• Share this on:

What is the demand for spices and herbs on the European market?

Last updated:
Takes 45 minutes to read

European imports of spices and herbs have fluctuated in the last five years, yet show long-term growth prospects. Sales of functional spices that support immune function, like ginger, curcuma and garlic, grew particularly rapidly in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The European market is also marked by an increased interest in sustainably sourced spices, where certification plays an important role. The European countries that present the most opportunities overall are Germany, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Spain. Among the products in highest demand are ginger and curcuma, while pepper, vanilla and cinnamon are still very consolidated products with a large market in Europe. Nutmeg in particular has grown in recent years as well.

1. What makes Europe an interesting market for spices and herbs?

Europe is one of the leading importers of spices and herbs worldwide. Spices and herbs play an important role as ingredients for the European food and beverages industry. The sector provides long-term growth and several opportunities across different applications. The expansion of the European spice and herb market is driven by functionality, growth in ethnic food and beverages, as well as salt and sugar reduction by the industry.

A large European market that shows long-term growth

Europe is one of the leading importing regions for spices and herbs, accounting for about one quarter of the world’s total imports. In 2021, Asia was the leading importer of spices and herbs with 45% of the market share, followed by Europe (28%), North America (US & Canada) (17%), Africa (4%), Latin America and the Caribbean (4%), and Oceania (2%).

Europe might not be the largest market for spices and herbs, but it is highly interesting to developing countries. More than 95% of imports from outside Europe come from developing countries. The strong dependence on spice imports from developing countries also means that almost all the trade within Europe consists of re-exports of spices that originally came from developing countries. In the case of herbs, however, a large share of the products consumed in Europe are also produced locally.

Also, the average import prices in Europe are significantly higher than in most other regions. For example, the average price of imported spices in Europe is almost twice as high as prices in Asia. This makes Europe an interesting target market for exporters from developing countries, regardless of market fluctuations that occur for certain products due to changing demand.

Following a strong growth in 2015-2017, the market declined over 2018 and 2019 (see Figure 1). However, the positive trend seen for 2015-2017, when import values of spices and herbs increased every year, was caused by just a few spices. Most notably, vanilla had a considerable impact on the growth.

Between 2019 and 2021, the European market picked up growth once again, particularly in imports from developing countries. Imports of spices and herbs in this period increased at an annual rate of 9.0%, reaching €1.8 billion and accounting for 60% of European imports.

While European imports are likely to continue increasing at moderate rates over the next years, they are expected to remain lower than in other regions worldwide, such as South and Southeast Asia, where economic and market growth have been much higher on average in the past decade.

The wide and dynamic European food and beverage industry

Spices and herbs play an important role as ingredients for the European food and beverage industry. According to Food and Drink Europe, this industry has a turnover of nearly EUR 1.1 trillion. Between 2013 and 2019, the turnover of the European food industry fluctuated. By the end of 2021 the industry showed signs of growth once again, with turnover increasing by 3.3% in Q4 2021 compared to the previous quarter.

France has the largest food and beverage industry in Europe, accounting for around 19% of the total turnover; Germany has 17%, Italy 13%, Spain 11%, the Netherlands 7%, Poland 5% and Belgium 5%.

Within the food industry, the segments for meat products (pepper, paprika, chillies, dried garlic, allspice, curcuma, cumin, thyme, rosemary, dried onion, etc.), bakery and farinaceous products (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, etc.), drinks (ginger, thyme, sage, star anise, curcuma, etc.), processed fruits and vegetables, and fish products are particularly important for spices and herbs. Those segments make up more than half of the total food industry.

Figure 2: Main food industry segments, in % of total European food industry turnover

Main food industry segments

Source: Food Drink Europe, 2021

The growth of the European food and beverage industry has an important impact on growth in demand for spices and herbs. Demand is estimated to continue growing moderately in the next 3-5 years, following the growth of the industry.

Some of the trends that drive the use of spices and herbs in the European food industry are:

Low competition from European production of spices

The production of spices in Europe is limited. So for most spice products, exporters from developing countries face low competition on the European market at the production level. But remember that, if you are an exporter of processed spices, for example crushed, ground or blended, you will face competition from European processors.

A few exceptions should be noted, especially concerning herbs. Dried herb production mostly takes place in France, Italy and Greece. Parsley is the most popular dried herb, but European production also includes basil, bay leaves, celery leaves, chives, coriander, dill tips, chervil, fennel, juniper, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savoury, tarragon and thyme.

Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Spain and Hungary boast the largest outputs in Europe. The production of certain spices (and a few herbs) is substantial in these countries. The key spices and herbs they produce are anise/badian/fennel, thyme (Poland), coriander seeds, chilies (Spain and Hungary), and capsicum/paprika. Domestic production in these countries appears to have declined in recent years. If this trend continues and the lower domestic or regional supply is supplemented with imports, this could offer opportunities for developing-country suppliers. At the same time, it should be noted that some spices, such as coriander seeds, are mostly exported to Asia. So declining production will not open up opportunities in Europe, but rather in the product’s destination market in Asia.

