-informed
- Organic and pesticide-free products are on the increase
- Natural and free-from products gain market share
- New sourcing origins and vertical integration are coming up
1. Sustainability continues to shape the future of the European market
Sustainability has become one of the most important topics in the world, due to the risk of global nature loss in a short time. It seems that the good intentions of many people and organisations to save the planet were not enough to bring the expected change. To speed up the change, the European Union set official policies to become the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Those policies are called the European Green Deal and include the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy, both influencing food production and trade.
Since environment, climate, biodiversity and social responsibility are global issues, Europe cannot achieve sustainability standards alone. The European Union (EU) will support developing countries in their transition to sustainable food systems. One of the actions will be the addition of a sustainability chapter, including on food, in all the EU’s bilateral trade agreements. It is expected that EU will provide stronger support for smallholder farmers and small-scale food producers to introduce sustainable agricultural and manufacturing practices.
The main goal of the Farm to Fork Strategy is to ensure sustainable food production and distribution across the whole supply chain. As the food supply chain includes the import of food, the proposed measures will influence farmers, processors and exporters from developing countries too. The proposed actions of the European Green Deal include reducing the use of pesticides and fertilisers, increasing organic farming, reformulating processed food, changing food packaging materials and introducing new food labelling rules.
European companies expect an increase in the use of sustainability certification schemes to ensure that food imported into the European Union is gradually produced in a sustainable way. Importers, traders and retailers independently use and promote different certifications. For suppliers from developing countries this could mean increasing certification requirements and a more complicated sourcing process.
Examples of different sustainability schemes relevant for the sector include certification schemes focusing on:
- Reducing CO2 emission – Verified Carbon Standard, MyClimate, ICT Carbon Footprint Certification. Those certification schemes usually follow standards for measuring greenhouse gas emissions such as ISO 14067.
- The preservation of forest resources - Rainforest Alliance, FSC, PEFC. Those certification schemes are important for packaging materials.
- Biobased and recyclable packaging – OK biobased, DIN-Geprüft biobased, OK compost, RSB, Recycled Content Certification.
- Social and ethical impact (Monitoring and auditing) - FairTrade, SMETA, Ethical Trading Initiative, amfori BSCI, BCorp, and Fair for Life.
- A wider range of environmental aspects – Cradle to Cradle, Planet Proof, ISO 14000. Those include private schemes of European retailers such as ProPlanet (REWE) or Edeka Panda (Edeka).
- Organic and pesticide free food – EU organic, KRAV, Naturland, Demeter, AB France, Soil Association, SCS Pesticide Free, Zerya.
- As there are too many types of certifications focused on sustainability, you cannot follow all of them. You should use the most common one in your industry. For example, if you are collecting wild products (e.g. pine nuts or mushrooms), you can opt for certification related to preservation of forest resources. It is always good to ask your buyers to recommend you a type of certification that is easy to get based on the implemented activities in your company.
Private sector sustainability initiatives in the processed fruit and vegetables sector
Besides general sustainability certification schemes, there are several private sustainability initiatives specific to the processed fruit and vegetable sector. Notable initiatives are those of the fruit juice and the edible nuts industries.
The European Fruit Juice Association established the Juice CSR Platform to promote successful corporate social responsibility CSR initiatives and to provide an opportunity to build a network on CSR within the industry. The CSR platform has 3 working groups: Orange (Brazil), Apple (Poland) and Pineapple (Thailand). In 2021, the CSR platform commissioned a survey on living wages in the orange sector in Brazil. Another important initiative is the Sustainable Juice Covenant (SJC) aiming for 100% sustainable sourcing of juices, purees and their concentrates by 2030.
In the edible nuts sector, Sustainable Nut Initiative is supported by many large traders, retailers and processors. Joining this initiative can make suppliers from developing countries more competitive on the European market. In general, suppliers that care for farmers and for improving their livelihoods have a competitive advantage in European markets.
In the processed fruit and vegetables industry, rather than being thrown away, surplus produce can be repurposed and used in flavours or aromas, as well as natural animal feed or compost. In nuts production, shells and tree pruning can produce energy. In Argentina, for example, peanut husks are used in the production of panels for architectural and design applications. Also, in the production of juices, peels can be used to produce feed for animals or bioethanol. In the cacao industry, the wasted cacao fruit can be used to produce pulp, juice, or concentrate.
