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Which trends offer opportunities or pose threats on the European processed fruit and vegetables market?

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Over the past year, leading trends influencing the processed fruit and vegetables market in Europe involved sustainability, and especially environmental issues such as waste reduction, changing consumer habits towards more personalised and healthier diets, food safety, transparency and convenience. Exporters from developing countries can increase their opportunities by investing in more sustainable production and partnerships with European buyers to develop and promote healthy and sustainable products.

1. Sustainability has transformed from an emerging to a mainstream trend

Since environment, the 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 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.

Continuous legal changes and requirements for improved sustainability

Sustainability has become one of the most important topics in the world, due to the risk of global nature loss in a short time. Good intentions to save the planet are not enough to bring on the expected changes. To speed up the changes, the European Union has set official policies to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050, called the European Green Deal. For the processed fruit, vegetables and edible nuts sector, the most relevant policies are the Farm to Fork strategy, the biodiversity Strategy and the circular economy action plan.

Figure 1: Farm to Fork strategy aspects

Farm to Fork strategy aspects

Source: European Commission

As the food supply chain includes the importing of food, the proposed measures will also influence farmers, processors and exporters from developing countries. If you are exporting processed fruit and vegetables to Europe, be prepared for the following long-term market changes:

  • Consumption of organic food will increase in Europe - According to the organic action plan, at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land will be under organic farming by 2030.
  • Pesticide usage will decrease, maximum residue limits will be stricter, and some pesticides will be banned - The aim of the Farm to Fork Strategy is to reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical pesticides and more hazardous pesticides by 2030.
  • The supply chain will be more transparent and players will have to improve labour conditions and respect human rights - The European Commission (EC) adopted a proposal for a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence. This directive will require from large companies in Europe and outside Europe to provide proof of sustainable practices from their suppliers. The German Supply Chain Due Diligence Act already came into force on 1 January 2023.
  • Food packaging materials will change - The EC made a proposal for a revision of the EU legislation on Packaging and Packaging Waste. The main aim of the directive is that “all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030.” This is a practical implication for suppliers from non-European countries, as it includes all packaging that enters the EU from abroad.

Figure 2: EU trends in the use of chemical pesticides and the risks

EU trends in the use of chemical pesticides and the risks

Source: European Commission, July 2023

Tips:

The processed fruit and vegetables sector is supporting sector-specific sustainability practices

Several trade associations in Europe have created guidelines and Codes of Conduct for specific sectors to accelerate the European Geen Deal implementation. The European Association of fruit and vegetables processors created a Climate Change Brochure for the frozen and canned industry. The European Federation of trade in dried fruit and nuts (FRUCOM) has published several presentations, position papers and product-specific information on sustainability. The European Juice Association has created a specific Juice CSR platform.

There are other initiatives such as the Sustainable Nut Initiative, which has supported a tailor-made software system for cashew nuts. The aim of this software is to increase the transparency and sustainability of the cashew nut supply chain. The International Nuts and Dried Fruit council made a sustainability survey to identify sustainability practices in the tree nut and dried fruit industry. FRUCOM performed a risk analysis working on the industry-specific Code of Conduct in cooperation with the German sector-specific trade association.

It is expected in the medium term that many industry practices will become more sustainable in the following ways:

  • Agricultural practices will be changed to reduce carbon emissions. The smart use of fertilisers and water resources will become more common. Organic agriculture and the use of bees for pollination and integrated pest management will increase.
  • Renewable energy will be used more in processing facilities. This includes solar, wind energy and biopower. New energy-saving technologies and processing lines will be implemented.
  • Circular economy practices will be common, such as the use of by-products in processing facilities. Examples are the use of pits, husks and shells for boiler heating in drying processes. Surplus produce will be used more in flavours or aromas, as well as natural animal feed, compost or bioethanol.

One company employing environmentally friendly practices is Kenyan Afrimac. During macadamia processing, the shells are removed and re-used to heat the boilers. This is a common practice in the Kenyan macadamia industry. Afrimac additionally introduced the use of solar energy in their processing plants to make them even more sustainable. In fact, 70% of the energy used to run machines comes from the sun. In this way, the company saves 3.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Figure 3: Afrimac

Afrimac

Source: Autentika Global

Tip:

  • Read CBI tips to go green to learn how to turn environmental challenges into opportunities by reducing your environmental impact.