European trade hubs and continued moderate growth expected

European import values of spices and herbs are expected to grow slightly in the coming years. Import volumes often fluctuate not because of varying demand but due to non-stable production levels in the countries of origin. Overall, demand for spices and herbs in Europe can be forecasted to increase at a moderate rate in the coming years.

Due to the consolidated structure of the European market and its trading and processing industry, the main destinations of spice imports are forecast to remain the same in the years to come. Germany will remain the largest entry point for spices and herbs, together with the Netherlands. These are important hubs that will continue to serve other European markets. France will maintain its importance for vanilla from Madagascar and other smaller origins, while Spain’s position for dried chillies and particular herbs used in processing will remain strong.

The most important European ports for spices and herbs are Hamburg (Germany), Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Felixstowe (UK), Algeciras (Spain), Marseille (France) and Antwerp (Belgium). After products arrive in those ports, they are unloaded and transported by lorry to other parts of Europe. The Port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe.

The increase in the European spice and herb market is driven by the trends described earlier: functionality, growth in ethnic food and beverages, plus salt and sugar reduction by the industry. The increasing substitution of artificial flavours in food and beverages with natural alternatives, as well as the increase in home cooking, is likewise expected to drive growth.

In recent years, the European market has faced huge uncertainties because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has not had a clear negative impact on the total consumption of most categories of imported spices and herbs. On the positive side, spices that are believed to support immune function, such as ginger, curcuma and garlic, grew much faster in the last two years. This is especially the case for ginger, which was already experiencing a strong upward trend before the pandemic.

At the same time, the average growth of the total market can be harmed by negative market developments related to single spices. Ultimately, the supply side is expected to pose more of a risk to market developments and import values.

In the past few years, vanilla had such a negative impact on the growth of import values. Between 2015 and 2017, European import values of spices and herbs grew each year by more than 10%. This growth was supported by a sharp rise in vanilla (and pepper) prices. The total import value peaked at €2.8 billion that year. Import values dropped considerably in 2018 (‑8.3%) and also saw a slight decline in 2019 (­‑1.2%). For the entire 2016-2021 period, the compound annual growth rate was exactly 0.0%.

Developing countries play a key role in European supplies

Around 61% of European imports of spices are sourced directly in developing countries, with the remaining share consisting of intra-European supplies. Because aggregate volume data for Europe are not available in Trademap, this section analyses imports from developing countries by looking at import values.

Aggregate import values of spices have an important disadvantage. Some spices, especially vanilla and pepper, have been subject to huge price fluctuations since 2015 and have had a tremendous impact on the aggregate import values of spices and herbs in the period under review.

The table below shows the yearly growth of import values for the main spice and herb groups imported by Europe (per 6-digit HS code) between 2017 and 2021.

As seen in Tables 1 to 3, the main contribution to growth came from a range of spices that includes ginger (whole and processed), cardamom (whole and processed), chillies and paprika (whole and processed), cinnamon (processed), and curcuma. Most striking declines in value, as mentioned earlier, were registered by pepper (unprocessed and processed) and vanilla (unprocessed).

Table 1: Import value of total spices and herbs and unprocessed/whole spices and herbs, average annual growth of European imports from developing countries, between 2017 and 2021, and share of total imports in 2021

 

Import value,

€ million, 2021

Average annual growth 2017-2021

Share of total spice and herb imports 2021

Share of imports from developing countries

Spices and herbs*

2,813

-

-

-

Unprocessed: whole

1,445

-

51%

-

Ginger

347

15%

12%

78%

Pepper

309

-10%

11%

80%

Vanilla

299

-9.2%

11%

84%

Chilies and paprika

176

9.6%

6.3%

85%

Juniper berries and seeds of anise, badian, caraway or fennel

87

11%

3.1%

66%

Cardamom

70

28%

2.5%

83%

Cumin seeds

45

-0.6%

1.6%

84%

Cinnamon

29

5.8%

1.0%

76%

Coriander seeds

26

12%

0.9%

59%

Nutmeg

25

-4.9%

0.9%

64%

Cloves

24

1.0%

0.9%

69%

Mace

8

3.4%

0.3%

84%

* Several herbs traded in the European market are classified under HS code 121190: plants; parts of plants, including seeds and fruits; used primarily in perfumery, in pharmacy or for insecticidal, fungicidal or similar purposes; fresh, chilled, frozen or dried; cut or uncut, crushed or powdered. These lie outside the scope of this study. Source: ITC Trademap / Eurostat, 2022

Table 2: Import value of total spices and herbs and processed/crushed, ground or blended spices and herbs, average annual growth of European imports from developing countries, between 2017 and 2021, and share of total imports in 2021

 

Import value,

€ million, 2021

Average annual growth 2017-2021

Share of total spice and herb imports 2021

Share of imports from developing countries

Spices and herbs

2,813

-

-

-

Processed: crushed or ground, blended

929

-

33%

-

Chilies and paprika

274

9.6%

10%

44%

Spice mixes

235

1.6%

8.4%

19%

Pepper

141

-9.4%

5.0%

44%

Vanilla

61

11%

2.2%

47%

Ginger

50

9.4%

1.8%

63%

Cinnamon

41

9.8%

1.5%

52%

Nutmeg

36

1.7%

1.3%

53%

Cumin seeds

26

9.5%

0.9%

61%

Mace

17

25%

0.6%

71%

Cardamom

16

33%

0.6%

35%

Coriander seeds

14

11%

0.5%

53%

Juniper berries and seeds of anise, badian, caraway or fennel

13

7.4%

0.5%

33%

Cloves

5

1.3%

0.2%

44%

Source: ITC Trademap / Eurostat, 2022

Table 3: Import value of total spices and herbs and other/unspecified spices and herbs, average annual growth of European imports from developing countries, between 2017 and 2021, and share of total imports in 2021