Sustainability claims on the increase
Sustainability is a very important issue for consumers. According to a European Consumer Organisation survey, over half of European consumers say that sustainability concerns influence their eating habits. Also, 57% of the interviewed consumers want sustainability information to be compulsory on food labels. Following this trend, many companies have started to place sustainability claims on their products such as “carbon neutral”, “eco-friendly”, and “plastic free”.
The Belgian retailer Colruyt Group launched a new Eco-Score label, illustrated below. The aim of the Eco-Score labelling system is to indicate whether food has a low or high ecological impact. Water, soft drinks, ready-made meals and fresh fruit and vegetables do not currently receive an Eco-Score, as the calculation method is still under evaluation. The European authorities are working on the development of a standardised methodology to calculate environmental impact. The Farm to Fork Strategy plans to propose a sustainable food labelling framework in 2024.
Figure 1: Eco-score idea illustration
If you are implementing sustainability practices, you should inform importers how to interpret it for consumers in a language that is easy to understand. You can use the following ideas for inspiration:
- Inform consumers how they contribute when buying a product. For example, “By purchasing this juice, you are giving €0.50 to the farmer who picked the fruit”.
- Show the environmental impact of your product. For example: “Our Brazil Nuts are carbon neutral and protect forests - they are not grown, but collected from Amazonian forests”.
- Measure your contribution. For example: “Each of our date trees absorbs 200 kg of CO2 every year, making our planet cleaner”.
- Illustrate your sustainability certification. For example: “We don’t use monkeys to harvest coconuts”.
When highlighting your sustainability approach, it is important to base your claims on solid evidence. The European Commission has recently analysed claims on the websites of 344 companies promoting environmentally friendly products. In 59% of cases, the trader had not provided easily accessible evidence to support its claim.
You can find more information on some specific sustainability trends in other chapters below.
- Provide specific information to final consumers about your sustainability approach. You can use the internet, social media and even product packaging to tell your story and promote the positive effects on the communities where production takes place. This will be especially important for younger consumers in Europe, who want to know the story behind the brands they buy.
- Read examples of sustainable production in the brochure Towards a Greener Europe, published by the European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors. Examples include integration with farmers, precision farming, organic farming, the use of solar energy in processing, water re-use and the use of fruit and vegetable waste to produce energy.
- Review corporate social responsibility (CSR) good practice examples on the Juice CSR Platform, which was co-initiated by the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN) and Sociability and is endorsed and co-funded by the European Commission.
- Get familiar with social and ethical standards on the International Trade Centre’s Sustainability Map portal. You can use ISO 26000 guidance to improve your business’ sustainability.
2. Sustainable packaging should be high on everyone’s agenda
Sustainable food packaging is one of the strongest trends in the food industry. The European Farm to Fork Strategy aims to achieve Sustainable Food Distribution through the increased use of sustainable food contact materials. Also, the strategy aims to decrease packaging volumes to prevent Food Loss and Waste. Several European legislations are set to limit the use of plastic and non-recyclable materials, such as:
- from January 2021, a new tax on non-recycled plastic packaging waste is applied in the EU.
- from July 2021, polystyrene is banned from the EU market as material for food and beverage packaging.
- from April 2022, a new tax will apply to plastic packaging that doesn’t contain at least 30% recycled plastic in the UK.
- by 2024, all beverage bottles under 3 litres must be closed using only tethered caps. Tethered caps are caps that remain attached to the bottle once it is opened.
- by 2025 PET beverage bottles must include at least 25% of recycled plastic.
- by 2030, all bottles in the EU must be made from at least 30% recycled material.
Caps for beverages and some other products can still be made of plastic, but in the future the product must bear the following labels:
Within the processed fruit and vegetable sector, sustainable solutions are implemented for several packaging categories:
Beverage cartons are already the most popular recyclable material for the retail packing of fruit juices. However, just the use of carton is not enough to support sustainability. If carton is used, it should preferably be produced from responsible sources such as FSC certified. As beverage cartons are made of different materials laminated together, the industry is searching for new materials that are easier to recycle. One example of such material is reZorce beverage material.