Importers are increasingly asking for sustainability audits and certifications

European companies expect an increase in the use of sustainability certification schemes to ensure that food imported into the European Union is 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 focus on:

With so many types of certifications focused on sustainability, you cannot follow all of them. 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 the preservation of forest resources. It is always good to ask your buyers to recommend a type of certification that is easy to get based on the implemented activities in your company.

There are many examples of processors from developing countries which successfully implement sustainable practices. One such example is the company Target Agriculture which processes and exports coconut products, tropical fruit and cashew nuts in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The company supports more than 3,000 rural families. It implements organic agriculture but also supports rural communities by opening schools, providing scholarships for students, supporting plastic reduction and producing biogas.

Tip:

  • Become familiar with the social and ethical standards on the International Trade Centre’s Sustainability Map portal. You can use ISO 26000 guidance to improve your business sustainability.

Packaging is becoming more sustainable

In November 2022, the European Commission made a proposal for a revision of the EU legislation on Packaging and Packaging Waste. The current directive will be changed to a regulation and will set new targets for packaging collection, packaging recycling and packaging waste reduction. The main aim of the directive is that “all packaging in the EU is to be reusable or recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030”. This has a practical implication for suppliers from non-European countries, as it includes all packaging that enters the EU.

  •  Recyclable – can be reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. Paper packaging (such as paper bags, corrugated cardboard) is the most recycled packaging material in Europe. Other recyclable packaging materials include glass or aluminium.
  • Reusable – can be used again. The most commonly reusable type of packaging in the consumer market is the glass bottle. For export, some types of plastic packaging can also be reused, for example plastic barrels.
  • Compostable – can be biologically broken down into a humus-like material. Paper is the only compostable packaging.
  • Biodegradable – can be decomposed rapidly by microorganisms under natural conditions.

Within the processed fruit and vegetable sector, sustainable solutions are being implemented across the following categories:

Beverage cartons are already the most popular recyclable material for the retail packing of fruit juices. However, just using cartons is not enough to support sustainability. If a 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 a material is reZorce.

Steel is recyclable and used for packaging canned fruit and vegetables, in the bulk packaging of juices (bag-in-drum) and the 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 tins 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 tins 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 Heat and Go (by SIG) or Tetra Recart (by Tetrapak) is also used instead of tins for vegetables.

Glass is mostly used for packaging fruit juices and jams. Currently, juices packed in glass bottles are mostly sold in restaurants and bars, while in supermarkets they are widely replaced by carton packaging. Nevertheless, 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.

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. Nevertheless, some bulk packaging still 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 new solutions will be available soon even for bulk packaging. Currently, most bioplastics are made from sugar cane, although 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.

Tip:

  • Follow the leading packaging trends in Europe by connecting to information sources such as Packaging Europe.

2. Consumers are becoming sustainability-sensitive

Sustainability is becoming an important issue for consumers. The importance of sustainability has created a new type of shoppers – Eco-Actives. Eco-Actives are shoppers who are highly concerned about the environment and are making the most effort to reduce waste. According to the Kantar research in 2023, the sustainability-conscious shopper segment represents 22% of all shoppers. The share of “eco-active” consumers is expected to increase to 27% share in 2028.

Different generations of consumers define sustainability differently and set sustainability priorities based on their unique perspective. Baby Boomer consumers (people born from 1946 to 1964) are concerned about the health of the planet the most (35%), followed by Gen X (born 1970s to early 1980s), Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s). Minimised food waste is one of the top actions for consumers to be more environmentally responsible in their food choices and eating.

According to Innova Market Insights, 69% of consumers globally say that they “prefer products that mention the benefits of their sourcing/farming methods on the pack”. Following this trend, many companies have started to place sustainability claims on their products, such as “better for the planet”, “carbon neutral”, “eco-friendly” and “plastic free”. According to the survey conducted by the European Consumer Organisation, 57% of the interviewed consumers want sustainability information to be compulsory on food labels.

Label reliability

Unfortunately, many companies use non-reliable labels on purpose to give a false impression to consumers about their positive environmental impact. This unethical behaviour is called “greenwashing”. An EC study highlighted that 53% of examined environmental claims in the EU were found to be vague, misleading or unfounded and 40% were unsubstantiated. In order to prevent greenwashing and to harmonise voluntary green claims, the European Commission published a proposal for a Directive on Green Claims in March 2023.

