Which trends offer opportunities or pose threats on the European spices and herbs market?
The increasing demand for sustainably produced spices, the growing interest in the health benefits of spices and in international ethnic cuisines are the top trends opening up opportunities for exporters from developing countries. On the other hand, increasing buyer requirements and frequent legislation changes are the main threats for new suppliers from developing countries not yet familiar with these requirements. Spices are increasingly being tested for allergens and plant-toxins in spices.
Contents of this page
- Increasing freight rates impact the prices of many spices and herbs
- Heat Treatment is becoming a must for European buyers
- Sustainable sourcing turning into a leading trend
- Fair trade practices are evolving towards legal requirements
- More transparency throughout the supply chain
- Changing diets and consumption patterns results in growing (niche) markets
- Spices with health benefits are more in demand during COVID-19
- Innovations in (consumer) packaging and sustainable materials
- New origins in Asia and Africa are coming up!
1. Increasing freight rates impact the prices of many spices and herbs
Awareness of allergens and plant toxins leads to stricter controls
According to the European legislation on the provision of food information to consumers, allergens must be clearly listed in the ingredient list of foods. Although officially listed allergens in the spices and herbs category are only celery and mustard, European food inspectors found traces of many other allergens in spices due to cross-contamination. In spice-producing countries allergens such as sesame, mustard or peanuts are often grown in the same fields next to spices, which can result in cross-contamination.
Cross-contamination with allergens can happen at many places in the supply chain and European inspections frequently test food, including spices, on the presence of allergens. It can, for example, happen during shipment when spices are transported in the same containers with allergens. Allergen contamination could also happen in Europe if the same equipment is used for processing (such as grinding, mixing, packing) non-allergen spices and allergen ingredients (such as peanuts or cereals).
To secure clients, European importers have started to implement stricter control on the presence of allergens in spices. As there is no European standard for allergen control, some European traders have implemented the Australian VITAL certification (Voluntary Incidental Trace Allergen Labelling). Being able to deliver spices and herbs that are free of allergens has become a major competitive advantage. For example, the company Dutch Spices uses their allergen-free offer of spices and herbs as a Unique Selling Point (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Logo of the company Dutch Spices
Source: Dutch Spices
Another concern is related to plant toxins found in several spices such as oregano, cumin and anise. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are plant toxins that can be naturally present in weeds. They can contaminate seeds and spices in the field. These toxins were not a big reason for concern before 2020, but during 2020 and 2021, the European Rapid Information System for Food and Feed (RASFF) recorded more than 20 notifications of high levels of PA, which raised awareness of the issue.
Since December 2020, on the basis of Regulation (EU) 2020/2040, maximum levels for PA in cumin seeds and several herbs have been set at 400 μg/kg, while maximum levels in oregano and marjoram are set at 1000 μg/kg. As this regulation will come into force on 1 July 2022, many European traders are starting to worry as early tests showed that it was very difficult to find cumin seeds and oregano on the market that met the proposed maximum PA levels. Producing PA-free spices and herbs will become an important competitive advantage for suppliers.
- Follow the Allergen Risk Assessment Model for Dried Herbs and Spices published by the European Spices Association to ensure that your spices and herbs are allergen-free. To assess the risk of cross-contamination, use the Risk Assessment Model Calculator.
- Implement integrated crop management to prevent PA contamination, such as a safe planting distance from potential risk areas and the physical removal of weeds while they are in the early development stage.
2. Heat Treatment is becoming a must for European buyers
European importers of spices and herbs are increasingly searching for suppliers who can deliver heat-treated spices and herbs. According to the RASFF 2020 report, pathogenic microorganisms (mostly Salmonella) were found 77 times in imported spice and herbs at customs. The risk of contamination with pathogenic microorganisms can be reduced by heat treatment, irradiation, preservatives and fumigation.
European importers prefer heat treatment (usually steam sterilisation) over any other type of sterilisation. Other options to reduce this risk are limited and are often illegal in Europe. For example, ethylene oxide is still used to control pathogenic microorganisms in seeds and spices in many non-European countries, but it is banned in Europe. In 2020, there were more than 40 notifications of unauthorised use of ethylene oxide in spices and herbs. This resulted in recalls of many consumer products in Europe.
