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The European market potential for black pepper

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The popularity of pepper as the most used spice in the world contributes to the stable demand for black pepper on the European market. Opportunities for new developing country suppliers can be found in large markets such as Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Italy. Sustainably produced pepper increases your chances to enter the European market.

1. Product description

Black pepper is the dried berry of Piper nigrum. As the name indicates, most traded Piper nigrum berries are black, but they are also traded as white or green. For clarity, the term ‘peppercorn’ is often used instead of ‘pepper’ for the green and red berries. This is because in English, the terms ‘green pepper’ and ‘red pepper’ are also used to describe vegetables and spices belonging to the Capsicum and Pimenta genera.

The main types of pepper are:

  • Black pepper – berries with unbroken pericarp (the flesh and skin surrounding the seed). In the production process, berries are harvested when they are still green, but they darken during drying due to enzymatic oxidation. In most producing countries, pepper is dried in the sun.
  • White pepper – ripe berries with the pericarp removed. These are basically the seeds of the peppercorns. White pepper is commonly produced by soaking fully ripe berries in water. This process decomposes the pericarp, which can then easily be removed.
  • Green pepper – unripe berries. In the production process, blanching and controlled tunnel drying are commonly used to prevent oxidation and to preserve the green colour. For the European market, using sulphur dioxide as a colour-preserving additive for dried green peppercorns is not allowed. This is important to underline, as the Codex Alimentarius and International Pepper Community pepper standard do allow the use of sulphur dioxide, in contrast to the EU legislation.

The fruit of Piper nigrum is red when it is fully ripe, but it is not traded in this red colour. Instead, the name ‘pink peppercorns’ is commonly used for red berries of Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) or Peruvian pepper (Schinus molle). In some producing countries (such as Vietnam), pepper is also sold as red, but quantities are very small and used only for domestic production. This product is also very expensive, with a price that is 3-4 times higher than that of dried black pepper.

There are also other spices from the genus Piper, such as Piper Longum (long pepper), Piper cubeba (Java pepper) or Piper guineense (Ashanti or Benin pepper), but these are not widely known on the European market.

Piper nigrum is a climbing shrub, grown in different tropical parts of the world. Because the plant also likes shade, it is sometimes grown together with coffee and tea on plantations. Each plant can produce berries for 40 years. Over the last 5 years, global production has increased from 430 thousand tonnes in 2016 to more than 570 thousand tonnes in 2020. The leading producer is Vietnam, with a 35-45% share depending on the season, followed by Brazil, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Black pepper can be used whole, crushed, or ground. It is the most widely used spice in the world. It is used to give pungency and flavour to food. The alkaloid piperine gives the pungency, while essential oils give the specific flavour. Ground white pepper is an important spice in light-coloured food, where dark particles are undesirable. Green pepper is also used in brine. Mixes of black, green, white and pink peppercorns are very popular in transparent grinder packaging, due to the attractive colour combination and rich flavour.

This study covers general information regarding the market for pepper in Europe, which may interest producers in developing countries. When ‘Europe’ is referred to in this report, it means the 27 member states of the European Union, plus the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Table 1 below lists the products in the pepper product group and their product codes.

Table 1: Products in the pepper product group

Combined Nomenclature Number

Product

090411

Pepper of the genus Piper, neither crushed nor ground

090412

Pepper of the genus Piper, crushed or ground

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for black pepper?

Black pepper is the most important and widely consumed spice in Europe. It is an important ingredient in many dishes. The popularity of black pepper does not decrease over time, as its specific characteristics make it impossible to find a good substitute. Also, European consumers are used to the taste of black pepper, as it has been present in European cuisine for centuries. Pepper was so valuable in European history that it was often used as currency. For that reason, black pepper is sometimes called ‘the king of spices’.

Europe and the USA are the largest importers of black pepper in the world, together accounting for approximately one third of global imports. Since 2016, European imports of black pepper have increased by 5% annually, reaching 76.7 thousand tonnes in 2020. Internal European trade in 2020 was 36.6 thousand tonnes. Around half of internal European trade consists of simple re-exports of black pepper that originally came from producing countries, while the other half includes processed (ground) pepper.