 

Import value,

€ million, 2021

Average annual growth 2017-2021

Share of total spice and herb imports 2021

Share of imports from developing countries

Spices and herbs*

2,813

-

-

-

Unspecified

439

-

16%

-

Saffron

65

-11%

2.3%

56%

Curcuma

64

4.8%

2.3%

72%

Other**

310

5.9%

11%

33%

**includes thyme (whole and crushed/ground), bay leaves and fenugreek seed Source: ITC Trademap / Eurostat, 2022

Imports from developing countries are expected to grow moderately in the coming years. Import values may fluctuate under the influence of volumes of expensive spices produced, such as vanilla and cardamom, or spices produced in large volumes, such as pepper.

Growing demand for sustainable spices and herbs

Sustainability is a broad term with many aspects, and there is still no recognised sustainability certification covering all of them. Until recently, sustainability certification was aimed at special niche buyers on the market but it is now becoming more mainstream and similar to organic certification. One practice that is becoming increasingly commonplace is to publish CO2 emissions rates on products. Although it is difficult to confirm the reliability of the measurements on which those claims are based, some private certification schemes are being developed for this purpose. Currently, the most frequently used certification schemes focus on environmental impact (such as organic or Rainforest Alliance certification) and ethical aspects (such as Fairtrade certification or SEDEX/SMETA audit). Read more about certified spices and herbs below.

The European Green Deal will impact sourcing of spices and herbs

Another development within sustainability is the launch of the European Green Deal. In 2020, the European Union implemented a set of policies and actions called the European Green Deal with the aim of making the European economy more sustainable and climate-neutral by 2050. The EU Green deal includes the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy. Both policies affect food production and trade. Aspects of the European Green Deal relevant to the sourcing of spices and herbs from developing countries are reducing the use of pesticides, increasing organic production, and switching to sustainable packaging materials.

Certification grows in the European spices and herbs market

One of the main developments in the sustainable production and trade of spices and herbs is the increase in certification standards in this sector. The main certification standards applicable to spices and herbs are organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance.

Organic

The next decade is expected to be marked by impressive growth in organic spices and herbs, in line with the fast‑growing organic food trend. The global organic spice market was worth €17 billion in 2021 and is estimated to reach a (retail) sales value of almost €20 billion by 2026. This means an annual growth rate of 7.5% between 2021 and 2026. North America and Europe are the largest markets for organic spices. Within Europe, the growth rate of organic spice consumption is forecast to be particularly high in Sweden and the UK (more than 5.5% per year over the next seven years).

The growth in organic spices reflects the overall growth in organic sales for food and beverages in Europe. Overall retail sales in Europe reached about €52 billion in 2020, making it the world’s second-largest region when it comes to organic retail sales (after North America). The largest national markets for organic foods are Germany (29% of the European market in 2020 with organic retail sales of over €15 billion), France (at nearly €13 billion) and Italy (at €3.9 billion).

In Germany, the organic food market grew by more than 20% in 2020. Another important driver is the growing attention for the medicinal and functional properties of spices. This is because consumers tend to associate organic with healthy products. Growth is driven not only by consumer demand, but also by European buyers that are requiring more traceability and cross-contamination prevention in their supply chains.

Western and Northern European countries, led by Germany and Switzerland, are expected to see the most growth. Meanwhile, conventional products already produced under increasingly strict requirements, such as Europe’s maximum residue levels legislation, are expected to continue to be subject to even lower maximum levels of contamination for the sake of mitigating food safety risks.

Specific statistics for organic spices and herbs are scarce, but the most frequently traded – pepper (black) and chilies and other capsicums, as well as ginger and curcuma – are the product categories most relevant to the organic market segment.

The European Commission’s report on imports of organic products to Europe specifically includes spices and herbs. These are included in the largest category of tropical fruits, nuts and spices, representing 30% of European food imports or 0.84 million tonnes. However, a large share of those imports consists of bananas (more than 80%).

Fairtrade

Sustainably produced spices and herbs may also be certified under the Fairtrade scheme. So far, the market shares of sustainably produced spices and herbs in Europe have been very low (less than 1%), but they are now increasing. On the website of FLOCERT (Fairtrade International’s certifier) there are more than 500 Fairtrade-certified companies in Europe operating in the sector of herbs, herbal teas and spices.

According to Fairtrade International, global sales of Fairtrade-certified products are increasing. Official data specifically related to spices and herbs are not publicly available, but more than 2,500 companies licensed more than 37,000 products in 2020.

