Through what channels can you get spices and herbs onto the European market?
In Europe, spices and herbs are mainly used by the food industry for processing in food products. Most opportunities for you as an exporter are in supplying spices and herbs in bulk. While spice mixtures are becoming more popular among consumers, it is still very difficult to compete with European processors. As an exporter, you can sell your spices and herbs either to a specialised trader or to a European processor / packer. Of these, the latter channel is becoming more important in the sector. In some cases it may be possible to sell directly to end-users such as food and beverage manufacturers.
The main European segments for spices and herbs, including examples, are illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Main European segments for spices and herbs
The industrial segment remains the largest user of spices and herbs
The industrial segment is by far the largest and therefore the most important to target. You can usually reach it through specialised spice importers and blenders. The food manufacturing industry is the largest user, in particular the meat, bakery and confectionery industries. In the beverage industry, especially the herbal tea manufacturers are important users of spices and herbs. The flavour compounds industry makes ingredients for other industries and in turn uses, spices and herbs as ingredients. However, this industry generally depends on extracts and oils already produced from spices in origin.
The share of turnover from small and medium-sized enterprises in the European food and drinks industry was almost 50% in 2017. This figure illustrates the diversity of the European food sector as well as the interest in products of different quality and origin. As a result, there are opportunities for you as an exporter.
In the industrial food sector, there is a clear trend towards ready-to-eat food and convenience food. This fact increases the industrial market for spices and herbs. European spice processers provide the food sector with ready-to-use spice mixtures, which are either used in processed food products or further processed into consumer sachets of specific spice and herb mixtures.
Figure 2 shows the different segmentations within the industrial sector. The figure shows that you will have to focus on a specific segment of the market, depending on whether you are able to supply higher- or lower-quality spices.
Figure 2: Segmentation based on presentation, quality and price within the industrial sector
The food retail sector is the second-largest segment in Europe and is highly concentrated
The retail and food-service segments are dominated by European (often national) brands, such as Fuchs, Verstegen and Euroma, and multinational brands such as McCormick. Private label (supermarket) brands are important as well. Production for all these brands is conducted by European spice packers and blenders. Since supermarkets often require large quantities and have very specific requirements regarding packaging, it is very difficult to supply them directly. Products already packed in origin countries are mainly found in European ethnic markets.
The retail sector can be further segmented into supermarkets, independent grocers and specialty shops. Most retailers sell individually packed spices or herbs, or they sell specific mixtures. Overall, spice and herb mixtures are becoming more popular in the retail segment, partly due to the increasing interest in ethnic food.
Supermarkets (multiple retailers) account for 60–90% of the retail segment, depending on the country, and are rather concentrated. The market share of the top three supermarkets ranges from 30% to 50% in most European countries. Important supermarkets located throughout Europe include:
Where scalability is very important for supermarkets, it is less so for speciality shops. Here, high quality is more important. However, their market share is substantially lower. Speciality shops focused on high-quality spices are, for example:
- De Kruidenbaron (the Netherlands)
- Just Ingredients (the United Kingdom)
- Apfelbacher’s Gewürz-Express (Germany)
Figure 3 shows the different segmentations within the retail sector. The figure shows that you will have to focus on a specific segment of the market, depending on whether you are able to supply higher- or lower-quality spices.
Figure 3: Segmentation based on presentation, quality and price within the retail sector
The food service industry is an important segment for high-quality spices and herbs
The food service industry represents a smaller share of the European market for spices and herbs. The industry focuses on quality, taste and colour. If you can provide high-quality and/or certified spices and herbs, this sector is interesting to you.
This industry is always looking for exciting new tastes and combinations. Spices and herbs, especially those not very well known in Europe, can therefore play a significant role in the search for the latest trends in this segment.
End-users of the food service industry generally buy their products in specialised food-service distributors in Europe, who offer larger packaging sizes (“catering packs”). This industry consists of businesses, institutions and companies responsible for meals prepared outside the home. It includes hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, companies, schools and hospital canteens, and catering businesses. The size of these organisations ranges from small providers to large multinational enterprises. They use whole and processed spices and herbs in addition to mixes, sauces and wet pastes, similar to the variety in the retail segment.