Irradiation of spices and herbs, for example by ionising radiation, is an efficient way to sterilise spices and herbs, but it is not favoured by European buyers and consumers. If spices or herbs are treated by irradiation, they must be labelled to inform European consumers of such treatment. Most Europeans consider radiation to be harmful and lose confidence in irradiated products. Therefore, importers very rarely accept spices and herbs treated by irradiation.
The use of preservatives is also banned for spices and herbs in Europe. The only allowed preservative is sulphur dioxide, but it can only be used in cinnamon. Its use in other spices and herbs is forbidden. Even in cinnamon, the use of sulphur dioxide is problematic, because if it is used in concentrations over 10mg/kg it must be declared as an allergen. As already described in the previous chapter, allergen-free spices are an important trend.
It seems that heat sterilisation is becoming the only acceptable option for many European buyers, as it is natural and free of chemicals and radiation.
- Invest in heat sterilisation, such as with saturated steam at 121°C, to guarantee food safety concerning pathogen microorganisms. As heat treatment equipment is a capital investment, you can use the services of a third party in Europe to do the important heat treatment according to your customer’s requirements.
- Search for the heat sterilisation solutions by contacting some of the well-established equipment producers present in Europe. Those include examples such as Bühler Group, Tema Process, Ventilex, De Lama or JBT.
- Search the database of ANUGA FOOD TEC exhibitors to find the best equipment for your processes. You can select ‘Food Safety, Laboratory technology, analytics and biotechnology’ in the menu, then ‘cleaning and hygiene equipment, and finally ‘Sterilizing equipment’. More specifically, under trends you can select ‘spices’. You can also consider decreasing your production costs through investing into used but good equipment. Check online Industrial Auctions or Troostwijk Auctions to find the equipment that best suits your needs.
3. Sustainable sourcing turning into a leading trend
Strict sustainability requirements by European buyers were not widely present in herbs and spices until recently. However, this seems to be changing as certain spices produced less sustainably pose threats to the global supply chain. This is because many of the herbs and spices imported into Europe are produced by underpaid farmers, who resort to using more chemicals to obtain better yields or simply switch to more profitable crops, which in turn lead to shortages of high-quality and safe herbs and spices on the global market.
The topic of sustainability covers a wide range of social, environmental and economic aspects throughout the supply chain. However, in the herbs and spices sector specifically, the most important focus is on farmers, who are the first and most important link in the supply chain. Farmers in spice producing countries often lack advanced production technology, up-to-date market information, equipment, and storing and drying facilities. In these circumstances, they do not have strong negotiating powers and must sell their herbs and spices quickly to local traders, often for low prices.
The black pepper situation in 2019 and 2020 is illustrative of the low incomes and resulting sustainability problems in the industry. In stark contrast with the fairly positive 2015–2017 period, in 2019 and 2020, black pepper prices dropped to their lowest in 10 years. Many farmers in Vietnam did not even harvest their peppers, as harvest costs were higher than the sales profits. In some provinces, farmers who could not pay loan interests were forced to sell their lands and pepper plantations. Following the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, black pepper prices once again increased.
While European spice import is increasing, there is also a global scarcity of sustainably produced spices fully complying with all aspects of European legislation. This means that high-quality and sustainably produced spices and herbs can provide opportunities for suppliers in developing countries. One way to add value to your spices and herbs is to provide evidence to European buyers that they are produced in a sustainable way. This evidence may be a specific certification, laboratory results, premium price paid to farmers, fair wage for workers in processing facilities, or investments in rural communities.
A good example of sustainable approach is of the Cassia Co-op – the cinnamon/cassia cooperative from Indonesia. The cooperative has managed to remove middlemen from the supply chain of cinnamon products and patchouli oil. As a result, farmers were able to gain additional profit and connect with end-users in Europe in a transparent way. Also, the cooperative is producing spices in an environmentally friendly way, which has been confirmed through the Rainforest Alliance and organic certification. The idea of Cassia Co-op is to set a good practice sustainability example for other sector stakeholders.