The highest sales per capita are registered in Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden, and the most sizeable sales are registered in the United Kingdom. Most Fairtrade labels focus on products like bananas, cocoa, coffee and cotton. India has the largest number of Fairtrade-certified companies in the spices segment, while Egypt has the largest number of certified companies in the herbs segment. Whereas the segment of organic spices and herbs is already small, the segment of Fairtrade-certified spices and herbs is even smaller.

Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance is also active in the certification of spices and herbs. In 2021, there were more than 300 Rainforest Alliance-certified farms and farm groups for various spices and herbs worldwide. These groups are spread around the globe, with a high incidence in India, Egypt, Madagascar and other countries. Pepper, turmeric and vanilla are amongst the most certified products. In the herbs category, some of the main products are mint, peppermint, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

Tips:

  • Compare your products and company to competitors from other supplying countries. You can use the ITC Trade Map to find exporters per country and compare market segments, prices and quality, and target specific countries.
  • See the CBI’s studies on specific spice and herb products and groups to gain an understanding of the competition for your specific products.
  • Stay up-to-date on market developments using the Nedspice Market Updates and ITC’s Market Price Information (MPI).
  • Look for sector-wide solutions for dealing with uncertain shipment schedules. This issue must be made a priority by your national Export Association or National Sector Association.
  • Follow the advice of Flexport and hire a good and reliable freight forwarder to find the best shipping options.
  • Find useful information about the organic market on the websites of Bio-Siegel and the Organic Producers and Trade Association.
  • Check the website of Organic-bio for a list of European companies buying organic spices and herbs or the FLOCERT database for companies buying Fairtrade-certified spices and herbs.

2. Which European markets offer the most opportunities for spices and herbs?

The main European markets for spices and herbs providing opportunities for exporters from developing countries are Germany, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Spain and Poland. These markets combine certain characteristics, mainly sizeable imports of spices and herbs as well as a considerable share of direct imports from developing countries. In some markets, notably in Germany, the United Kingdom and France, the importance of organic and fair trade certification also offers interesting opportunities in niche segments. Opportunities in sustainable spices and herbs can likewise be found in the Netherlands, where industry-wide initiatives influence sourcing practices. Other medium-sized importers like Belgium, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark also offer opportunities in specific product categories and segments.

Germany: the largest spice market in Europe

Germany is by far Europe’s largest importer of spices and herbs, with an import value of €592 million or 154 thousand tonnes in 2021, which amounts to 21% of total EU imports. Germany’s main imported product categories are: pepper and capsicum (33%), ginger, saffron, curcuma and other (32%), and vanilla (14%).

Around 78% of German imports is sourced directly from developing countries. China is Germany’s largest supplier in terms of value, being its main supplier of ginger (mainly unprocessed and whole) and capsicum/chillies (both whole and crushed or ground). German imports from China accounted for 20% of total imports in 2021. Germany’s second supplier in 2021 was Madagascar (12%), mainly responsible for the country’s vanilla supplies, and some smaller quantities of cinnamon and cloves.

Other important developing-country suppliers of spices and herbs to Germany are Vietnam (8.8%) and Brazil (8.4%), mainly supplying pepper and capsicum, Indonesia (6.3%), and India (5.3%). Within Europe, the Netherlands is an important re-exporter to Germany, accounting for 6.5% of German imports. The main product category exported from the Netherlands to Germany is spice mixtures, which reveals that the Dutch spice-processing industry poses an important competition to other suppliers in this category.

Among Germany’s supplying countries that performed strongly between 2017 and 2021, Guatemala and Peru registered double-digit growth figures. Guatemala, main supplier of cardamoms, grew at an annual rate of +24%, and Peru, important supplier of ginger, had an annual growth of +11%. Brazil (‑9.4%), Indonesia (‑8.2%) and Madagascar (‑7.3%) saw their supplies to Germany decrease strongly in the same period.

Germany is one of the leaders in the global spice trade. The port of Hamburg has world-class facilities for the transport and storage of spices. Germany is also home to some of the world’s largest food-processing companies, which generate strong demand for spices and herbs. Large spice companies involved in grinding, packing and other processing, such as Fuchs, Husarich, Hamburger Gewürz-Mühle and ENES Gewürze, have a strong presence in the German market and often import spices directly from developing countries.

Other large general food-processing companies, like Nestlé, Kraft Foods and Hela, which also have a significant presence in Germany, have likewise switched to direct imports from developing countries in the past decade, but still tend to rely heavily on dedicated spice traders for their supplies. These companies help make the food and beverage industry the fourth-largest industry sector in Germany.

There are several relevant spice traders in the country, connecting suppliers to several end-using industries, such as Worlée, Schuco and AKO The Spice Company. Most German spice companies can be found on the website of the German Spice Association.

The German organic market is the largest and one of the most developed in Europe, and it continues to grow. In 2020, the German organic food market grew by more than 20% compared to 2019, reaching €15 billion. This is nearly 30% of the total European organic market. Growth is expected to continue over the coming years, albeit possibly at a lower rate. There are several spice companies handling organic-certified spices and herbs in the German market, like Spice BarDelidia, Herbaria, Hartkorn and Grünberg.

The Netherlands: a major player in European trade

The Netherlands is a leading spice importer from developing countries, with a traditional role in international trade. In 2021, Dutch spice and herb imports accounted for 14% of total European imports, growing at an annual rate of 7.3% since 2017. Direct imports from developing countries account for 70% of total imports, accompanying the growth in total imports. In 2021, imports from developing countries amounted to €291 million.