Steel is recyclable packaging used for the canning of fruit and vegetables, in bulk packaging of juices (bag-in-drum) and in bulk packaging of vegetable oils (drums). Steel can be recycled multiple times without losing strength or quality. As steel is not a renewable material, responsible sourcing is stimulated with certifications such as ResponsibleSteel.
Aluminium cans, used for beverages, are now the most recycled packaging in Europe with a 74% recycling rate. Like steel, aluminium is not a renewable material, so producers of cans should preferably follow responsible sourcing programmes such as the Chain of Custody Standard. Aluminium is also used in the inside coating of beverage cartons. Heat resistant carton packaging such as Combisafe (by SIG) or Tetra Recart (by Tetrapak) is also used instead of cans for vegetables.
Glass is mostly used for the packaging of fruit juices and jams. Currently juices packed in glass bottles are mostly sold in restaurants and bars, while in supermarkets they have been widely replaced by carton packaging. Still, most European consumers consider glass the most environmentally friendly packaging. The main advantage of glass is that it is fully and infinitely recyclable. To promote the recyclability and inertness of glass, the European Container Glass Federation has introduced The Glass Hallmark.
Bioplastic is used in many different types of packaging. In the beverage industry, Polyethylene Furanoate (PEF) is one of the most promoted sustainable solutions for plastic materials. PEF is made entirely from plants, is fully recyclable, and degrades in nature much faster than normal plastic. PEF plastic is also stronger than PET plastic.
Paper is the only compostable packaging. Glass is the only reusable material. Glass, paper, aluminium, steel and plastic are recyclable.
New sustainable packaging in the export-import trade of processed fruit and vegetables is in development. Export packaging already uses some sustainable solutions such as carton boxes, jute bags, linen fabric bags and glass jars. Still, some bulk packaging contains plastic as it is not easy to find suitable replacements. This includes vacuum bags for nuts, plastic liners inside boxes for dried fruit, metallised bags for juices, polyethylene bags for frozen fruit and vegetables, or plastic barrels for table olives.
It is expected that even for bulk packaging new solutions will be available soon. Currently most bioplastics are made from sugar cane, but the scope of new raw materials is constantly increasing. For example, by-products in oil production, olive pits and sunflower seeds, can be used for the production of bioplastics.
- Follow the leading packaging trends in Europe by connecting to information sources such as Packaging Europe.
3. Health benefits of food and drinks draw more attention
The global COVID-19 pandemic motivated consumers to purchase food and drinks that can support their immune system. Ingredients such as vitamin C, D, zinc, probiotics and functional foods are increasingly being used in product formulations. According to Innova Market Insights, 3 in 5 global consumers are increasingly looking for food and beverage products that support their immune health. In the processed fruit and vegetable sector, there are several examples connected to immunity support, mainly in the fruit juices and drinks segment.
In the fruit juice sector, one of the trends is the use of so-called “superfoods” in mixed juices and the addition of vitamins. Juice producers can benefit from this trend, as vitamin C is a common ingredient in juices due to antioxidant properties. Citrus and tropical juices are popular ingredients in “immunity boosting” drinks. Especially ginger has become a very popular ingredient, due to its positive health image and the spicy sensation it gives to drinks. Other popular ingredients in drinks and smoothies are acerola, matcha, turmeric, beetroot, spirulina, red berries, fibres and probiotic cultures.
An important development connected to juice functionality is the rising popularity of so-called “juice shots”. These are juices in small packaging (usually of 100 ml) with functional ingredients and vitamins. Some of these shots are specifically created with ingredients that support the immune system. Examples are the German brand Live Fresh with the added vitamin D, the UK brand Moju with vitamin C and D shots, and the UK brand Plenish with “Ginger immunity” and “Turmeric Defence” shots.
Figure 2: Juice with vitamins C, D and zink
Source: Autentika Global
Figure 3: Vitamin D shot
Source: Photo by kiliweb per Open Food Facts
Another trend connected with immunity is the increased demand for probiotics. Many European consumers believe that gut health can help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Innova Market Insights, a quarter of food and beverage launches in 2020 that promoted gut health also included claims on the positive impact on the immune system. Following this trend, many products, especially drinks, have probiotics in their formulations.