According to the new proposal, a green claim must be based on recognised scientific evidence, using accurate information and taking into account relevant international standards (e.g. taking a life-cycle perspective). No single method for assessment would be stipulated. The proposal would also set requirements on how to communicate claims and introduce rules on environmental labelling schemes. Compliance with these requirements would have to be verified and certified by a third party (“verifier”).

The EU Green Claims directive is still being discussed, as there are many opposing opinions. For example, in June 2023 the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) requested an explicit ban of carbon neutral claims (PDF). According to the BEUC, carbon neutral claims are highly misleading to consumers as they imply neutrality and no impact of the products on the environment, which is impossible to achieve from a scientific point of view.

The PEF Product Environmental Footprint methodology created by the EU might be highly recommended but not necessarily mandatory. This methodology uses 16 impact categories, including climate change, ozone depletion, acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. Sectors can voluntarily create Category Rules for their own segments to specify the criteria for the products.

Some of the most popular labels are Eco-Score (based on Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) data), Eco Impact (methodology not published), Planet-score (a complex algorithm including PEF), ENVIROSCORE (based on PEF) and Foundation Earth (based on PEF with some deviations). Eco Score is currently used by the Colruyt, Lidl, Carrefour and Intermarché retail chains for certain products. Planet Score is used by several retail brands such as Lidl, Carrefour, Système U, Auchan, Picard, Franprix, Naturéo, Naturalia, Monoprix, Biocoop and Sojasun.

Figure 4: Possible environmental labelling formats

Possible environmental labelling formats

Source: French Ecological Transition Agency (ADEME)

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 give €0.50 to the farmer who picked the fruit.”
  • Show the environmental impact of your product. For example: “Our Brazil Nuts 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 our coconuts.”

Tips:

  • 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 the production takes place. This will be especially important for the younger consumers in Europe who want to know the story behind the brands they buy.
  • Use environmental labelling schemes which are based on scientific evidence and recommended calculation methods. Labelling schemes should not be seen as marketing devices, but as a tool to encourage you and your suppliers and buyers to become more sustainable, and really take care of the planet.

3. Cost pressure is shifting consumers towards more efficient spending

European consumers are being put to the test by the cost-of-living crisis that has been a constant presence since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of the economic crisis that has spread throughout the entire continent has not been merely financial; it has also helped reshape consumer behaviour. One of the ways in which European consumers are adapting to turbulence is by embracing strategies and techniques that enable them to live more cost-efficient lives.

Europe experiencing slow economic growth and high inflation

The European region is grappling with the repercussions of slow economic growth, high inflation and financial instability, partly triggered by the energy crisis following the Ukraine war. Inflation in the food, alcohol and tobacco sector rose to 15.4% and is expected to remain high throughout the year, making food items, especially more luxurious or more exotic ones, less affordable for average consumers. They have reacted by exercising restraint, and this dampening of the demand has affected the more exotic and costly products in the processed fruit, vegetables and edible nuts category.

Underlying inflation in Europe, however, is proving more stubborn than headline inflation, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF said in an October 2023 forecast that it sees inflation in Europe returning to target sometime in 2025. However, even this forecast remains uncertain, as many factors could derail this expectation. For example, a higher wage growth, higher profit margins and sudden spikes in commodity prices could mean that taming inflation could require more time.

The current challenges are compounded by global food supply challenges, volatile natural gas and energy prices, and the large and still unresolved food waste issue. Inflation is a serious cause for concern not only for governments, with 63% of consumers globally stating that this is their top concern, followed by energy costs, according to IPSOS Global Trends 2023 (PDF). Although global, these trends are especially pronounced in Europe.

Europe’s economic growth is expected to be only 0.3% in 2023 due to a myriad of factors, including the ongoing war in Ukraine, which is a significant downgrade from the global economic growth projection of 2.2% for the same year. At the same time, there is a growing market for processed fruits, vegetables and edible nuts, driven by health trends and consumer preferences.

Consumers looking to reduce their spending

A recently launched YouGov cost of living tracker shows that the large majority of consumers have had to make cuts to their household spending in Western Europe. The tracker monitors attitudes on this issue across seven European countries: Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Denmark. Most adults polled across all seven countries say that they have already had to make cutbacks to their usual spending. More than two thirds of polled Italians said they have already made reductions. In fact, more than 80% of people in each country have either made cutbacks or believe they will have to do so, rising as high as 93% in Italy.