Most sustainability support projects that can be observed around the world target increasing agricultural competence of farmers. Some examples include introducing agricultural techniques, controlled used of pesticides and cross contamination prevention. Focus is gradually moving from farmers to processors, and audits such as SMETA or amfori BSCI are more frequently required. Some individual aspects are also getting attention, such as monitoring CO2 emissions. Certification schemes for CO2 emissions include MyClimate and TÜV SÜD’s carbon footprint certification.
Many international organisations and private companies are currently engaged in drumming up support for sustainable spice production. The most widely known of these is the Sustainable Spice Initiative (SSI) formed by a group of companies and organisations in 2012. Current SSI projects focus mostly on Asian producers, but there are indications of future projects for African countries too. Sustainability is also an important topic on the agenda of the European Spice Association (pdf).
Aside from international organisations, some individual companies have their own sustainability projects. Spice and herbs traders more and more recognise financial benefits such as costs reduction, shorter supply chains and easier compliance with European regulations. For example, Olam launched the AtSource sustainability project, through which some sustainably sourced materials have a premium price. This project provides customers with insights into varying sustainability parameters across the supply chain.
Due to the risk of global nature loss in a short period of time, sustainability in recent years has in effect become one of the most important topics in the world, which is reflected in new legislation. It seems that the good intentions of many people and organisations to save the planet were not enough to bring the expected change. To speed up the change, the European Union set official polices to become the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Those policies are called the European Green Deal and include the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy, both influencing food production and trade.
Since environment, climate, biodiversity and social responsibility are global issues, Europe cannot achieve sustainability standards alone. The European Union (EU) will support developing countries in their transition to sustainable food systems. One of the actions will be the addition of a sustainability chapter, including on food, in all the EU’s bilateral trade agreements. It is expected that the EU will provide stronger support for smallholder farmers and small-scale food producers to introduce sustainable agricultural and manufacturing practices.
The main goal of the Farm to Fork Strategy is to ensure sustainable food production and distribution across the whole supply chain. As the food supply chain includes the import of food, the proposed measures will influence farmers, processors and exporters from developing countries too. The proposed actions of the European Green Deal include reducing the use of pesticides and fertilisers, increasing organic farming, reformulating processed food, changing food packaging materials and introducing new food labelling rules.
- Consider investing in some of the widely recognised certification schemes, such as Fair Trade, Organic certification or Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agricultural Standard. Before making a final decision, find out if investing in certification schemes is profitable and a value addition for your company.
- Follow the principles of the Sustainable Agricultural Network (SAN) on matters such as environmental integrity, social well-being and economic resilience.
- Read more about the SAN-Nestlé Spices Responsible Sourcing Partnership programme for chilli, coriander, cumin and turmeric.
- Inform and prepare yourself about the European Green Deal by reading the new CBI study The EU Green Deal - How will it impact my business?
4. Fair trade practices are evolving towards legal requirements
The European Union, since a while now, has been progressing toward fairer sourcing of food products as well. On 12 April 2019, the European Parliament formally adopted the Unfair Trading Practices Directive (pdf). Farmers in developing countries are especially vulnerable to unfair trading practices, since they are less likely to have links with alternative markets and may have less access to legal support or the information needed to challenge the unfair practices of large European buyers.
Crucially for suppliers from developing countries, the new Directive protects those who are based outside the EU, but sell to an EU-based buyer. The new Directive now needs to be transposed into the law of each EU Member State within the next two years. In practice, each Member State has to investigate suspected unfair trading practices and impose penalties accordingly.
The most common unfair trading practice is the official policy of some retailers to have very delayed payment. According to the European Late Payment Directive, enterprises have to pay their invoices within 60 days, unless they expressly agree otherwise and provided it is not grossly unfair.