In the edible nuts and dried fruit sector, the International Nuts and Dried Fruit Council has launched a campaign called “The Real Power for Real People”. One of the aims of the campaign is to promote the consumption of nuts that are rich in immunity boosting nutrients. Nuts are rich in zinc, copper, iron, selenium and vitamin B6, which contribute to the normal functioning of our immune system.
- Perform a laboratory analysis of the nutrients in your products and use it as part of your product specification. If your product is specifically rich in particular nutrients you can use this as a unique selling proposition.
- Avoid health or nutritional claims that are not substantiated by scientific evidence. Claims that a food product prevents, treats or cures a human disease cannot be made on labels in the European Union.
4. Vegetable alternatives to animal products in high demand
Plant-based proteins are increasingly imported, produced and consumed in Europe. Plant-based diets are also in line with the European Sustainable Consumption aim of the Farm to Fork Strategy. Plant-based foods are better for the planet, as they a have smaller water and carbon footprint than meat production. The interest in veganism is surging in Europe and many Europeans are adopting a (partly) vegan lifestyle. Many consumers who are not vegans are also increasingly purchasing plant-based food to be healthier and to add variety to their diets.
All processed fruits and vegetables are vegan, but a vegan diet needs to be supplemented with proteins that have the same nutritional value as animal proteins. Edible nuts, beans, mushrooms and some vegetables are a good source for this. So, consumers are increasingly consuming different types of nuts and nut-based products. Nut pastes are increasingly produced as ingredients for products such as plant-based drinks (like almond milk), desserts, yogurt, ice cream and spreads.
Substitutes for animal products are constantly appearing on the European market. Examples are vegan burgers, cheese, sausages, and yogurts. Proteins used in those products are often obtained from soya, peanuts, beans, seeds, or pulses such as lentils or chickpeas. A popular ingredient in vegan meat substitutes is jackfruit, as this has a texture similar to meat. Similarly, coconut meat is used to produce vegan bacon.
The European industry is constantly developing new plant-based proteins. A notable example is of the French Improve, specialised in creating new plant protein-based products. In new product formulations, a key trend is to make products that resemble not only the taste but also the texture of meat. For example, Dutch company Ojah produces a product with a texture that can mimic chicken, beef, pork, and fish meat.
Figure 4: Vegan jackfruit curry
Source: Autentika Global
Figure 5: vegan salami
Source: vactorio per Open Food Facts
According to the European Vegetarian Union (EVU), Europe's plant-based food industry has grown by 49% since 2018, reaching a total sales value of €3.6 billion. EVU is the organisation behind the V-Label, a standardised voluntary European certification scheme that aims to make it easier to identify vegetarian and vegan products and services. According to V-Label's global survey, 92% of the 23,000 participants would buy a product once they noticed it carries the V-Label.
Figure 6: plant based (cashew) milk
Figure 7: plant based burger
Source: archinowsk per Open Food Facts
Exporters of edible nuts can benefit from the rising demand for plant-based foods. Nuts are a popular option for healthy snacking, but they are also increasingly being used as ingredients in many products. There is an especially high annual growth of 15% in the European sales of milk alternatives where nuts are used as an ingredient. Double-digit growth in the sales value of plant-based plain milk was reported in Poland (76%) and Romania (73%). The imports of all types of edible nuts increased in 2020, and this trend has continued in 2021.
- Take advantage of the opportunities in the growing demand for foods of non-animal origin. Edible nuts, coconut products and beans can be promoted as healthy alternatives to animal protein.
5. New processing technologies and digitalisation
The main technology trends in the processed fruit and vegetables sector are related to energy efficiency, the preservation of nutrients, and digitalisation. Heat treatments are still the most popular sterilisation method in the processing of fruit and vegetables. However, heat treatments require large energy consumption and can decrease nutrient content. To achieve Sustainable Food Processing, the EU supports new innovative technologies. An example is the HiStabJuice project focusing on juice colour and nutrient stability.