When inflation is high, consumers often cut back on discretionary spending or opt for cheaper alternatives. Many European countries have seen consumers reining in their expenses and becoming more frugal. Exotic processed fruits, vegetables and nuts, especially when costly, are generally seen as a more luxury product. European consumers have been changing their shopping habits even during the high-spending Christmas season, which is traditionally a high point for sales of dried fruit. Inflation means the pricier products are more often being overlooked and this certainly includes exotic products. For example, given that dried pineapple is a premium product, consumers might find it less affordable and may avoid purchasing it in favour of lower-cost or locally sourced fruits and snacks.

European consumers are becoming more resource-savvy and more adaptable. In order to make full use of limited financial and food resources, they are learning new ways to economise. Some of these solutions include finding new ways to use some fruits and vegetables that they would have previously discarded, learning to cook to reduce expenses on prepared foods and eating out, as well as switching to new ways of preparing food, such as using air fryers or more energy-efficient ways of cooking. 

Recent research also shows that 64% of consumers are planning their meals more carefully in order to limit food waste in their households, according to Tetra Pak’s Trendipedia 2023 report (PDF). Retailers like Carrefour in Italy are helping consumers to save and fight waste at the same time. The retailer recently introduced an anti-food waste label in the Italian market and now also sells “imperfect” products at a 20% discount.

According to a Tetra Pak survey of 5,000 consumers around Europe, 46% of consumers would reduce how often they eat out, 44% would reduce snacking out (in favour of snacking at home) and 39% would choose cheaper food and drink products.

Private labels seeing an increase in demand

Finally, these trends are also increasing the importance and market positioning of private label sales. Private labels now account for 19.4% of overall fast-moving consumer goods value sales globally, according to NielsenIQ. Besides promotions, the most common money-saving tactic is to stop buying certain categories such as non-essential, premium products, with 26% of consumers identifying this as a way of saving. Alternatively, 20% of consumers seek private label products because of more favourable prices.

In Western Europe, private labels account for a 36% market share. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe the private label share reached 14.7% in Q2 2022 and is significantly growing quarter by quarter. Most of the markets in the region have a private label share above the global average, like Slovenia (32%). Inflation has had a noticeable impact on private labels. Higher inflation markets are amongst the fastest growing in private labels, while more mature private label markets are experiencing some decline.

Table 1: Private label contribution to sales of fast-moving consumer goods in Q2 2022

Region or country

Private label value share (%)

Global

19.4%

North America

14.4%

West Europe

36%

East Europe

14.7%

Asia Pacific

6.1%

Latin America

2.3%

Africa and Middle East

6.1%

Switzerland

52%

UK

44%

Spain

42%

Belgium

38%

Slovenia

32%

Hungary

29%

Poland

21%

Source: NielsenIQ, 2022

Tips:

  • Try to reduce the costs along the supply chain to make your products more affordable. One of the good options is to avoid intermediaries in both buying and selling. At the buying end, try to buy your products from farmers directly. On the selling end, try to connect with the packers and ingredient users.
  • Make your offer unique. One of the ways to be unique is to focus on many of the sustainability aspects, as sustainable sourcing is still important despite price inflation.

4. Europe is going vegan

Many Europeans are adopting a more vegan lifestyle. Vegans avoid animal-based foods (like eggs and milk). They only consume plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, pulses, mushrooms, seeds and grains. According to Food Ingredients Europe’s analysis of retail sales, the vegan market has been growing at a fast rate. Data from 13 European countries shows that sales of plant-based foods grew by 6% in 2022, reaching €5.8 billion.

There are many influencers promoting a vegan diet and lifestyle. The European Vegetarian Association has published the Plant-Based Manifesto for the upcoming EU elections in 2024. To support the vegan lifestyle, many celebrity chefs in Europe are including separate chapters on vegan food or publishing vegan cookbooks. The Netherlands-based Pick Up Limes app allows users to customise plant-based recipes to meet their nutritional needs.

Plant-based diets are also in line with the European Sustainable Consumption aim of the Farm to Fork Strategy. Moving to a more plant-based diet with less red and processed meat will reduce risks of diseases and an environmental impact on the food system. The European Commission has called on its Member States to develop a national protein strategy. In 2020, the Netherlands published the Dutch National Protein Strategy, which aims to increase a local production and consumption of plant-based and innovative proteins over the next 5-10 years.