Responsible and sustainable business and fair treatment of all people in the supply chain are becoming very important topics. To encourage companies to take action to protect human rights and reduce environmental impacts in their supply chains, the European Union (EU) announced mandatory legislation on due diligence in March 2021. This legislation ensures respect for human rights and the environment throughout the entire supply chain. Companies must follow the new due diligence rules. This means taking measures to prevent harm to human rights, the environment and good governance.
- Carefully calculate your costs if you are planning to supply supermarkets in Europe directly. If you do not have official representation with a warehouse in Europe, it will be very challenging to meet all logistic and other demands of the European retail sector. Instead, consider working with specialised suppliers of private label brands, especially if you have competitive packing facilities.
5. More transparency throughout the supply chain
Final buyers are now more conscious and inquisitive about the origins of products, and the entire supply chain is opening up more to transparency. Quality assurance and food safety departments at buyers and retailers demand this information. A decade ago, importers and agents were secretive about their suppliers. Now, presenting suppliers to final buyers in Europe is one way to be more competitive, as customers want to be fully informed. At present, importers make presentations about their suppliers, including videos, to introduce and advertise them to the final buyers.
Storytelling is important when presenting products to European buyers but also to final consumers. Storytelling is used to create a unique selling proposition and includes aspects, such as sustainability, uniqueness and health benefits. Many companies have started to use QR codes to offer final producers more information about products. This option is used by SpiceUp project in Indonesia where final buyer can get more information about farmers and the whole supply chain.
As the use of QR codes can be too complicated and a big investment for small producers, some producers use simpler options. An example is the Cambodian company Farmlink, which sells artisanal Kampot pepper with a protected designation of origin. Final consumers can find an alphanumeric code on the vacuum sealed bag and enter this code in the ‘Find my Farmer’ field on the website of Farmlink.
Storytelling can also attract the attention of final buyers through ethical business approach. An interesting example is the Indian company Vaishali Industries. This company is owner of the brand Holy Lama, which offers spice drops (spice essential oils for cooking and cosmetics). Vaishali Industries is an all-women enterprise that supports employment for disadvantaged women. Products are packed in India and can be found not only in India, but in European shops too.
- Create your unique selling proposition based on aspects of sustainability, quality and uniqueness. Interesting example of promotion is the Cameroon penja pepper, but there are many more examples.
6. Changing diets and consumption patterns results in growing (niche) markets
Europe’s food service sector was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries implemented restrictions for restaurants, bars, some closing down for months on end. Revenues of restaurants, bars, cafés, hotels and other business in the hospitality industry declined, and many were forced out of business. On the other hand, home delivery and take-away services gained more popularity. Inspired by the online offerings of home delivery food, European consumers continue to show a growing demand for ethnic flavours and spice blends.
New flavours are becoming more popular in Europe. For example, European consumers are now searching for umami alternatives to monosodium glutamate. Umami is one of the five category of basic tastes in food (others are sweet, sour, bitter, and salt). companies producing flavouring agents added umami taste by adding monosodium glutamate to spice mixtures and sauces, but consumers are now turning to natural alternatives, such as Japanese soy-based sauces and pastes, including miso, teriyaki and katsu.
According to industry sources, besides Japanese flavours, African and Middle Eastern cuisines (particularly Lebanese) gained popularity in 2020. Sumac berries, for example, have also grown in popularity, since they are one of the ingredients used in za’atar spice blend. Other popular spice blends inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine include baharat, berbere, zhug, chermoula and ras-el-hanout.
Most of the traditional and previously not mainstream spice blends are blended in Europe, but direct import of blends is also increasing. However, it is not possible to specify the exact quantities imported for specific blends, because of statistical limitations. Harmonised System codes used for blends can be "091091 – Mixtures of different types of spices", but also "09109999 – undefined spices". None of these codes clearly describe which specific spices or blends are measured (the only exception is curry powder).
Some special types of traditional spices, such as special pepper or special chillies, have also grown in demand. One of the problems with new herbs and spices are pesticide residues, which are often above the required minimum limits. One of the stronger trends is the development of vegetarian spice mixes aimed at meat replacement food solutions.
