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

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European imports of herbs and spices have fluctuated in the last five years. Sales of spices that  support immune function, like ginger, curcuma and garlic, grew particularly rapidly in 2020 and 2021, thanks to the Covid pandemic. This increased consumer demand was also reinforced by promotion in social media. 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 the volumes of fenugreek seed and processed nutmeg exports to Europe have recently undergone relatively strong growth. All these spices are thought to contribute to healthy lifestyles and will therefore continue to grow in popularity in the next several years.

1. What makes Europe an interesting market for Spices and Herbs?

Europe is one of the world’s leading importing regions for herbs and spices. It accounts for about one quarter of the world’s total imports of herbs and spices. To illustrate, imports by the United States totalled only 55% of the European import value. In 2020 Asia was the leading importer of spices and herbs with 47% of the market share, followed by Europe (26%), North America (17%), Africa (4.5%), Latin America, the Caribbean (3%) and Australia and Oceania (2.5%). Herbs and spices are consumed and thus imported in larger quantities  in Asia, as most of the world’s spices are produced and processed in tropical regions of Asia.

Although Europe is not the largest importing region, it is an interesting one. This is because more than 95% of imports from outside Europe come from developing countries. 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 downward developments for certain products occurring from time to time.

The strong dependence on spice imports from developing countries also means that almost all the trade within Europe consists of re-exports of spices and herbs that originally came from developing countries. Herbs are a different story, however, as most herbs consumed in Europe are also produced in Europe.

While the market clearly grew  in the 2015–2017 period, this changed in 2018 and 2019. However, the positive trend seen in the 2015–2017 period, when import values of herbs and spices increased every year, was caused by just a few spices. Most notably, vanilla had a considerable impact on the growth. The year 2020 was marked by another slight increase (4.2%) in imports from developing countries. In an analysis of quarterly imports in 2020 and the preceding years, it was shown that lockdowns did not have a significant impact on total spices and herbs imports into Europe.

According to the first set of 2021 data for the first and second quarters, European imports of herbs and spices remained  stable or grew slightly. While European imports are likely to increase between 0 and 2% over the next few years, growth in Europe is forecast 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.

Limited competition from local production

The production of herbs and spices in Europe is limited. That means that for most products, exporters from developing countries do not need to worry too much about local competitors. There are, however, a few exceptions that should be noted. 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 few herbs) is substantial in these countries. The key herbs and spices produced in these countries 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.

Slight growth in European import value expected

European import values of herbs and spices 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 herbs and spices in Europe can be forecasted to increase by an average rate of roughly 0 to 3% per year in the coming years.

The most important European ports for spices and herbs are Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Hamburg (Germany), Antwerp (Belgium), Felixstowe (the United Kingdom), Algeciras (Spain) and Marseille (France). 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 main destinations of spice imports are forecast to remain the same in the years to come. This means that the Netherlands will keep its position as the largest hub for spice imports into Europe. Germany serves a similar function and that will stay the same as well, while France (for vanilla from Madagascar) and Spain (for dried chillies and particular herbs used in processing) will also remain important hubs. Germany is a particularly strong re‑exporter of black pepper imported from Brazil.

The expected increases as mentioned above, are based on the ongoing growing demand for natural ingredients over artificial flavours. This trend has been the major driver of growing import values since at least 2012. The forecasted demand is also based on the trend that a growing number of consumers are interested in home cooking and experimenting with different world cuisines. At the same time, the average growth of the total market can be harmed by negative market developments related to single spices. 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 herbs and spices grew each year by more than 10%. This growth was supported by a sharp increase in vanilla (and pepper) prices.  The total import value peaked at €2.8 billion in 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%.

Overall, the increase in vanilla prices between 2012 and 2017  led to import volumes growing more slowly than value. Still, the figures for the growth in import volume were positive: 18% in 2016, 3% in 2017, 0% in 2018, 4.4% in 2019, and slight growth in 2020 (an exact figure is not available).

In the past few years, the European market has faced huge uncertainties because of the Pandemic. However, the Covid pandemic has not had a clear negative impact on the total consumption of most categories of imported herbs and spices. On the positive side, spices that are thought to support immune function grew much faster in 2020. The spice that was promoted the most and was in highest demand was ginger, followed at some distance by curcuma and garlic. At the same time, it should be noted that the ginger was already experiencing a strong upward trend and that trend has only continued since March 2020.

Sometimes, reference is also made to people staying at home more, which has increased the popularity of home baking and experimental “holiday mood” cooking. Such trends will definitely have an impact on the type on consumption, but they will also replace other modes of consumption, especially the ones that take place outside of the home.  