According to Statista, there are an estimated 6.62 million vegans in Europe in 2023. The number is likely to grow between 2023 and 2033 to about 8.25 million. GFI Europe’s analysis of retail sales data from NielsenIQ covering 13 European countries shows that sales of plant-based foods grew by 6% in 2022 – and 21% from 2020 to 2022, reaching €5.8 billion. Germany is the largest vegan market in Europe while the Dutch have the highest consumption of plant-based foods per capita.

All processed fruits and vegetables are vegan, but a vegan diet needs to be supplemented with plant-based proteins that have the same nutritional value as animal proteins. Plant-based proteins are being imported, produced and consumed in Europe at higher levels than before. Pea protein has become the top plant protein ingredient, followed by soy protein. Fava bean protein, vegetable protein, wheat protein and seed protein are amongst the fastest growing plant protein ingredients.

Figure 5: A vegan alternative for fish fillets (ANUGA 2023)

A vegan alternative for fish fillets (ANUGA 2023)

Source: Autentika Global

Edible nuts, beans, mushrooms and some vegetables are also a good source of protein. Consumers are therefore increasingly consuming different types of nuts and nut-based products. Nut pastes are progressively produced as ingredients for products such as plant-based drinks (like almond milk), desserts, yogurt, ice cream and spreads.

Source: ITC TradeMap and Eurostat COMEXT

The European industry is constantly developing new plant-based proteins. Recent examples that were selected as innovative taste winners at the ANUGA and V-label competition in 2023 include the following:

An interesting example of a processed fruit which is used as a meat substitute is jackfruit. Jackfruit is often imported as frozen or canned in brine and used in plant-based products. An example of a company from a developing country which has successfully tapped into this plant-based trend is the Indonesian company Ceylon Plant Food Private Limited. The company cans young jackfruit and sells it as a plant meat-alternative food. When jackfruit is young, it has a different consistency and a neutral taste that absorbs the seasonings that it is cooked in.

Another example is the Indian company Wakao. Recently, the company revealed its Continental Jack Burger Patty, which is made from 53% jackfruit. Next to jackfruit, the product contains spices and pea protein and is said to have a texture similar to that of actual meat.

Tip:

5. A clean label trend continues to put pressure on suppliers

The European market for products directed at food intolerances and allergies has recently experienced significant growth, 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 the adding of claims on labels and packaging using expressions such as gluten-free, lactose-free, allergen-free, trans-fat free, preservative-free, pesticide-free and others.

According to Innova Market Insights, the “free from” trend continues to develop. There has been a 7.1% average annual growth in food and beverage launches with a “free from” claim. In 2022, more than 1 in 3 new food and beverage launches had a “free from” related claim. While initially, allergies and intolerances, such as gluten and lactose, were targeted by these specialist products, they have now continued to expand to target the wider “better for you” segment.

In the July 2021 – June 2022 period, more than 1 in 3 new food and beverage products launched globally was positioned with one or more clean-label claims (e.g. “no additives/preservatives”, “organic”, “natural” or “GMO-free”). “No additives/preservatives” remained the most frequent clean-label product promise worldwide (42.7%), followed by “organic” (27.5%), “GMO-free” (15.4%) and “natural” (14.3%). Europe is by far the leading region in terms of new clean-label food and beverage launches, followed by North America and Asia.

Suppliers from developing countries can profit from these trends. You can start by developing product formulations without preservatives and other additives. You can also promote products produced through simple processing without additions (e.g. frozen fruit or not-from-concentrate juices) as natural and “free from”.

Natural forms of processing such as sun-drying and fermentation are also gaining ground in the processed food industry. Preservative-free (sulphite-free or sorbate-free) dried fruit is becoming popular. In addition, fruit preparations are using more natural ingredients. For example, the company Döhler uses apple and citrus fibre powders. These products are minimally processed and can be used instead of ingredients such as pectin, starch, locust bean, xanthan and guar gums.

The European Union is also supporting this trend by decreasing the allowed levels of food additives. It can however be a challenge for the fruit, vegetable and nuts processing industry to produce products with the same quality if some additives are not used. For example, a common option to replace preservatives is to use heat pasteurisation, although it significantly decreases a product’s shelf life. As retail chains in Europe often require a shelf life over 6 months, this creates many difficulties for suppliers along the supply chain.

Heat pasteurisation/sterilisation is a common method used in the production of juices and canned fruit and vegetables. However, in the nut and dried fruit processing industry, it requires changing the standard manufacturing and trading practices. This change of practices is often not favoured by European importers and retailers. For example, the pasteurisation of dried fruit is possible in tightly closed packaging (such as retail bags), though not possible in common foil in carton export bulk packaging.