Figure 2: Umami paste
Source: Albert HeijnFigure 3: Zaatar spice blend
- Cooperate with European companies when offering new spice blends. Sometimes, original blends need to be adjusted to the local taste to appeal to consumers in the target market. Some of the leading brands may even be ready to support you in developing start-up products. A good example of the promotion of spice mixes from Morocco and Lebanon is Al'Fez, a brand owned by the UK company AB World Foods.
- Invest in social networks marketing. Demand for specific spices is also created by bloggers and celebrity chefs (Jamie Oliver, for example). The most commonly used online channels to advertise your spices in Europe are Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram. Focus your efforts on some of the social platforms mentioned to promote your products.
Vegetarianism and veganism
Veganism and vegetarianism are part of a trend that is strongly growing in the European market. Many spices used in the meat processing industry are now also used in vegan and vegetarian alternatives to meat. This trend helps to maintain a stable demand for spices, as similar mixes are used in both the meat and meatless industries. This does not mean that some new ‘vegetarian’ spices are specifically in higher demand.
The trend for veganism and vegetarianism has no large influence on sourcing, but it influences spice mixing and ingredient companies, which are now making more innovative flavour mixes. The same spices used in meat processing, such as chillies or pepper, are now used to produce meat alternatives that resemble the taste of meat.
- To tap into the meat substitutes trend, connect with the leading food ingredient companies in Europe to explore possibilities for direct supply of spices instead of through intermediaries.
Chillies and spicy food are a growth segment
Imports of ground dried chillies to Europe increased by 7% annually over the last five years. Imports of whole chillies from developing countries increased from 43 thousand tonnes in 2016 to 56 thousand tonnes in 2020. According to research conducted by ingredient supplier Kalsec, consumers globally are eating spicy foods more often than they were one year ago. This growing interest in spicy food is expected to continue in the next few years.
Although chillies are in demand, it seems that the level of heat is decreasing. According to industry insights, the frequency of consumption of hot and spicy foods is increasing, but heat levels are moderating. While consumers are still incorporating heat into their consumption patterns, heat is taking on more complexity, such as sweet heat combinations or ethnic cuisines that combine a variety of herbs and spices with some type of chilli pepper. Most European imports include products that are moderately pungent.
Flavorchem’s “Flavor & Trend Forecast” forecasted an increasing demand for hot flavours in 2021. Such flavours include habanero, chamoy sauce, ghost pepper, guajillo, gochujang, Nashville Hot, chipotle, and Carolina Reaper pepper. The demand for hot flavours also raised the interest of consumers in different chilli types. Flavour company Wixon revealed that Jalapeno is the most prolific pepper type across the category, but they are seeing interest rise in chilli types that add heat and depth of flavour, including aji amarillo, guajillo, habanero, and poblano.
There’s also interest in spicy-and-sweet blends, with Flavorchem’s report noting, “Flavor mashups like spicy hot, savory, and sweet provide multidimensional heat as sweet heat climbs the ladder, with two-thirds of Americans expressing interest in the spicy and sweet combination that includes profiles like honey siracha and mango habanero.”
- Consider offering special types of chillies to the European market. European buyers are actively searching for new chillies and spicy flavours for European consumers in new sourcing destinations, such as countries in Africa.
- Consider the development of new chilli spices of moderate heat level. More complex flavours can be achieved by searing, roasting, toasting or smoking a pepper rather than using the chilli without further processing.
Organic and natural spices are what Europeans ask for
European consumers are generally looking for more natural and healthier products, including spices. Organic is just one aspect of it, but new processing technologies enable production of spices and flavourings in more natural ways. For example, oleoresins are now increasingly produced as natural ingredients. Previously, oleoresins were produced as food additives which had to be marked with E numbers. Perception of E numbers (pdf) in Europe is negative for most consumers, who believe they have negative health effects.
Availability of organic spices is still limited, although spices are used in many finished organic products. Thus, the organic market for spices is expected to grow. At the moment, European legislation allows the use of a small amount of conventional spices in organic products in case there is proof that there is no availability of a specific spice or ingredient. Consumption of organic spices and condiments in Europe is expected to increase by 3%–5% annually over the next several years.