More sustainable and nutrient saving technologies
The main advantage of new technologies is better nutrient preservation. More research is still needed, as the final products often require refrigerated storage. Examples of emerging new technologies are:
- Ohmic heating – This technology uses an electric current for product sterilisation. It is much faster than classical heating. It is suitable for canned fruit and vegetables, fruit preparations and jams, as it enables better colour and hardness of fruit pieces.
- High Pressure Processing (HPP) – This technology uses high isostatic pressure on retail-packed products. It is suitable for packed fruit juices, as it preserves more nutrients than heat pasteurisation. A disadvantage is that the product must be retail packed, which is not common in the overseas juice trade. Another disadvantage is that products require cold storage.
- Mechanical vapor recompression (MVR) – This technology is useful specifically in the production of concentrated juices, as it can save more than 50% energy compared to common evaporation methods.
- Pulsed Electric Fields (PEF) - This technology uses short electricity pulses for microbial inactivation. It could be suitable for different types of processed fruits and vegetables, as nutrients are better preserved.
- Pulsed Light – This technology uses high-intensity light pulses of short durations on foods.
- Isochoric freezing – This is a new technology that preserves food products at subfreezing temperatures without damage due to ice crystal formation inside the product. It is more energy efficient than traditional freezing methods.
- Vacuum-microwave drying – This technology uses a lower temperature than conventional drying methods. It is energy efficient and provides better quality of the dried product. The company Bonduelle is combining vacuum-microwave drying and freezing to get better taste and texture in vegetables after defrosting.
Everything goes digital
Digitalisation is another trend present across the whole value chain in the processed fruit, vegetables and edible nuts sector. The main digital applications in the supply chain are listed below:
- Agriculture - precision farming, robotics and smart apps are used to make production more efficient and sustainable.
- Fruit and vegetable processing - sensors are used to measure raw material quality, to sort products, and to automate production. On a sector level, big data is collected to establish quality parameters. Big data is also collected in processing facilities, often based on SCADA, and used to make better-informed decisions.
- Smart logistics – robots, sensors and blockchain technology are used to make warehousing easier and more efficient, to reduce the costs of intermediaries, and to make the supply chain more transparent.
- Export - big data is used to gain market insights. For example, specialised companies collect enormous amounts of data from daily retail sales. This data is used to gain insights into trends and to forecast market developments. In addition, trade events and marketplaces are also increasingly becoming more digital.
- Retail sales - online shopping is booming around the world, especially under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. New research published by Amcor forecast that the European online grocery market would grow by 66% until 2023.
- Consumer - many apps and devices are developed to inform consumers about the food they buy and to support personalised nutrition.
- Read our tips to go digital in the processed fruit and vegetables sector to learn more about specific digitalisaton trends with lots of examples.
- Apply to online matchmaking platforms, as there are replacing physical visits to trade fairs. It is especially important to be active and keep your network of contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples of matchmaking platforms relevant for processed fruit and vegetable sector are: Saladplate, SupplySide 365, Ingredients Network, Frozen B2B or Vitafoods.
- Talk to processing equipment suppliers about the best cost-effective digital and automatic processing solutions relevant for your type of production. Always try to test machines and check their influence on quality before purchasing them.
- Monitor the developments of blockchain application in international transport and logistics from companies. Make cost and benefit analyses before deciding if you will use blockchain services.
- Strongly invest in online marketing. For more tips related to your online promotion, read the CBI study on finding buyers on the European processed fruit and vegetables market.
6. Consumers become more health-conscious and better-informed
Consumers are increasingly watching what they eat, trying to reduce fat, sodium and sugar intakes. As consumer become better informed about food, they want to see health and nutrition facts on the packaging of products they purchase. In addition to information about nutritional value, European consumers want to have more information about how the product was made. According to Innova Market Insights, three in five global consumers said that they are interested in “learning more about where their food comes from and how it is made”.
Front-of-pack nutritional labelling
Better informing the consumer is an official part of the European Farm to Fork Strategy. To achieve Sustainable Food Consumption, the EU will propose mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling before the end of 2022. Also, before end of 2022 there will be a new official proposal to require an origin indication for certain products.