Ultimately, the supply side is expected to pose more of a risk to market developments and import values. For example, in the second quarter of 2021, there was a huge drop in the amount of ginger available for the European market due to challenging conditions in China.

Tip:

  • Read more about Covid-19 and its influence on the sourcing and consumption of spices in the CBI Trends study.

Developing countries play a key role in supply

European imports from developing countries can be best analysed in terms of volume. But unfortunately, aggregate volume data for Europe are not available in Trademap. The alternative is to look at import values. Aggregate import values of spices, however, 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 top-10 herbs and spices (per 6-digit HS code) in the 2016–2020 period. The table shows that the product with the highest import values in previous years, vanilla beans, stopped growing in double digits by 2018. Vanilla bean prices even declined sharply in 2019 and 2020, resulting in decreasing import values in those years (by 24% and 26%, respectively).

In contrast, the main contribution to growth came from a range of spices, including processed ginger, cardamom, processed cinnamon, and curcuma. Most striking is still the fact that there were significant declines in processed pepper and vanilla in 2019 and 2020 (although vanilla recovered in the last year), resulting in the products losing ground to chillies and paprika, spice mixtures (including fenugreek seed), and cinnamon.

Table 1: Average annual value growth of European spice imports from developing countries, between 2016 and 2020, and share of total imports in 2020.

 

Average annual value growth

 

 

 

 

2017

2018

2019

2020

Value

2020

€ million

Share of total imports 2020

Share of imports from developing countries

Herbs and spices

 

 

 

 

1,447

 

 

Unprocessed

 

 

 

 

1,044

72%

78%

Ginger

30%

6%

13%

50%

285

19.7%

77%

Vanilla

56%

4%

-24%

-26%

237

16.4%

83%

Pepper

-23%

-41%

-13%

-12%

187

12.9%

79%

Chilies and Paprika

6%

-14%

19%

9%

137

9.5%

84%

Cardamom

36%

19%

54%

57%

68

4.7%

90%

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

3%

-5%

17%

17%

34

2.3%

47%

Cumin

22%

-25%

-7%

22%

29

2.0%

67%

Cinnamon

25%

21%

-3%

-10%

20

1.4%

77%

Nutmeg

-6%

-22%

7%

-21%

17

1.2%

71%

Cloves

-10%

8%

-10%

-12%

15

1.1%

72%

Coriander

-7%

-26%

15%

16%

8

0.5%

33%

Mace

-6%

-10%

34%

-19%

6

0.4%

89%

Processed

 

 

 

 

403

28%

32%

Chilies and paprika

8%

3%

6%

15%

93

6.4%

37%

Spice blends*

1%

-6%

12%

17%

84

5.8%

16%

Pepper

-20%

-36%

-8%

-8%

51

3.5%

39%

Cinnamon

59%

21%

-8%

28%

36

2.5%

85%

Vanilla

60%

74%

-20%

7%

30

2.1%

47%

Cinnamon

27%

20%

2%

6%

27

1.9%

53%

Ginger

-5%

5%

10%

-4%

25

1.8%

58%

Nutmeg

2%

-13%

4%

2%

19

1.3%

58%

Mace

-3%

-15%

76%

60%

14

1.0%

79%

Cumin

-10%

26%

-4%

2%

8

0.6%

38%

Cardamom

24%

34%

45%

24%

7

0.5%

38%

Coriander

7%

7%

6%

-5%

4

0.3%

35%

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

26%

-10%

12%

20%

4

0.2%

24%

Cloves

-20%

0%

38%

-6%

2

0.1%

42%

Unclassified

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curcuma

13%

-5%

12%

9%

46

3.2%

71%

Saffron

-4%

-34%

-8%

-13%

37

2.6%

54%

*Also including fenugreek seed.
Source: Eurostat (2021)

Imports from developing countries are expected to grow between 0 and 3% in the coming years. Import values may fluctuate under the influence of volumes of expensive spices (like vanilla in 2015–2017) produced, or spices produced in large volumes (like pepper in the 2016–2018 period).

Growing demand for sustainable herbs and spices

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, similar to organic certification. One practice that is becoming increasingly commonplace is to publish CO2 emissions rates on products. However, it is difficult to confirm the reliability of the measurements on which those claims are based. However, 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).