Currently, India, China and Vietnam are the key exporters of organic spices. In some countries, it is not easy to produce spices and herbs free from contaminants. For example, irrigation with contaminated water from the Nile river is a big challenge for growers in its basin. Another problem is that organic spices are often of lower quality than conventional spices. In organic production it is also more difficult to control allergen cross-contamination, since weed seeds cannot be controlled with the use of herbicides.
- Make a business plan before producing organic spices. The industry estimates that productivity during the conversion phase to organic farming tends to decline, sometimes by as much as 30%. The conversion phase usually takes two years, so take this into account when investing in organic production, as a higher price will be generated only after this period.
- Improve your good agricultural practices and consider the production of spices and herbs without using pesticides. Some countries have already gained a good image as sourcing origins that grow spices without the use of pesticides (such as Peru for the production of ginger, Thailand for the production of turmeric and Cambodia for the production of pepper).
7. Spices with health benefits are more in demand during COVID-19
The market for most spices is growing on average at an annual growth rate of approximately 4%. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, several spices promoted for their immunity support functions had much stronger growth during 2020 and 2021. Heavily promoted spices such as ginger, curcuma and garlic are increasingly demanded by end consumers, particularly thanks to social media marketing.
European imports of ginger increased in 2019, a trend that strongly continued in 2020. In 2020, imports of both fresh and dried ginger in Europe increased by more than 30 thousand tonnes compared to 2019. Consumers favour fresh ginger to dried, although dried ginger also continued in strong demand in 2020. Ginger juice is a relatively new product increasingly imported to Europe, used in new drinks called ‘juice shots’. Ginger syrup is another product with growing demand. Although entirely unrelated to the pandemic, and in spite of the absence of scientific evidence that any food supplement may help in treatment against Covid-19, ginger remains popular due its perceived health benefits.
Curcuma is used both as a spice and in the production of curcumin, which is used in food supplements. European imports of curcuma in 2020 were 20% larger than in 2019. Import increased from 28 thousand tonnes in 2019 to more than 32 thousand tonnes in 2020. There is no scientific evidence yet that curcuma can help in treatment against Covid-19, but some research articles suggest that it can have positive effects on immunity.
Garlic, mostly fresh, also had a very strong import growth in 2020. Garlic has already been proven to prevent the common cold and is used in traditional medicine worldwide. A basic staple of recipes in many cuisines, garlic’s popularity and immunity-boosting properties helped increase garlic imports by nearly €150 million in 2020 compared to 2019. Use of garlic oil in food supplements is also growing.
Black pepper’s active component piperine can improve the absorption of other supplements. Currently, it is most often used in combination with 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.
Other spices whose demand also grew in 2019 and 2020 because of their presumed health benefits include green herbs with antioxidant properties (rosemary, basil), cinnamon, cloves, and black cumin seeds. The European Spice Association provides information on the health benefits of spices, including in traditional or alternative medicine, such as Ayurveda.
Many spices and herbs are also promoted as salt replacers, for example, by the British Heart Foundation. Examples include mint, rosemary, nutmeg, basil, cardamom, chilli, cinnamon, chives, coriander, dill, cumin, ginger, oregano, paprika, parsley, sage, thyme and turmeric. Several large food processors such as Unilever already amended their recipes to reduce salt intake by using herbs instead. Many herbs also fit into contemporary eating trends, such as Paleo and Sirtfood diets.
- Be careful when promoting the health benefits of spices and herbs. Some studies did not find enough proof of curing specific illnesses. European food labelling legislation strictly forbids misleading the consumer. Claims that a portion of food prevents, treats or cures a human disease cannot be made.
- Read more about popular spices in Europe in the CBI studies on the European curcuma market and European ginger market.
- Explore opportunities for cooperation with the pharmaceutical and food supplement sector. To satisfy the needs of those demanding importers, it is important to have regular laboratory tests. Read more about European Buyers in the health segment in the CBI study on finding buyers in the health products sector.