China is by far the largest supplier of spices and herbs to the Netherlands, at a share of 20%. The country leads in exports of ginger (mainly not crushed or ground) and capsicum/chillies (both whole and crushed or ground). Madagascar follows at 10% of total imports, supplying mainly vanilla (not crushed or ground) to the Netherlands. Indonesia is the main supplier of cinnamon and nutmeg to the Netherlands, accounting for 7.7% of total imports. But Indonesia had the strongest decline among the main suppliers, at an annual rate of ‑4.0% between 2017 and 2021.

Vietnam and Brazil, each accounting for around 6.0% of Dutch imports, are the strongest suppliers of pepper. While Brazil’s supplies increased since 2017, Vietnamese supplies experienced a significant drop. In the case of Peru (5.3% of total Dutch imports), an important ginger supplier to the Netherlands, supplies increased at a strong annual rate of 15% between 2017 and 2021. Other suppliers reporting a strong growth in Dutch imports were India (+9.6%), Guatemala (+18%), Thailand (+6.5%) and Mexico (+30%).

Being an important and traditional spice trader, the Netherlands is the main re-exporter of spices and herbs in Europe. In 2021, it accounted for 8.0% of the total European imports of spices and herbs, only behind China, Madagascar and Germany. Important Dutch spice traders include Catz, Nedspice and Royal Polak. Smaller traders also distributing spices and herbs are companies like H.J. Albring and Keyzer & Company. Silvo (part of the McCormick group) and Euroma are among the top spice companies in the Dutch market. These companies import spices directly from developing-country suppliers.

A full list of Dutch companies trading spices is available on the website of the Dutch Spice Association. The Dutch Spice Association strongly supports sustainable sourcing of spices. The association is committed to Corporate Social Responsibility, and a leading group of spice importers in the Netherlands has set up the international Sustainable Spices Initiative with members from the Netherlands and other countries. Most of its activities take place in India and other Asian countries, like Vietnam. Pepper, the most important spice in terms of imports, received the most attention in the first ten years of the Initiative.

France: Europe’s vanilla hub

France is an important importing country in the European spice trade, especially because it is the largest European destination for vanilla from Madagascar. In fact, Madagascar is France’s largest supplier, at 35% of total imports in 2021. But supplies have decreased in value over the years because of a sharp drop in vanilla prices. Between 2017 and 2021, Madagascar’s supplies to France dropped at an annual rate of ‑11%, to a value of €134 million.

Despite Madagascar’s dominant position, other supplying countries have also found a market for their vanilla in France, most importantly Uganda, French Polynesia and Papua New Guinea. Since France dominates the global vanilla market, it is also a source of trends and innovations, such as organic and fair trade vanilla.

Regarding other spices and herbs, France’s supplies from developing countries are generally lower than in other European countries, at a total share of 68% in imports. Vietnam (6.1%), Indonesia (4.3%), China (3.5%), India (3.4%) and Brazil (2.9%) are the main developing-country suppliers besides Madagascar. France imports a sizeable share of its spice and herb supplies from other European countries, mainly Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Together, these countries supply around a quarter of French imports in various product categories.

The French market is characterised by the presence of a relatively large number of small and medium-sized companies, which makes the role of traders significant. Many of these traders specialise in vanilla, like Prova and Le Monde de la Vanille, while others trade in a variety of spices and are also important spice brands in the retail market, like Ducros and Spigol.

The French market has large mainstream importers like SOCO herb and more specialised importers like L’Arcadie and Comptoir des Épices. More companies involved in cardamom and other spices are listed on the website of the National Union of Processors of Pepper, Spices, Herbs and Vanilla.

The United Kingdom: a major importer of Indian spices

In the United Kingdom, spice and herb imports are mainly destined for domestic consumption. Only small amounts are re‑exported. The UK’s imports of spices and herbs totalled €332 million in 2021, 69% of which was sourced in developing countries. Imports from developing countries grew at a much faster pace (at an annual rate of +6.3%) than total imports (+2.4%) between 2017 and 2021. It is likely that Brexit will enhance direct trade between the UK and developing countries in the medium-to-long term.

The top-3 spices imported by the United Kingdom are ginger, capsicum or paprika powder, and pepper. These are followed by several curry spice blends and the popular Indian spices curcuma and cardamom.

The United Kingdom’s import market is much more influenced by supplies sourced from India than other European countries. India was the main supplier to the UK in 2021, at a 22% share in total imports. This is mainly due to the large Indian community in the country. Indian is among the most common non-UK nationalities in the UK, at 795,000 inhabitants in 2022, and continues to expand, as India is also the most common non-UK country of birth for UK citizens. The UK is the leading market for curcuma in Europe. Turmeric is an important ingredient in many Indian dishes and in curry powder.

Besides India, China also plays an important role in supplying the UK with spices and herbs. In 2021, China was the second-largest supplier to the UK, at 16% of total imports. China saw its supplies to the UK increase at a fast pace between 2017 and 2021, at +15% annually, compared to a slower growth of Indian supplies (+2.5%) in the same period.