In Europe, the most commonly used form of black pepper in food is ground pepper, but most pepper is imported as whole. Nearly 90% of imported black pepper consists of whole peppercorns, while the remaining 10% is ground pepper. European importers prefer whole peppercorns because it is easier to test and control the safety and quality of whole pepper berries. Also, properly dried whole peppercorns can preserve flavour for a long time, which is revealed after crushing.

The consumption of black pepper is expected to continue growing at a stable rate following the European population growth. In the next five years, imports are likely to increase with an annual growth rate of 1-2%. European markets offer a price advantage over Asian markets for high-quality and sustainably produced black pepper exporters. For example, in 2019 and 2020, the average export unit value of Vietnam to Germany (the largest European market) was 10% higher than to the USA and 20% higher than to China.

As Europe does not produce pepper, the consumption is very similar to imports. Apparent consumption (the difference between imports and exports) is nearly 70 thousand tonnes.

Within Europe, Germany is the largest importer with a 30% share, followed by the UK (12%), the Netherlands (11%), France (11%), Poland (6%) and Spain (5.6%). Several leading importers also re-export a significant share of their imported pepper, especially Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. Because of that, the ranking of consumers is different. For example, the Netherlands is ranked 3rd as an importer but 5th as a consumer, as shown in Figure 2. 

3. Which European countries offer the most opportunities for black pepper?

As Europe’s main importer of black pepper, Germany is an interesting focus market. Other promising markets include the United Kingdom, France, Poland, the Netherlands, and Italy. Spain is also a large importer, but it re-exports a significant share and consumes less than Italy.

Note: Figure 3 represents apparent consumption, which is calculated as the difference between imports and exports. This does not include stocks and may not be the most reliable consumption estimation. However, this is the most precise estimation based on the official sources. Some sources may provide data about retail sales, but that data is not complete as a lot of pepper is consumed by the food processing industry and foodservice segments. 

Germany

Germany offers good opportunities as the largest importer and consumer of pepper in Europe. Over the past five years, Germany’s pepper imports have increased at an annual rate of 3%, reaching 33 thousand tonnes (worth €87 million) in 2020. More than 90% of these imports concern whole pepper, with the remaining 10% being ground pepper. Germany re-exports 40-50% of its imported quantities, depending on the year. In 2020, Germany re-exported more than 13 thousand tonnes, leaving 19 thousand tonnes for domestic consumption.

In 2020, Brazil was Germany’s leading pepper supplier with a 43% import share, followed by Vietnam (38%), Indonesia (6%), Cambodia (3%), India (3%) and Sri Lanka (2%). Other emerging suppliers include Ecuador, China, and Tanzania. Cambodia is gaining market share in Germany, increasing its exports of pepper from only 45 tonnes in 2016, to more than 1.1 thousand tonnes in 2020. Germany is the only leading European pepper importer where Brazil is the leading supplier.

Pepper is the largest imported spice category in Germany, with more than 20% of total spice imports. German companies mainly import black pepper, and further process it either by simple crushing and packing or by using it as an ingredient in spice blends and seasoning preparations. A significant share of black pepper in Germany, as well as in the whole of Europe, is used in the food processing industry and in the foodservice segment.

Fuchs Group (officially named DF World of Spices) has the largest retail market share among independent brands. They have several brands of spices that include pepper, such as Fuchs, Ostmann or BioWagner (an organic brand). In addition to their own brands, they also pack pepper and other spices for several German private labels. The main private labels in Germany are Kania (by discounter chain Lidl), Le Gusto (by Aldi Süd), Portland (by Aldi Nord), Gut & Günstig (by Edeka), and REWE and REWE Beste Wahl (by REWE).

Examples of other companies with their own brands are Alba, Merschbrock-Wiese Gewürz, Hartkorn (organic), Brecht and Nebona. While Fuchs is present with its own brands in the whole of Germany, several other brands are only present in specific regions. Germany is the largest European market for organic food, so it is a particularly attractive market for organic pepper. Specialised organic food retailers, such as Biomarkt, DM or Alnatura sell a lot of the organic spices in Germany. Leading mainstream retailers also have their own ranges of organic private labels.

Fuchs Group is not only leading in Germany, but they are the largest European spice manufacturer and the leading privately owned global spice company. In addition to Germany, they have branches in several European countries and the USA, as well as purchasing operations in Brazil, Cambodia, and China. In Brazil, Fuchs has its own pepper purchasing company Tropoc, which collaborates with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture to develop more sustainable pepper production. Fuchs’ operations in Brazil contributed to making Brazil the leading pepper supplier to Germany. 