- Extracts offer the possibility to generate added value in the country of origin, but need to be developed in close coordination with the market in order to meet clients’ specifications. Read more about specific buyer requirements for the health products sector.
Figure 5: Garlic food supplement
Figure 4: Organic turmeric food supplement
Source: Holland & Barrett
8. Innovations in (consumer) packaging and sustainable materials
One of the main changes regarding packaging will be the switch to sustainable materials. In November 2018, more than 250 organisations signed the new commitment to eliminate plastic when it is problematic or unnecessary and to shift to reusable packaging. By 2025, they plan to make all plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable. Every year, they will share public reports on their progress.
Another trend related to spices is smaller portions in consumer packaging. People often only need small portions, because they want to try out a recipe, for example. Very small packaging options for spices and herbs have therefore increasingly appeared in retail chains across Europe.
The small bags included in meal kits are a very specific example of small spices or herbs portions. A meal kit is a package of ingredients to cook a meal, primarily with meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, sauce and spices. Consumers mix the ingredients and cook the meal according to the instructions provided. Sales of meal kits in grocery stores have increased, as they are easier for consumers and prices are acceptable.
- Consider replacing plastic bags with paper bags or carton boxes when packaging spices and herbs, in order to meet the sustainability requirements of European importers.
- Find out which companies supply spices and herbs to meal kit producers in order to research possibilities for direct export.
9. New origins in Asia and Africa are coming up!
The majority of spices imported into Europe are produced in tropical climate zones. The tropical climate allows migration of the spices and herbs production across the globe. Ginger, for example, was originally produced only in Asia and is now widespread in African countries. China and India, which were traditionally European suppliers, are becoming the main spice importers, because their domestic crop cannot meet domestic demand. This leads to the development of new production and sourcing destinations.
Cambodia pepper production illustrates the production switch, where Cambodian production increased to match the needs of neighbouring countries. Cambodia underwent major changes in its position in the world market; its crop reached 18,000 tonnes in 2020, up from 1,450 tonnes in 2011. Most Cambodian pepper is produced without chemical inputs, and is bought by Vietnamese importers to mix it with Vietnamese pepper and reduce pesticide levels in order to meet European requirements.
Another example can be found in the vanilla industry. For decades, Madagascar dominated the vanilla supply. However, new countries are appearing on the supply side, such as Jordan, Thailand, Indonesia and Uganda. Also, Israel has announced that it will start more intensive production of vanilla.
Sourcing spices and herbs from only one origin can be very risky, as buyers experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. In spring 2020, lockdown measures and even border closures were implemented in India and Vietnam, making it impossible to source from those destinations. As Vietnam is a major supplier of black pepper and India is a major supplier of several other spices (chillies, curcuma, cumin), this affected the world supply of both products.
Another, long-term issue is the impact of climate change on the sourcing of spices and herbs. Natural disasters such as floods and droughts are becoming frequent worldwide. If production is concentrated to one or a few countries, natural disasters can completely disrupt the supply chain. For example, in 2018, severe floods due to heavy rainfalls affected the south Indian state Kerala. This caused a shortage of cardamom, as Indian export decreased from 5 to 3 thousand tonnes.
Also, global climate change is influencing the quality of produced spices. For example, too high temperatures increase the percentage of light berries and pinheads in black pepper, abortion of cardamom flowers and degradation of vanilla beans. High rainfalls also stimulate the development of fungi and plant disease. Therefore, European spices and herbs buyers prefer to source products from more than one destination to mitigate sourcing risks.
Many European buyers are currently searching for new opportunities to source herbs and spices from countries in Africa. Some potentially attractive origins include Tunisia (culinary herbs), Uganda (vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, special chillies), Kenya (chillies), as well as Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. In Asia, Myanmar could be an interesting new origin for ginger sourcing.
- Use the opportunity to offer products of a new origin. Many European importers will be interested in exploring new sourcing options in order to reduce supply risks due to the impact of climate change impact on supply.