Vietnam (8.4% of total imports) is also among the main suppliers to the UK, with a strong role in pepper imports. Other important suppliers are Guatemala (3.3%), provisioning the UK mainly with cardamom, and Pakistan (2.4%). While imports from Vietnam declined since 2017 at an annual rate of ‑2.7%, imports from Guatemala (16%) and Pakistan (9.3%) grew strongly.

The British market for spices is characterised by the involvement of large-scale players, such as Schwartz (part of McCormick), British Pepper & Spice and Natco Foods. These companies have a large market share, controlling the trade, processing, packaging and marketing of a wide range of spices in the United Kingdom. There are also small and medium-sized spice traders in the United Kingdom, like Quay Ingredients, Rye Spice and The Spice Company. The UK’s Seasoning and Spice Association has an overview of the main market players in the country.

The UK is also an interesting market for organic and fairtrade -certified spices. In fact, the UK is the largest Fairtrade market in Europe. One of the main UK spice companies in the certified segment is Bart Ingredients Company, while Organic Herb Trading is one of the main importers of organic-certified spices and herbs. Suma is another interesting company, specialising in the distribution of vegetarian, vegan, fair trade, organic and gluten-free ethical or natural products, including spices. Other interesting players in this segment are Steenbergs and British Pepper and Spice.

Spain: strong market for Capsicum and saffron

Among the top European spice importers, Spain is a unique market. The main spices traded into Spain are different from those in other European countries, and so are some of its main supplying countries. The share of direct imports from developing countries is high, at 85%. The main suppliers to Spain are China, Iran, Peru, Vietnam, India and Brazil.

Spain is the largest paprika producer and processor in the world, with many dried paprika derivates that are widely used as colouring and flavouring agents in food preparations among its products. Because of the large and growing quantities of capsicum imports, Spanish imports from developing countries totalled €194 million in 2020. Spain imports more from developing countries than the UK.

China stands out due to its capsicum supplies to Spain. The country accounts for 41% of Spain’s total imports. Another important capsicum supplier is Peru, accounting for 7.8% of Spain’s imports in 2021. Supplies from Peru have remained fairly stable since 2017, while Chinese supplies grew strongly at an annual rate of 10%.

Saffron is the second most important product among Spanish spice imports. Its saffron supplier is almost exclusively Iran, which explains the country’s role as one of the main spice suppliers to Spain. Saffron is used by food-processing companies in yellow colouring agents, and is a key ingredient in the typical Spanish rice dish paella and many other culturally important recipes.

Other spices representing a large share of Spanish spice imports include ginger, pepper, cinnamon and cumin.

There are around 110 companies in Spain specialised in trading and manufacturing spices. Spain also has an association for spice processors and packers (AEC), consisting of around 20 members targeting the retail and food industries. The country has a very dynamic food industry, focused strongly on formulations for food products, seasonings and spices.

Poland: the leader in Eastern Europe

Poland is among the six largest importers of spices and herbs in Europe. Imports from developing countries have grown at a fast pace, accounting for 63% of total spice and herb imports, at nearly €80 million in 2021.

Vietnam (16% of total imports in 2021), China (9.5%) and Indonesia (5.9%) are the main suppliers to Poland. China’s exports to Poland consist mostly of capsicum and ginger, while Vietnam mainly supplies pepper. Indonesian supplies consist mostly of cinnamon and nutmeg. India (5.4%) and Madagascar are also important suppliers of spices and herbs to Poland.

In Europe, Germany and the Netherlands also supply spices and herbs to Poland. In 2021, the two countries accounted for nearly a quarter of total Polish imports.

Polish spice imports are done by Polish traders like Rolmex and TomPol, and by production facilities of German spice manufacturers in Poland, most notably AVO. Last but not least, Poland is home to production facilities of the British company AB World Foods, the parent company of, among others, the two major European brands of Asian sauces and pastes, Blue Dragon and Pataks. While AB World Foods also has production facilities in the UK, it can be assumed that over half of the production for the European continent comes from the facilities in Poland.

Other European countries offering opportunities

Remember to consider opportunities outside of the top-6 importers in Europe. Medium-sized importing countries like Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark can also provide interesting prospects.

Italy has a sizeable food industry, and its spice and herb imports reach nearly €100 million. Even though the share of developing countries in total imports is not high (42%), the country is an interesting destination to a diversity of suppliers: the largest spice exporters India, China and Brazil still occupy first position, yet followed closely by Indonesia, Vietnam, Iran, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Peru and Uganda. All these suppliers have exported at least €1.0 million worth of spices and herbs to Italy.

Sweden is another interesting European importer. The country was one of the top-10 spice and herb importer in the region in 2021, at €82 million. As in Italy, the share of developing countries in direct supplies is modest (35%) but also enjoys a diversity of suppliers. While India remains the main supplier at more than €8.0 million, Guatemala, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey each exported around €2.0 million in spices and herbs to Sweden in 2021.