In practical terms, the sustainable production of herbs and spices means that producers obtain organic certification for their operations. Sustainably produced herbs and spices may also be certified  under the Fairtrade scheme. Until now, the market shares of sustainably produced herbs and spices in Europe were very low (less than 1%), but they are now increasing. According to Flocert in 2021 there were 146 Fairtrade-certified companies 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 2.5 thousand companies licenced more than 37 thousand products in 2020. The highest sales per capita was registered in Switzerland, Ireland and Sweden. Most fair trade labels focus on products such as 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.

The next decade is expected to be marked by impressive growth in organic herbs and spices, in line with the fast‑growing organic food trend. In Germany, for example, the organic food market grew by more than 20% in 2020. Another important driver is the growing attention for the medicinal properties of spices, especially those with organic certification. 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 herbs and spices are scarce, but the herbs and spices most frequently traded, i.e., pepper (black) and chilies and other capsicums, and also ginger and curcuma, are also assumed to be the most relevant to the organic market segment. The latest report on imports of organic products to Europe did not specifically include spices and herbs. These are included in the largest category of tropical fruit, nuts and spices, representing 30% of the European food imports, or 0.84 million tonnes.

Whereas the segment of organic spices and herbs is already small, the segment of Fairtrade-certified spices and herbs is even smaller. The leading market for Fairtrade products is the United Kingdom, and one of the country’s leading companies for Fairtrade-certified spices is Steenbergs. While also one of the market leaders, British Pepper and Spice, has obtained a Fairtrade certificate, as well.

Dramatic increases in shipping prices due to Covid-19

Whereas the Covid pandemic only had a minor impact on the consumption of spices and herbs in the European market, Chinese restrictions for shipping activities led to a shortage of containers in harbours across the world in 2020 and 2021. For example, in the summer of 2021, exporters of spices in Nigeria were reluctant to offer any forward contracts because of uncertain shipment schedules. While shipping is expected to remain a challenge in the years ahead, it has also increased dramatically in price. For example, in 2020 it cost USD 1,450 to ship a container from Vietnam, and in September 2021 the price was USD 13,000.

This has also led to higher CIF prices being paid by importers and this trend is expected to continue at least into 2022. According to recent Nedspice reports, freight rates contributed to import price increases for several spices and herbs, for example black pepper prices were 70-80% higher in August 2021 than in August 2020.

The impact of Brexit

The impact of Brexit (the United Kingdom leaving the European Union) on the sourcing of spices and herbs is related to the overall increase in the cost of living. The UK governmental representatives announced that Brexit, along with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, would reduce the UK's potential GDP by about 6% in the long term. However, most spices, with few exceptions, are established commodities and are affordable for the food industry and home consumers. Even if prices increase by more than 20%, consumption of the most common spices is not expected to decrease. This means that Brexit will not negatively influence the UK’s import of spices and herbs from developing countries.

European Green Deal will have an impact beyond European borders

Another development 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.

Tips:

2. Which European markets offer the most opportunities for Spices and Herbs?

The markets in Europe that provide the most opportunities for exporters from developing countries are Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Poland. As Europe’s largest importer of herbs and spices, Germany is an interesting market to focus on. France and the Netherlands are other promising leading markets with relatively large shares of imports from developing countries. The UK and Spain are other important markets with substantial shares of imports from developing countries.

Germany has the largest spice market in Europe

Germany is by far Europe’s largest importer of herbs and spices, with an import value of €538 million in 2020, which amounts to 20% of total EU imports. Almost 70% of these German imports come from developing countries (€373 million). Madagascar is Germany’s largest supplier, as  Germany is an important buyer of vanilla, which is Madagascar’s main export product. Among Germany’s largest suppliers of herbs and spices, after Madagascar, are China, Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia.

Among Germany’s supplying countries are some countries that performed strongly; both Peru and Guatemala experienced growth in exports of between 25% to 30% per year during the 2016-2020 period. Peru’s export value amounted to €16 million in 2020, while Guatemala’s was €15 million. On the other hand, Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia lost an important share of the German market. Vietnamese and Brazilian exports went down by 18% per year on average, and Indonesian spice exports to Germany declined by 16%. In absolute terms, these declines amounted to between €34 and€44 million in total per country.

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 herbs and spices. Large spice companies involved in grinding, packing and other processing, such as Fuchs and Ubena, 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 significant presence in Germany, have also switched to direct imports from developing countries in the past decade, but they 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.