There are already ongoing developments of front-of-pack labelling schemes, which inform consumers about the nutritional quality of a product. Currently, different countries and companies use different schemes that are not harmonised at an EU-level. Most of the schemes use a simplified letter and colour system.
The most known and widely accepted nutritional labelling scheme by consumers is Nutri-Score. Nutri-Score is used in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Belgian retail chain Delhaize is supporting a healthier diet for its customers using the Nutri-Score system. The chain has introduced a new "Superplus Card", which gives customers automatic savings of 5% to 15% on more than 5,000 products with a Nutri-Score of A or B.
There is some opposition to the Nutri-Score system, and several organisations have developed alternative types of front-of-pack nutritional labelling. Other popular front-of pack schemes include Nutriform battery (Italy), Traffic Light Labelling (the United Kingdom) or Keyhole (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania).
Figure 9: Examples of front of pack nutritional labelling used in Europe
Source: Author compilation from several sources
To inform consumers about the origin of the product, some food companies have started to place quick response tracking codes, such as a QR or barcodes, on their products for consumers. Some of these codes link to a corporate site where consumers can obtain more information on such things as laboratory tests and ingredient origin. For example, Tanzanian cashew nut producer YYTZ Agroprocessing uses blockchain technology to guarantee single origin. Each pack of cashew they produce has a QR code that you can scan to see exactly which farmer it came from.
An interesting example of scanning QR codes on orange juice packaging, comes from Albert Heijn, the leading retailer in the Netherlands. The consumer can track the supply route from the producer in Brazil (Louis Dreyfus), through the bottler (Refresco) until the supermarket (Albert Heijn).
Belgian retailer Colruyt Group offers another interesting application. They have developed a smart phone application Smart With Food, which gives its customers personalised nutritional advice. Consumer can create a profile in the application according to their personal nutritional needs. When purchasing a product, consumers can scan a product’s barcode and the app will show nutritional values, ingredients, and its Nutri-Score. If a scanned product does not match the customer’s profile, the application will offer to search for products that are better suited.
The long term trend in Europe is a reduction of consumption of sugar-rich or sugar-added products. The European consumers’ concerns about sugar are negatively affecting the fruit juice, jams and dried fruit industry. This has resulted in a drop in fruit juice consumption, at least until 2019, though in some countries, consumption (temporarily) increased again in 2020. To educate consumers, provide juice facts, and stimulate consumption, the European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN) has launched a campaign “Fruit Juice Matters” and established a Fruit Juice Science Centre.
New low-calorie juices are appearing on the market, such as fruit and vegetable mixes, juices with coconut water, and juices with an increased proportion of low sugar fruit such as raspberry puree. As the EU rules prohibit placing “no added sugar” on the juice packaging, industry is searching for new solutions. One of the most notable examples is of the EU-funded Better Juice technology. This technology uses enzymes in microorganisms to convert sugars in juice to non-digestible compounds, such as dietary fibres.
In the jams industry concerns about excessive sugar have led to increasing prices in some cases, and the introduction of smaller packaging in others. Due to rising health concerns, sugar is being replaced with alternatives, such as artificial sweeteners, fructose and concentrated fruit juices. The amount of fruit in jams is also increasing up to 70%, while labels now display claims such as ‘less sugar, more fruit’.
Replacing sugar with alternatives can open more opportunities for developing country suppliers of processed fruit and vegetables in the European market. Examples of sweeteners include birch-based xylitol and green stevia, as well as natural syrups, such as coconut syrup and maple syrup. Lucuma, prickly pear, date syrup and liquorice root are other natural sweeteners worth exploring. If product formulation requires the use of crystallised sugars, then white sugar can be replaced with coconut sugar or whole cane sugar.
Consumers are increasingly looking for foods containing ingredients with specific health benefits, so-called “functional ingredients”. According to Informa Markets, the global functional specialty ingredient market should grow to USD 48,221 million by 2025. The top 5 most popular functional ingredients are green tea, curcuma, apple cider vinegar, ginger and ginseng. They are mostly used because of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions.