The German Spice Association has almost 90 members that are primarily engaged in refining spices and producing spice blends, spice preparations, and other seasoning ingredients. Their combined value in 2019 exceeded €1.2 billion.

Figure 4: Example of an organic, private-label black pepper brand in Germany

Example of an organic, private-label black pepper brand in Germany

Source: Photo by kiliweb per Open Food Facts

Figure 5: Leading independent black pepper brand in Germany

Leading independent black pepper brand in Germany

Source: Photo by kiliweb per Open Food Facts

The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is the second-largest importer and consumer of pepper in Europe. Since 2016, British pepper imports have decreased at an average annual rate of 3%, reaching 13.5 thousand tonnes in 2020, valued at €50.5 million. Some 68% of the UK’s pepper import concerns whole peppercorns; the remaining 32% being crushed or ground pepper. Most of the imported pepper in the UK is used for domestic consumption and only around 8% is re-exported to other European markets.

In 2020, 40% of British pepper imports came from Vietnam, followed by the Netherlands (22% via re-export), India (10%), and France (7% via re-export). Pepper of Vietnamese origin is estimated to have a UK market share of more than 60%, although not all quantities are imported directly. Direct import from Vietnam is also increasing, from 3.1 thousand tonnes in 2016 to 5.5 thousand tonnes in 2020. Other emerging suppliers to the UK include China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and South Africa.

In the retail segment, private labels of retail chains like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, and Morrisons, have the largest market shares for packed pepper. Two leading independent brands selling pepper are Schwartz, owned by McCormick, and Bart, part of the Germany-based Fuchs Group. Examples of other brands are Santa Maria (a Swedish company, part of the Paulig group), East End (a specialist trader of spices, pulses and rice), Saxa (by Premier Foods), Maldon (a salt specialist) and Daylesford (an organic food supplier).

The industry estimates that there are around 100 importers of pepper in the UK, some of them trading in small quantities. Several large companies are members of the Seasoning and Spice Association. Olam Group, the largest global pepper supplier, has a UK-based trade office – Olam International Ltd. Some notable examples of other pepper importers and traders in the UK include British Pepper & Spice, Bart Ingredients, East End Foods, Silk Route, Fiddes Payne, HJ Langdon, and Altonpride. Many of the leading importers perform processing activities such as grounding, mixing, blending, and packing.

Fairtrade-certified pepper can offer opportunities for new suppliers, as the UK is the largest Fairtrade market in Europe. Currently (as of 2021), there are five Fairtrade-certified companies in the UK for the trade of black pepper: British Pepper & Spice, Dani Organic Foods, Bart Ingredients, Tchai Ovna and Van Rees. Fairtrade-certified suppliers can enter a niche segment of the UK market and avoid competing with the leading suppliers.

Figure 6: Leading UK brand of black pepper

Leading UK brand of black pepper

Source: Schwartz

Figure 7: Leading brand of black pepper in France

Leading brand of black pepper in France

Source: Autentika Global

France

Since 2016, French import of pepper has been growing at an average annual rate of 1%, reaching 12 thousand tonnes and valued at €41.4 million in 2020. Most pepper (78%) is imported as whole, while ground and crushed peppercorns make up the remaining 22%. France re-exports more than half of its imported volumes, therefore French pepper consumption is estimated at 5.8 thousand tonnes in 2020. The main markets for French pepper re-export are Poland, the USA and Italy.

In 2020, the leading supplier of pepper to France was Vietnam with a 40% share, followed by Brazil (23%), Germany (11%, via re-export), Indonesia (11%), and the Netherlands (3%, re-export). Vietnam is gaining market share in France, up from 3.2 thousand tonnes in 2016 to 4.8 thousand tonnes in 2020. Other, relatively small suppliers include Madagascar, India, Ecuador, China, and Cambodia.

Most retail chains in France sell pepper under their own private labels, including Carrefour (Carrefour and Carrefour Bio labels), Leclerc (Rustica and eco labels), and Auchan (Auchan and Auchan bio labels). Leading independent spice brands that also sell pepper in France are Ducros (now owned by McCormick) and Fuchs (based in Germany). Examples of other brands are Sainte Lucie, Albert Menes and Espig. French retailers select packers of private labels in competitive tender processes, so some of the private label pepper is packed in other countries.