Opportunities in the organic market

The German organic market is the largest and one of the most developed in the EU. German consumers and the German food industry are increasingly concerned with health and sustainability. The organic market has received a tremendous boost over the last two years from the pandemic and the increasing focus on staying healthy. In one year, the German organic food market grew by more than 20% to almost €15 billion. This growth is expected to continue over the coming years, although it may slow down back down to between 5 and 10% per year again.

Tips:

Netherlands’ tradition still dominant in EU trade

The Netherlands is traditionally a leading spice trader with developing countries. Over the last decade, the country ranked either second or third on the list of leading importers. Dutch spice imports from developing countries amounted to €256 million in 2020 and grew the fastest (7% per year on average and 34% in 2020) of the top 6 importing countries. China is by far the largest supplier of herbs and spices to the Netherlands, followed by Madagascar, Indonesia and Peru. Supplying countries with strong performance in terms of exports to the Netherlands were Peru (45% on average per year in the period 2016-2020, from €6 to €29 million), Guatemala (49%, from €4 to €19 million) and Madagascar (17%, from €16 to €31 million).

As a major spice trader, the Netherlands acts as an entry point into the EU market. Silvo (part of the McCormick group), Verstegen and Euroma are among the top players in the Dutch spice market. These companies import spices directly from developing-country suppliers. Other important Dutch traders include Royal Polak, Catz, and Ned Spice. Among these Dutch traders are companies that are purely spice specialists (such as Ned Spice), companies which focus on a single spice (such as Royal Polak with cinnamon) and companies that trade a wider range of ingredients (such as Catz, which also trades nuts).

The Netherlands is home to the international Sustainable Spice Initiative by IDH, a Dutch Non-Governmental Organisation active in sustainable trade development. Most its activities take place in India and other Asian countries, such as Vietnam. Not surprisingly, pepper, being the most important spice, received the most attention in the first ten years of the Initiative.

The United Kingdom is a major importer of Indian spices

The UK is different from Germany, the Netherlands, and France, in that UK spice imports are predominantly destined for the local market and only small amounts are re‑exported. The import value totalled €325 million in 2020 and imports from developing countries grew to €182 million after a strong growth in the last year (15%, from €159 to €182 million). Despite that strong growth, the share of imports from developing countries (56%) was still the lowest of the six largest importing countries. This is likely to change, however, since the Brexit is likely to result in more direct trade between the UK and developing countries in the medium to long term.

The UK is the leading market for curcuma in Europe, because of its large population (more than 4 million) of South Asians. Turmeric is an important ingredient in many Indian dishes, and in curry powder (a British blend of spices popular in Western countries created to imitate and combine Indian flavours), in particular. Considering the enormous population of South Asian decent in the UK and its influence in British life and food since least the early 1800s, it is not a surprise that the UK has the largest market for curcuma, turmeric and curry powder in the EU.

The top three 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.

Because of the important role of Indian cuisine in the United Kingdom, India dominates the supply of spices to the United Kingdom (€68 million in 2020). China ranks second (€45 million), then Spain and the Netherlands (€34 and €27 million, respectively). Other important suppliers to the UK are Germany (€22 million), France (€21 million), and Vietnam (€20 million for the last three years).

Whereas India’s export value to the UK remained relatively stable during the 2016-2020 period, a few other countries’ figures rose considerably. Chinese exports of spices and herbs to the UK went up by 16% per year on average (from €25 to €45 million), and other countries which saw considerable increases were Spain (9%, from €24 to €34 million), Germany (12%, from €14 to €22 million), and Guatemala (39%, from €3 to €12 million). The developing countries Kenya (67%, from €0.3 to €2.5 million) and Brazil (89%, from €0.2 to €2.4 million) also achieved considerable increases. Countries that experienced a huge decline in exports to the UK were the Netherlands (14%, from €49 to €27 million), France (9%, from €31 to €21 million), and Vietnam (11%, from €32 to €20 million).

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, which include Quay Ingredients and Rye Spice. Suma is also an interesting company, which specialises in the distribution of vegetarian, vegan, fair-trade, organic and gluten-free ethical or natural products, including spices.

France: Europe’s vanilla hub

France is an important importing country in European spice trade, especially because it is the largest European destination for vanilla from Madagascar. Thanks to this, France was Europe’s second-biggest  in 2018. In subsequent years, however, French imports declined considerably in value because of a sharp drop in vanilla prices. This was also the case in 2020, when the ongoing decline in vanilla prices resulted in French total imports going down by 22% to a value of €201 million. While Madagascar was still by far the biggest supplier to France in 2020 (€104 million), other top suppliers to the French market included Germany (€32 million), and Spain (€30 million).