Figure 4 shows the different segmentations within the food service sector. The figure shows that you will have to focus on a specific segment of the market, depending on whether you are able to supply higher- or lower-quality spices.
Figure 4: Segmentation based on presentation, quality and price within the food service segment
- See our study of Sustainable spices and herbs for more information on the development of this market.
- Collect information on food trends. Knowing how the taste of European buyers is developing can offer opportunities. For example, the International Trade Centre (ITC) gives an annual overview of the latest trends.
Figure 5: Visual presentation of market channels for spices and herbs*
As an exporter, you can use several channels to bring your spices or herbs on the European market. However, you should realise that if you are unable to supply at least one container within your buyer’s short time frame, it is unlikely for you to supply to the European market. If you are unable to do so, you can work together with other suppliers interested in supplying to the European market.
Traders act as middlemen between exporters and their customers. They buy bulk quantities of spices and herbs and resell them at an increased price. An importer may also work with or perform processing and consumer packing activities.
In most cases, importers have long-standing contacts with their suppliers. They source from different origins to ensure supply year-round. To justify their presence, traders are specialising in certain commodities that spice processors and packers find harder to handle. Examples include black pepper because of the price volatility and the risks involved, or chilli peppers, which require a large scale of operation. Other examples are dried onions and garlic, which have specific quality concerns. Traders also tend to move closer to the countries of origin, in order to secure their share of good-quality supply.
Brokers and agents are intermediaries who bring buyers and sellers together. They charge a commission for their services. European buyers can be trading companies, but they are mostly processors. Agents and brokers are interesting in the event that you have a specialised product (such as high quality or sustainable) for which buyers are harder to find. The role of the agent is slowly diminishing due to the increased transparency demanded by the market.
Processors/packers purchase crude spices and/or herbs and perform cleaning, grading, grinding, blending and packaging. They distribute the ground or processed products to industrial users after this initial processing. Some of them manufacture end products to supply directly to retail or food service industries. These activities are often integrated into one company.
Increasingly, processors/packers import their spices and herbs directly from supplying countries. This development is driven by several motives. One of these is processors and packers having better control over the entire value chain, which benefits the quality, safety and sustainability of the spices and herbs. Secondly, it facilitates more value addition in origin countries, like steam-sterilisation and testing of the ingredients, hence providing further benefits through such things as outsourcing risks and reducing costs. In addition, processors/packers try to commit suppliers and secure long-term sources of supply.
It is important to note that processors can be more demanding in terms of supply volume and continuity than traders, as they depend on continuous supply to produce their final products.
Processing in the supplying countries is providing more and more opportunities. However, European buyers are very reluctant to source further processed products from countries of origin due to concerns about quality, food safety and adulteration. As a supplier, you should be able to deliver constant quality, taste, aroma and colour. You should also be able to compete against European suppliers through an excellent knowledge of the taste preference on their domestic market.
Based on the segmentation presented in the first part of this document, different channels are relevant, as outlined below.
Food processors purchase their raw materials from processors or traders. The food-processing industry demands large quantities of spices and herbs to manufacture food products. In some cases, spices and/or herbs are purchased directly from producers in developing countries. The food-processing industry is most suited for companies that can meet the high standards demanded in terms of service level and sales volume (in addition to requirements for quality and food safety).
The retail sector buys single spices and herbs from traders and processors, as well as further processed food products (for example, seasonings, wet pastes, meat or bakery products) from the industrial sector. Large retail chains often work with preferred suppliers and have demands in terms of order size and frequency, continuity and service. As a result, it is hard for exporters from developing countries to supply to these buyers directly. Smaller retailers provide some opportunities for direct selling, especially ethnic retailers.
Food service providers mainly source locally from European producers, importers, wholesalers, food processors and retailers. Providers in the high-end segment (see Figure 4) might be interested in sourcing speciality products directly from suppliers.
- See our studies of Tips to find buyers and Tips to do business on the market for spices and herbs.
- See our study of Buyer requirements for the spices and herbs market to learn more about specific buyer requirements in Europe.
- See our study of value-added spices and herbs for additional insight into the opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises from developing countries.
- European spice and herb companies are often interested in exporting from countries with opposite seasons. As the production for that year stops in Europe, companies are willing to source from other regions where production is starting.
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