One recent development is a possible decrease in permitted level of sulphites as additives. In November 2022, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned against excessive consumption of additives containing sulphur. In view of the EFSA report, it is to be expected that the previous values will be reduced. The European Commission started to work on this topic in spring 2023.

Sulphites are used in dried apricot, mango and pineapple production. They prevent microbiological contamination and preserve a light colour. Lowering the limit could raise problems with food safety, shelf life and marketing. Unsulfured dried fruit tastes significantly different and looks less attractive due to the brown colour. Moreover, in the world’s largest dried apricot production region (Malatya, Türkiye), there is an insufficient refrigerated storage capacity to adequately store large quantities of unsulphured dried apricots before further processing.

Another “natural label” trend is the use of “sun-dried” on the packaging. This claim attracts consumers, as sun drying looks more natural and environmentally friendly. However, sun drying increases the risk of contamination by insects, birds and vermin. Industry standard air-drying in tunnels is still the preferred method although there are options to introduce solar heating for boilers. Solar-drying solutions are, however, not practical for large scale processing and can be used only for micro companies and family manufacturing.

Figure 7: Frozen avocado bites (ANUGA 2023)

Frozen avocado bites (ANUGA 2023)

Source: Autentika Global

Figure 8: Organic banana flakes (ANUGA 2023)

Organic banana flakes (ANUGA 2023)

Source: Autentika Global

Figure 9: No Soy Sauce (ANUGA 2023)

No Soy Sauce (ANUGA 2023)

Source: Autentika Global

Tips:

  • Consider investing in technology to shorten production processes, simplify the supply chain and increase the use of natural processes, thereby increasing the perceived value for consumers. 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, and drying fruits and nuts without preservatives or bleaching. Vegetable juices can be preserved with natural acid, and vegetables by natural fermentation.

6. Changing consumer priorities: from immune support to mood boosting and healthy aging

Interest in health benefits in Europe is a long-term trend that is constantly evolving. In 2020 and 2021, the global Covid-19 pandemic motivated consumers to purchase food and drinks that would support their immune system. Ingredients such as vitamins C and D, zinc, probiotics and functional foods were increasingly used in product formulations. Now, consumers are increasingly starting to look for ingredients that can reduce stress and improve the general mood.

The constantly changing focus of consumers does not mean that the ingredients popular in the previous 2 years are no longer in demand. This means rather that the range of health-boosting food is widening.

Immune-boosting food

Foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin D, Zinc and probiotics are still popular amongst European consumers. If the mentioned vitamins are not naturally present in the original product, processors frequently add them to enhance health benefits. This often happens in the fruit and vegetable juice sector. Citrus and tropical juices are popular ingredients in “immunity-boosting” drinks. 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. Some examples are the German brand Live Fresh with 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.

Cognitive enhancers and stress-relief ingredients

Another ongoing trend is rising interest for “nootropic” and “adaptogen” ingredients. Nootropics are ingredients used to improve mental performance while adaptogens are substances that are believed by some consumers to help the body adapt to stress. The most popular nootropic product is caffeine, which is naturally found in coffee, cocoa, tea, kola nuts and guarana. Examples of companies following this trend are the UK brand “Exalt”, which uses nootropics in its Higher Energy smoothie, and “Brite” nootropic drinks.

Interest in stress-reducing ingredients has increased after the coronavirus pandemic, followed by high inflation and the pressure on household incomes. Popular ingredients used in food formulations which can potentially act as adaptogens are ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, St John’s wort, Kava or curcumin. Curcumin is specifically popular in the already mentioned juice shots. Google searches for ashwagandha rose by 70% in 2021 and 2022, and interest also continues to grow in 2023. Another promoted ingredient is Cannabidiol (CBD).

Figure 10: Interest over time in Google search for “ashwagandha” in Spain

Interest over time in Google search for “ashwagandha” in Spain

Source: Google Trends

Healthy aging

According to the Mintel 2024 Global Food and Drinks Trends, Gen X members, currently in their mid-40s-to-late-50s (born between around 1965 and 1979) are the age-group most interested in food and ingredients that will help them live long and healthy lives. Popular ingredients that can support healthy aging are blueberries, vitamin B 12 or maca. Ingredients which can help during the menopause period are also popular, such as maca or ginseng.