Many processed fruit and vegetables are also promoted for their function and often are marketed as superfoods. Among others these including coconut water, edible nuts, dried tropical fruit, prunes and superfruit juices,. According to Dutch processor SVZ, superfruit juices is a wide category that covers berries, tropical fruits and coconuts as well as fruit and vegetable combinations, including carrot, red beet, green vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as cucumber. Superfruit are also finding applications in the cosmetics industry.
Developing country suppliers can take advantage of this trend by promoting their products to importers and end consumers using online campaigns. Some examples of information that is relevant to consumers can be found on the websites of the Fruit Juice Science Centre of the European Fruit Juice Association and the Nutfruit Power campaign of the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council.
- Promote dried fruit and edible nuts using the resources from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council.
- Consider replacing added sugar in your products with other sweetening ingredients. An interesting alternative is using concentrated fruit juice as a natural sweetener in jams and dried fruit. Other frequently used sugar replacements are dates, date paste and date syrup. Other possible sweetening agents include lucuma powder, mesquite, stevia, banana puree and tree syrups, such as maple, birch, agave and yacon. In the fruit juice industry, coconut water is used as an innovative way to preserve sweetness, but to reduce sugar content in juices.
7. Organic and pesticide-free products are on the increase
The European market for organic food is the second-largest in the world, after the United States. It continues to grow strongly in sales volume in several segments, as consumers look for:
- natural foods that make them feel like they are contributing to a better world;
- food that contains less or no pesticide residues;
- food that is produced in a more sustainable way.
Increasing the production and consumption of organic food is part of the official EU strategy. To achieve Sustainable Food Production, the strategy aims to reach 25% of the EU's agricultural land use by 2030. Another aim is to cute use of pesticides by 50% until 2030.
In Europe, organic food sales are growing every year. The largest market for organic food in Europe is Germany, followed by France and Italy. Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden have the highest per capita spending on organic products. Sales in specialist shops for organic food and natural goods in Germany increased by 16.4% since 2019, reaching €4.37 billion in 2020.
Organic imports represented 2% of all EU imports. In 2020, the EU imported 2.79 million tonnes of organic agri-food products. The main suppliers of organic products to the EU are Ecuador (12%), the Dominican Republic (9%), China (8%) and Ukraine (8%). By far the biggest product category is tropical fruit, nuts and spices, representing 30% of the volume (0.84 million tonnes).
Although the organic food market provides opportunities for developing country suppliers, switching to organic production is not easy in many cases. For example, some fruit and vegetable varieties are highly sensitive to pests and illnesses and cannot be efficiently produced under specific climatic conditions, for example where humidity is high due to frequent rain. Because hydroponic agriculture is not automatically deemed organic under EU rules, obtaining organic certification is the best alternative for hydroponic produce. Seeking solutions to those production issues, some initiatives in Europe have established ‘free from pesticides’ certification schemes.
Many European retailers have their own standards of minimum pesticide residues, as well as many other requirements for suppliers. Recent examples include the Danish operations of supermarket chains Coop, Aldi and Lidl, which request more stringent pesticide residues than legally required: Lidl requires 66% less residues, Coop 50% less and Aldi 20%–30% less than mandated by EU legislation. More European retailers are expected to increase their demands regarding pesticide residues. Suppliers that are able to reduce pesticide residues in their products will improve their chances of selling to European retailers.
Another interesting initiative comes from the German dried fruit and seeds trader Specialty Brokers. The company has registered the EUIPO - brand IPM (Integrated Pesticide Monitoring) for its Turkish raisin cultivation project. In partnership with the processor Özgür grapes are only purchased from certified and registered farmers. Farmers purchase a maximum of 4 pro-active pesticides at subsidised prices from Özgür. All inspection reports are digitalised and allow the buyer the complete traceability back to the farmer.
8. Natural and free-from products gain market share
The European market for products directed at food intolerances and allergies has experienced significant growth recently, driven largely by the dramatic rise in food allergies and sensitivities. Many processed fruit and vegetable products are naturally free from additives and allergens, but producers increasingly emphasise that anyway by adding claims on labels and packaging using the expressions sugar-free, diabetic, gluten-free, lactose-free, allergen-free, trans-fat free, preservative-free, pesticide-free and others.