Examples of French pepper importers and traders are Haudecoeur, Arcadie, Beaun'Epices, Le Jardin des Epices, Fuchs, Epicea, Spigol, Sainte Lucie, Soco Herb, Le Comptoir Colonial, Agidra and Eric Bur. Some French importers have developed their own brands, and some act only as wholesalers.

Poland

The import of pepper to Poland has increased at an annual rate of 4% since 2016. In 2020, Polish pepper import reached 7.2 thousand tonnes; worth €19.9 million. More than 75% of the Polish pepper import concerns whole peppercorns; the remaining 25% being crushed or ground pepper. Some of the imported quantities are re-exported, and the estimated domestic consumption in 2020 was 5.4 thousand tonnes.

Polish import of pepper is very concentrated, with Vietnam dominating and leaving little space for other suppliers. In 2020, Poland imported 83% of its pepper from Vietnam, followed by Brazil (6%), India (2%), Romania (2%, via re-export), Germany (2%) and Indonesia (2%). Vietnam is strongly gaining market share in Poland, increasing its export of pepper from 3.6 thousand tonnes in 2016 to 6 thousand tonnes in 2020.

The market share of pepper sold under private label in Poland is increasing, led by retail chain Biedronka and followed by Lidl, Tesco, ABC, Kaufland and others. Leading pepper brands in Poland include Kamis (by McCormick), Prymat, and Kotányi. Private-label sales are led by the retail chain Biedronka and followed by Lidl, Tesco, ABC, Kaufland and others.

Polish pepper traders and processors include Grotex, Saran Enterprises and Magdal.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is an important trade hub for black pepper in Europe. From 2016 until 2019, its import increased gradually to more than 15 thousand tonnes, but in 2020, import decreased to 12.3 thousand tonnes; valued at €31 million. The reason for the decreased import volume in 2020 was not lower demand but lower supply, as the main supplying countries had lower supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Netherlands is a big trader of pepper, re-exporting 75% of its imported quantities. Domestic consumption in 2020 was estimated at 4.3 thousand tonnes. The main market for Dutch re-export is Germany, followed by Hungary, France, and Belgium.

Vietnam is the leading supplier of pepper to the Netherlands with a 53% share in 2020, followed by Brazil (17%), Indonesia (12%), Spain (4%, via re-exports) and India (3%). Tanzania, Sri Lanka, China and Madagascar are other emerging suppliers to the Netherlands, but with very small market shares. Tanzania is increasing its presence on the Dutch pepper market; increasing its export from 15 tonnes in 2017 to 115 tonnes in 2020, but its export share is still only 1%.

Retail chains such as Albert Heijn (AH label), Aldi (De Kruidencompany label) and Jumbo control a lot of the pepper retail sales in the Netherlands. The leading independent brands of pepper in the Netherlands are Verstegen and Euroma. Examples of other brands are Drogheria (an Italian brand owned by McCormick), Santa Maria (a Swedish/Scandinavian brand), Kerala (a brand by Belgian company isfi), Chan’s and Jozo (salt and pepper supplier).

The leading pepper supplier in the Netherlands is Nedspice. Nedspice owns two pepper production facilities in Vietnam and is the main Dutch supplier of Vietnamese pepper. Olam group, the global leading pepper supplier, has its main European office in the Netherlands too. Examples of other pepper traders include Pepperdesk BV (specialised pepper importer), Catz International, BCFoods, Euroma (especially after it acquired spice trader Intertaste), and AVS Spice. Some companies specialise in mixing and crushing, such as Huijbregts Groep.

Some companies in the Netherlands have developed spice sterilisation services for suppliers, such as Food Ingredients Service Center Europe. Spice traders in the Netherlands are organised within the Dutch Spice Association, which strongly promotes sustainable sourcing of spices.

Italy

Italy is ranked as the 7th European importer of black pepper, after Spain, but it is ranked as the 6th consumer because Spain re-exports half of its import. Since 2016, the import of pepper to Italy has increased at an average annual rate of 1%, reaching 7.8 thousand tonnes, and valued at €15.2 million in 2020. Nearly 78% of these imports concern whole pepper; the remaining 22% being ground pepper.