Switzerland can also offer opportunities for spice and herb exporters. Just above Sweden and Denmark, it has the largest per capita consumer market for organic food and beverages in Europe, which gives it specific potential in niche markets for certified and high-quality products. More than half of Swiss imports of spices and herbs was sourced in developing countries in 2021, €37 million out of a total of €72 million. The largest developing-country supplier was Madagascar, indicating the importance of Switzerland as a vanilla market – not only as food ingredient but also for the country’s massive flavour and fragrance industry, represented by the Swiss Flavour and Fragrance Industry Association. Other main suppliers are China (€10 million) and Peru (€5.5 million), followed by India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Tips:

3. Which products from developing countries have the most potential on the European spices and herbs market?

The specific opportunities for your spices and herbs will highly depend on your supply capacities in terms of volume, quality, pricing and certification. These aspects will define your target market and market segment. But based on import statistics, the spices and herbs that show the best performance in the European market are ginger, curcuma, pepper, cinnamon, thyme and nutmeg.

Ginger and curcuma benefit from the growing popularity of healthy ingredients and are widely used in functional foods and beverages. Imports of both spices from developing countries grew considerably in 2017-2021, and it can be assumed that this strong performance will continue in the coming years, particularly because these spices are believed to contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Cinnamon and nutmeg have also experienced significant growth in this period, while pepper is a more consolidated product with a sizeable market and slower growth. See Figure 6 for a development of European imports between 2017 and 2021, per value for these products.

The selected products have wide application in the European market, representing significant markets at retail and industrial levels. These are also products with a substantial share of suppliers in developing countries, and which are not highly concentrated around single global suppliers.

Table 4 lists the top countries in terms of export volume (based on HS6 digit level) of these products to the EU‑27 market and the United Kingdom.

Table 4: European import volumes (tonnes) from CBI countries and from all developing countries (DCs) of top products in 2021, including leading suppliers and shares

Tabel 4

*A large share of imports consists of fresh ginger. Source: Eurostat, 2022

Note that there are opportunities for developing-country suppliers of many spices, simply because Europe depends on imports. Additionally, the number of supplying countries for certain spices and their quality levels may be too limited for certain European buyers. These parties may therefore be open to new options that could help mitigate supply risks. Although several countries are important suppliers of spices and herbs, most individual countries supply only a limited range of products.

Ginger offers some of the most opportunities for developing countries hoping to enter the European spices and herbs market. In 2021, direct imports of dried ginger from developing countries to Europe totalled 167 thousand tonnes. Since 2017, the import volume has increased by 8.8% annually. In that same period, the (direct) import values increased by 16% annually, totalling €304 million in 2021. The main developing-country suppliers to Europe are China, Peru, Brazil, Nigeria and India.

The Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom form the top-3 markets considered to be most interesting for dried ginger in Europe. But Spain, France and Italy are also major markets in Europe for this product. The market has grown considerably in recent years because of the increasing popularity of ginger as a healthy ingredient in dishes and other foods or drinks, such as fruit and nut bars, as well as teas and herbal infusions. In recent years, ginger tea has become very popular across Europe. While the fresh ginger market has benefited from this trend tremendously, the dried ginger market growth can also be partly attributed to the rising use of ginger as an ingredient in tea mixes and herbal infusions. This trend was enhanced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated European imports of ginger.

The top-4 European markets, i.e. the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain, are those of most interest, as these countries import huge volumes of ginger from developing countries. In addition, France and Italy could also be of interest due to their size and large quantities of direct imports from developing countries.

Certification can give you a competitive edge when supplying ginger to the European market. There is an increasing association between ginger’s health properties and its sustainable sourcing. The main certifications for dried ginger are Organic and Fairtrade. The most interesting markets for organic certified ginger are Germany and Switzerland, since these countries are the fastest-growing organic food markets in Europe, but interesting opportunities can also be found in markets like France, Sweden and Denmark. The most interesting markets for Fairtrade-certified ginger in Europe are Germany (31 Fairtrade-certified companies), the United Kingdom (19), France (23), the Netherlands (17) and Switzerland (16).

Tips:

  • Read more about the European market potential in the CBI study on ginger.
  • If you are an exporter in Nigeria, keep up-to-date on CBI’s Ginger Nigeria project (2021-2025) to learn more about the general support to the sector, CBI’s project partners and specific activities in the ginger sector.

Curcuma

European demand for curcuma has been booming in recent years, partly because of the trend towards healthier eating habits. The UK is by far the biggest European market for Curcuma longa and is expected to remain so, as millions of people with a South Asian background live there.

Curcuma longa (turmeric) is a principal ingredient of curry powders and is widely used as a spice in South Asian- and Middle Eastern-style dishes across Europe. Curcuma longa is also used as a natural colourant in the food industry in a wide variety of products. This product has likewise become a trendy ingredient of healthy diets, offering good opportunities for market growth in the short, medium and long term.

While India still dominates global trade of Curcuma longa, European buyers are becoming increasingly aware of other developing countries capable of supplying turmeric, such as Peru and Madagascar. European imports reached €64 million for 2017-2021, out of which €46 million (85% of total imports) was sourced directly in developing countries.

European demand for organically produced spices and herbs continues to grow. However, the total market share for organic Curcuma longa is still believed to be small (less than 5%). The organic Curcuma longa market is forecast to grow faster than the market for curcuma produced with conventional methods. At the same time, the share will remain small.