Functional ingredients in processed fruit, vegetables and nuts

Consumers are increasingly looking for foods containing ingredients with specific health benefits, the so-called “functional ingredients.” According to Informa Markets (a specialist content and data service company), the global functional specialty ingredient market should grow to USD 48,221 million by 2025. Some popular functional ingredients are green tea, curcuma, ginger and ginseng. They are mostly used due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions.

Foods that contain many functional ingredients are known as “superfoods”. Many processed fruits and vegetables are often marketed as superfoods, including coconut water, edible nuts, dried tropical fruit, prunes and superfruit juices. According to the Dutch processor SVZ, superfruit juices is a wide category that covers berries, tropical fruits and coconuts as well as fruit and vegetable combinations, including carrots, red beet and green vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as cucumbers. Superfruits are also finding their application in the cosmetics industry.

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.

Tips:

  • 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 any disease cannot be made on labels in the European Union.

Consumers become more health conscious and better informed

Consumers are increasingly watching what they eat and trying to reduce their intake of fat, sodium and sugar. As they become better informed about food, health and nutrition facts on the packaging of products become necessary. European consumers also want to have more information about how the product was made. According to the Innova Market Insights Trends of 2023, consumers in Europe determine how a healthy product is based on “the ingredients list, the nutrition label and on pack claims”.

The front-of-pack nutrition labelling is part of the “Farm to Fork” strategy. The aim behind this labelling is to improve consumer understanding of the nutritional value of foods and help them make healthier food choices. Different countries and companies already use different schemes that are not harmonised at an EU-level. The most popular schemes are Nutri-Score (France, Benelux, Germany, Spain), NutrInform battery (Italy), Traffic Light Labelling (the UK) and Keyhole (Scandinavia, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania).

Most of the schemes use a simplified letter and colour system. Still, this can be confusing to consumers, so the EU will propose a harmonised labelling system. A public consultation was run between December 2021 and March 2022. A total of 3,225 responses were received, of which 65% were from EU citizens. A Commission proposal is expected in 2023.

Figure 11: Examples of front-of-pack nutritional labelling used in Europe

Examples of front-of-pack nutritional labelling used in Europe

Source: Author’s compilation from several sources

Consumers’ need for information goes beyond health-related aspects, and an increasing number of them would like to know where and how the product is produced. 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. Some of these codes link to a corporate site where consumers can obtain more information on laboratory tests and ingredient origin. For example, Tanzanian cashew nut producer YYTZ Agro-Processing uses blockchain technology to guarantee single origin. Each cashew pack they produce has a QR code which can be scanned 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) and to the supermarket (Albert Heijn).

Belgian retailer Colruyt Group offers another interesting application. They have developed a smartphone application Smart With Food, giving its customers personalised nutritional advice. The consumer can create a profile in the app according to their personal nutritional needs. When purchasing a product, consumers can scan a product’s barcode and the app will show the nutritional values, ingredients and its Nutri-Score. If a scanned product fails to match the customer profile, the app will offer to search for better-suited products.

7. New processing technologies and digitalisation are entering the market

The main technology trends in the processed fruit and vegetable sector are in the areas of energy efficiency, the preservation of nutrients and digitalisation. Heat treatments are still the most popular sterilisation method in the processing of fruit and vegetables. They require, however, 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 and energy saving. Freezing, canning and drying are still typically done using standard technologies, as emerging techniques are not yet suitable for large-scale production. For example, solar heating solutions in fruit-drying technology are of much smaller capacities compared to standard continuous air tunnel drying. Examples of emerging new technologies are:

  • Rapid testing for contaminants – To increase food safety in processing facilities, speed-testing methods have been developed. Standard laboratory methods to check the levels of microbiological pathogens or mycotoxins often require several days. Many companies must outsource testing to accredited laboratories, as equipment is expensive. Moreover, this is not a practical way to test daily. New rapid testing kits are therefore used frequently for daily operations.
  • UF pasteurisation – UV pasteurisation techniques have an advantage over heat pasteurisation as there is no significant impact on the flavour and aroma of the final product. They are also more energy efficient. However, current solutions are not as efficient in the microbial kill rate compared to heat treatment. While in the dried fruit, nuts and canning industry, heat treatment is still the preferred method, there is an advancement in fruit juice processing – such as the Raslysation method.
  • Sugar reduction in juices – On the front-of-pack nutritional labelling, most fruit juices have a “C” grade due to the presence of naturally occurring sugars. To decrease the level of natural sugars and make products more attractive to final consumers with a “B” Nutri-Score level, processors are now using sugar/calorie reduction techniques. The three authorised processes are filtration, fermentation and the enzymatic treatment.
  • Ohmic heating – This technology uses electric current for product sterilisation. It is much faster than classical heating and it is suitable for canned fruit and vegetables, fruit preparations and jams, as it enables a 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 the products require cold storage.
  • Mechanical Vapour 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 duration on foods.
  • Isochoric freezing – This is a new technology that preserves food products at subfreezing temperatures without damage due to the 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 a better quality of the dried product. The company Bonduelle combines vacuum-microwave drying and freezing to give a better taste and texture to the vegetables after defrosting.
  • More efficient freezing techniques – Some producers develop freezing solutions that save on electricity costs. One such solution is IceGen.

Everything is going 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 smartphone 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 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 insight 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 forecasts 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.

Tips:

  • Always try to test machines and check their influence on quality before purchasing them. Be aware that there is no single processing recipe which you can copy from other companies. You must test processing lines yourself in your facility and adjust them to the fruit, vegetables and nut cultivars you use.
  • Read the CBI tips to go digital in the processed fruit and vegetables sector and to learn more about specific digitalisation trends, with many examples provided.
  • Monitor the developments of blockchain applications in international transport and logistics from companies. Carry out cost and benefit analyses before deciding to use blockchain services.

8. New sourcing origins and vertical integration are happening more frequently

Fluctuations in the supplies of raw materials, likely to increase due to climate change, are creating difficulties for European processors. Price inflation is pressing suppliers to look for alternative destinations and to be less dependent on single sourcing origins. To ensure more stable supplies, European processors are looking for new sourcing origins and investing directly in agricultural production in developing countries. Recent developments in new sourcing origins in the processed fruit, vegetables and nuts sectors are the following:

  • Frozen fruit – Instability in berry prices concerns the industry, as 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.
  • Tomatoes and walnuts – Ukraine 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 Ukraine will increase its tomato processing capacity further to 1 million tonnes in the next few years. Ukrainian tomato exports have found inroads into Poland, Germany, Belarus and the Czech Republic.
  • Dried tropical fruit – Until several years ago, sourcing of natural dried tropical fruit in Europe was mostly connected to South Africa. However, over the last 5 years, West Africa has become the leading supplier. The new trend is spreading from West to East Africa. For example, HPW, a Swiss dried mango, pineapple and coconut producer, opened its first processing facility in Ghana, later on another facility in Ivory Coast and in 2022 also started with operations in Kenya.
  • Olive oil – Due to high prices and bad weather conditions, European processors cannot obtain sufficient quantities of olives for processing and bottling in the major European producing countries – Spain, Italy and Greece. In 2022 and 2023, countries therefore started importing significant amounts from South America (Chile and Peru) and also from new North African and Middle East sources.
  • Dried apricots and grapes – To decrease dependency on Türkiye, some European producers have started to increase the import of dried grapes and apricots from Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
  • Apple juice – Apple juice is traditionally produced within Europe, especially in Poland. However, there is a trend to diversify sourcing, and European traders and processors increasingly source apple juice from Türkiye, Ukraine, Serbia and Moldova.
  • Pineapple juice – Traditionally being sourced from Costa Rica and South–East Asia, pineapple juice is increasingly being bought from African origins such as Kenya and Eswatini.
  • Canned beans – Canned beans are traditionally sourced from within Europe, mostly from Italy. Recently, however, they have been increasingly sourced from Türkiye, Kenya, Lebanon and Tanzania.
  • Dates – Until recently, the main suppliers of dates to Europe were exclusively Tunisia and Algeria. The recent trend is to introduce a wider range of date varieties on the European market. New increasing sourcing origins include Palestine, Iran, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Autentika Global and updated by M-Brain GmbH carried out this study on behalf of CBI.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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In today’s dynamic food and beverage landscape, consumers are actively shaping the supply chain with their preferences and values. For ingredient suppliers, the key to seizing a significant share of the market lies in championing purpose-driven change. Those who empower their clients to lead the charge in the food and nutrition transition, facilitating innovation in both new and existing product categories, will find themselves at the forefront of this evolving market.

Reindert Dekker

Reindert Dekker, EuroBras Trade & Development