Interestingly, Italy is the only European importer where France is the leading pepper supplier. The reason behind this is the presence of French suppliers and brands in Italy. For example, French brand Ducros is present on the Italian market, and French wholesalers also supply the Italian market. In 2020, France accounted for 25% of Italy’s pepper import, followed by Vietnam (23%), Brazil (23%), Germany (8%, re-export) and India (4%). Other suppliers include Indonesia, Ecuador, Madagascar and China.

In the retail segment, a lot of pepper is packed and sold under the private labels of Italian retail chains such as Conad, Coop Italia, Selex, Esselunga and Europspin. Independent brands include Drogheria (owned by McCormic), Canamella (by Gruppo Montenegro), Ubena (by Fuchs) and L’Aroma.

Tips:

The need for stable and sustainable sourcing is the leading driving force behind the growing consumer interest in black pepper in Europe. To find out more about general trends, read our study about trends on the European spices and herbs market.

Sustainable sourcing

Sustainability is an important topic for European buyers. Important sustainability issues in pepper production involve the use of soil fertilisers, irrigation water, and pesticide residues. Depending on the country, the production of spices itself involves labour issues affecting women, migrant or child labour. Market leaders are investing in sustainability not only to improve their image, but also because of economic benefits, such as cost reduction, shorter supply chains, and easier compliance with European regulations.

Sustainability certification in spices was once used to target niche markets (such as FairTrade), but now sustainability claims and certification are one of the main trends in the mainstream market. In 2020, the EU established an official policy called the European Green Deal, which includes the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy. Both policies influence food production and trade. Aspects of the European Green Deal relevant for sourcing spices from developing countries are reducing the use of pesticides, increasing organic production, and switching to sustainable packaging materials.

To improve sustainable production and spice sourcing, a group of mainly European companies and organisations formed the Sustainable Spice Initiative in 2012. The main objective of this initiative is to strive towards a fully sustainable spice production and trade in the sector. Several pepper suppliers in developing countries are members of this initiative. These companies are making additional efforts to support sustainable production, including organic production, food safety investments and support to farmers.

Sustainable sourcing is not only a business initiative. Sustainability has also been placed on the global agenda through the Sustainable Development Goals, covering not only environmental, but also social and ethical issues. Most spices are produced by small-scale farmers, who typically rotate spices alongside other crops, depending on the geographical area. These farmers often face poverty and food insecurity.

A good example is the Peermade Development Society (PDS) in India. PDS promotes the cultivation, processing and marketing of quality organic spices to help small, marginal, and tribal farmers to achieve sustainable livelihoods. PDS has developed into one of the largest organic exporters of black pepper in India.

Another good example is Dutch company Nedspice’s sustainable pepper programme, which produces pepper in Vietnam. In 2013, Nedspice partnered with IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) to assist farmers in sustainably improving their farming practices and complying with the Rainforest Alliance standard. Within a year, over 250 farmers were Rainforest Alliance certified. Seven years after the start of the pilot, over 2000 farmers are involved in the Nedspice Farmers Partnership Programme in Vietnam, with more than 500 farmers Rainforest Alliance certified.

Value-added black pepper processing

Black pepper is not used only as a spice but also as a food supplement and natural product. Increased consumption of food supplements is one of the strong trends on the EU market, especially under the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some popular uses are the following:

  • Piperine as an enhancer of food supplements – The active component in black pepper, piperine, is able to improve the absorption of other supplements. Currently, it is most often used in combination with another popular spice, curcuma, and its active component, curcumin. When curcumin is used as a food supplement alone, some quantities are not used by the body, but removed through urinary excretion. However, absorption of curcumin is enhanced when it is combined with piperine. It is also used to enhance the absorption of other components such as vitamins, minerals or amino acids.
  • Black pepper essential oil – Essential oil is not only responsible for the flavour of pepper but is also used as a component in massage oils and as an ingredient in perfumes. In massage oils, it is used to relieve stress, but also to improve blood circulation and help arthritis and rheumatism symptoms.
  • Piperine as a shampoo component - Piperine is used in shampoo as a component that can help fight dandruff, enhance hair growth, prevent grey hair and improve scalp circulation.

Tip:

  • Consider investing in a sustainability certification and actively promote your sustainability approach in both environmental and social aspects.

This study has been carried out on behalf of CBI by Autentika Global.

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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