This new trend is generally described as clean label, meaning foods whose labels carry claims that their ingredients are natural, familiar and easy for the consumer to recognise and understand. For example, the company Döhler is using apple and citrus fibre powders as natural ingredients to give texture to a wide range of products. These products are minimally processed and can be used instead of more processed ingredients such as pectin, starch, locust bean, xanthan and guar gums.
Natural forms of processing such as sun drying and fermentation are also gaining ground in the processed food industry.Also juices as ingredients is showing increased sakes. For example, the now popular kombucha beverage is increasingly sold with the addition of superfruit juices, such as cranberry and pomegranate. On the other side, sun drying is not favoured by European processors as it increases the risk of the contamination. Preservative-free (sulphite-free or sorbate-free) dried fruit is becoming popular on the market.
Figure 10: Guava fruit roll
Source: Saffa Shop
Figure 11: Mango and pineapple guava rolls
The healthy snacking trend is continuing in 2021. Healthy snacks include those that have a significant vitamin content, are low in saturated fat and added sugars, and have a low sodium content. It is estimated that the healthy snacking market will grow at an annual rate of 6% until 2025. Popular healthy snacking products are bars with natural ingredients such as dried fruit, cereals, nuts and nut butters. Examples with ingredients sourced from developing countries are guava fruit rolls from South Africa, mango and pineapple guava rolls from Ghana, banana bars from Colombia and baobab fruit bites from Africa.
Figure 12: Banana fruit bar
Figure 13: Baobab Superfruit Bites
Source: Organically Africa
Suppliers from developing countries can leverage these trends by developing product formulations without preservatives and other additives. Products commonly produced by simple processing without additions, like frozen fruit or not-from concentrate juices, should be promoted as natural and free from.
- Consider investing in technology to shorten production processes, simplify the supply chain, increase naturalness and perceived value. This includes, for example, using not-from-concentrate juices, high-pressure processing of juices and smoothies and pasteurising dried fruit without preservatives.
- Consider investing in natural ways of preservation, such as sun drying fruits and vegetables, drying fruits and nuts without preservatives or bleaching, preserving vegetable juices with natural acid and vegetables by natural fermentation.
9. New sourcing origins and vertical integration are coming up
Fluctuations in the supplies of raw materials, which are likely to increase due to climate change, creates difficulties for European processors. Strong dependency on only a few source countries for materials used in the production of specific products compounds the sourcing problem. To ensure more stable supplies, European processors are looking for new sourcing origins and investing directly into agricultural production in developing countries.
Sourcing of frozen berry fruit, for example, has been expanding to new locations. Instability in berry prices concerns the industry, because berries are widely used as ingredients in jams, dairy products, smoothies and in the frozen and confectionery industries. European processors rely mostly on production from Poland and Serbia, but European buyers are increasingly buying from new entrants, such as Bosnia, Ukraine and Egypt.
Ukraine, for instance, has become a growing sourcing origin of several products, including walnuts, tomato products, dried fruit and berries. Tomato production in Ukraine has grown 16% annually since 2012, reaching 850 thousand tonnes. Some experts expect U kraine will increase its tomato processing capacity further to one million tonnes in the next few years. Ukrainian tomato exports have found inroads into Poland, Germany, Belarus and the Czech Republic.
A good example of vertical integration is a recent project funded by Danone in Mexico to help develop new areas for berry cultivation. The heart of the Mexican berry industry is the State of Michoacán, but Danone intends to diversify production by supporting new areas. The goal of the project is to expand the company’s sourcing opportunities, while supporting growers and ensuring fair payments for farmers.
Other recent examples of vertical integration of European sourcing activities include:
- Agrana’s opening of fruit preparation plants in China and Algeria.
- Italy’s Ferrero, the world’s largest hazelnut purchaser, started negotiating with growers in Azerbaijan and Georgia, as part of its plans to acquire a plantation in the Caucasus region. This in turn is a continuation of Ferrero’s production projects already launched in several countries in South America and southeast Europe.
- Swiss company Hylea has just opened a processing plant for Brazil nuts in Bolivia’s Pando department, in its first move to control its entire brazil nuts supply chain.
This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by Autentika Global.
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