Fairtrade-certified curcuma is also gaining share on the European market. While there is no exact data available on the specific market share of Fairtrade curcuma in Europe, industry sources believe that the market is growing. The number of companies in Europe that were Fairtrade-certified for curcuma trade was 54 in 2022. Germany has the most Fairtrade-certified curcuma traders in Europe (12), followed by France (9), Switzerland (8) and Italy (6).

Tip:

Pepper

Vietnam is Europe’s main supplier of pepper, followed by Brazil, India and Indonesia. Vietnam accounts for more than 50% of the European import volume, and over 30% of its import value. Brazil, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Madagascar are smaller suppliers. While China is an important player for ginger and capsicum, it accounts for less than 1.5% of European pepper imports.

Sustainability is becoming an important aspect of pepper production and trade. To improve the sustainable production and sourcing of spices, a group of mainly European companies and organisations formed the Sustainable Spice Initiative in 2012. The main objective of this Initiative was to aim for 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 through organic production, food safety investments and support to farmers.

A notable example in relation to the Sustainable Trade Initiative in the black pepper sector is a partnership involving Nedspice, a large Dutch trader. In 2013, Nedspice partnered with IDH (Sustainable Trade Initiative) to assist farmers to sustainably improve their farming practices and comply with the Rainforest Alliance standard. Within a year, over 250 farmers were Rainforest Alliance-certified. In 2021, over 2000 farmers were involved in the Nedspice Farmers Partnership Programme in Vietnam and more than 500 farmers were Rainforest Alliance-certified.

Tip:

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is an important spice with many applications in the European market, most notably the bakery segment. Although volumes of cinnamon have not increased by as much as those of ginger and curcuma, cinnamon is often considered a functional ingredient. An effective dose (1-6 grams per day) has anti-diabetic (blood sugar level-lowering) effects (note that the most common type of cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia, which is also cheaper, does not have this effect). As such, Ceylon cinnamon has considerable growth potential in the European market. In 2022, Sri Lanka marked an important milestone in relation to this spice, with the country receiving its first-ever Geographical Indication (GI) certification from the European Commission.

European imports of cinnamon (whole and crushed/ground) grew strongly between 2017 and 2021, reaching €128 million in 2021, €87 million of which (68%) was sourced directly from developing countries. In 2021, Indonesia was the main supplier to Europe, followed by Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China and Madagascar. Organic and sustainably sourced cinnamon is becoming important in Europe. It is one of the most frequently traded Fairtrade-certified spices in Europe, with more than 120 Fairtrade-certified cinnamon traders in Europe in 2021.

Tip:

Thyme

Demand for dried thyme in Europe is driven by the popularity of Mediterranean cuisine and interest in thyme’s health benefits. Dried thyme is a traditional culinary aromatic herb. It is also used in herbal teas and as a raw material for the production of essential oils and other health care and cosmetics products.

Opportunities for new developing-country suppliers can be found in markets with high consumption of these items, such as Germany, Spain, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands. Offering high-quality, safe and sustainable products will give you a competitive advantage.

Europe is the largest dried thyme importer in the world, accounting for 50% of the world’s total imports. Around one-third of European dried thyme imports come from developing countries. A large share of intra-European trade consists of re-exports of dried thyme originally from developing countries. New suppliers must be able to compete with players from Poland, Morocco, Albania and other emerging markets like Egypt and Turkey.

Tip:

Nutmeg

Indonesia is by far the top supplier of nutmeg to Europe, accounting for half of the total imports value, followed by Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Although the value of European imports fluctuated between 2017 and 2021, the volume of nutmeg imported to Europe experienced a sharp increase, most likely due to nutmeg’s growing popularity as a supplement.

In 2021, European nutmeg imports amounted to €61 million, with a share of nearly 60% sourced in developing countries. This includes both whole and crushed/ground nutmeg. The main developing-country suppliers are Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

Tip:

Other products offering opportunities

Note that there are several other spices and herbs offering opportunities in the European market. Access CBI’s Market Information on Spices and Herbs and select the different Product Studies:

  • Cardamom: Europe is a growing market for cardamom exporters. Increasing demand is fuelled by consumer appetite for exotic flavours and cuisines. In 2021, Europe imported €86 million or 5.0 thousand tonnes of cardamom, including both whole and crushed/ground. The value of imports has increased significantly since 2017, at an annual rate of 29%, while the imported volume increased at 13%.
  • Dried garlic: European consumers and food manufacturers use large amounts of dried garlic in a wide variety of products, besides the typical spice grinders, while production of dried garlic in Europe is very small. This makes dried garlic buyers look for supplies from outside Europe and creates plenty of opportunities for you as a supplier. European imports of dried garlic amounted to €387 million/119,821 tonnes in 2021.
  • Dried chillies: Demand for dried chillies in Europe is driven by popularity of international cuisine and interest in mild chilli flavours. Between 2017 and 2027, European imports of dried chillies grew by 7.5% in value and 6.1% in volume each year, up to a value of €449 million and a quantity of 178 thousand tonnes in 2021.

Other product studies you can currently find on our platform include coriander, cumin seeds, cloves and spice mixtures.

This study was conducted on behalf of CBI by Gustavo Ferro. Please review our market information disclaimer.