In spite of Madagascar’s dominant position, other supplying countries have also found a market for their vanilla in France. The most important examples are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Mauritius. Since France dominates the global vanilla market, it is also a source of trends and innovations, such as organic and fair-trade vanilla. 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, like Ducros and Spigol.

Spain focuses on capsicum

Spain differs from the other top European spice importing countries in that its share of imports from within Europe is very small. Spain’s portfolio of imported herbs and spices is also different from other countries. The most imported product is capsicum from China and, to a much lesser degree, Peru, which is used in Spain’s paprika processing industry. Spain is the largest paprika producer and processor in the world, with many dried paprika derivates that are widely used as a colouring and flavouring agent 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 and Spain imports more from developing countries than the UK, for example.

Saffron is the second most important product among Spanish spice imports. It is used by food processing companies in yellow colouring agents, but it is also a key ingredient in the typical Spanish dish paella and many other culturally important rice recipes. Other spices also imported in significant volumes by Spain include ginger, pepper, cinnamon and cumin.

Poland is the leader in Eastern Europe

Poland is the sixth-largest importing country of herbs and spices in Europe. Imports from developing countries have grown relatively quickly and account for 60% of total spice imports (€70 million) in 2020. Until 2019, by far the largest supplying country was Vietnam, shipping €18 million worth of spices to Poland in 2019. In 2020, Vietnamese exports dropped to €16 million while imports from Germany grew by 14% to virtually the same value as the imports from Vietnam. Behind Vietnam and Germany were three countries that have experienced strong growth in exports to Poland: China with growth of 34% per year on average in the 2016-2020 period (from €5 million to €15 million), Madagascar with growth of 57% per year on average (from €2 million to €10 million), and the Netherlands with growth of 54% per year on average (from €2 million to €9 million).

Madagascar’s exports to Poland consist mainly of vanilla, while China’s exports to Poland consist mostly of capsicum and ginger. While Poland imported relatively little ginger until 2019 compared to Western European countries, in 2020 imports of ginger picked up and grew by 166% to €17 million.

Polish spice imports are carried out by Polish traders, such as Rolmex and TomPol, but also 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, for example, 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.

Medium and small-volume importing countries

In addition to Poland, three other countries in Europe  can be considered medium-sized importers of spices and herbs from developing countries: Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Austria’s imports from developing countries totalled €40 million in 2020, while Switzerland’s amounted to €38 million, and Italy’s were €33 million. While Austria’s and Italy’s imports declined by 2.6% and 8.8% per year, respectively,  Swiss imports from developing countries have grown by 11% per year average.  Despite the declines in Austria and Italy, the absolute import values of these three countries are solid enough to justify focusing on at least one of these countries.

Tips:

  • Study your options in the large import markets of Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK and Spain. A good way to reach a decision regarding these markets is to visit European trade fairs. Start with the leading trade fairs in Europe: Anuga in Cologne (Germany), Sial in Paris (France), and Biofach in Nuremberg (Germany). Another trade fair where you may also find good trading partners is Fi Europe in Frankfurt (Germany), which is dedicated to food ingredients.
  • Stay up-to-date on online initiatives that trade event organisers set up in these uncertain times (with lockdowns, etc.). Previously, initiatives were organised by FI Europe (Food Ingredients) and Anuga.
  • You can find more information about the European spices industry on the European Spices Association website. You can also download the list of members with all the national Spices Associations across Europe.

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

The spices and herbs with the most potential in the European market are ginger and curcuma, followed by pepper, cinnamon, thyme and nutmeg. Ginger and curcuma benefit from the growing popularity of healthy ingredients, also referred as superfoods. Imports of both spices from developing countries grew considerably in the 2016-2020 period, and it can be assumed that this strong performance will continue in the coming years, particularly because these spices are thought to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

In addition, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg are spices that have unique properties. Pepper has pain relieving properties, for example, while nutmeg boosts the libido. Table 1 below lists the top countries in terms of export volume (based on HS6 digit level) of these products to the EU27 market. A further introduction to the spices and herbs with the most potential is included  after Table 2.

Please note that we base our findings on data from the developing countries where CBI is active. We calculate export volumes to the European market for these products. We define the European market as EU27+UK+European Free Trade Association. For more information on other products from CBI countries considered to have significant potential, read the Annex to this study.

Table 2: European import volumes (tonnes) from CBI countries and from all developing countries (DCs) of top products, including leading suppliers and shares.

Product

Import volume 2020 from all DCs

CBI countries

Import Volume 2020

Absolute growth '16-'20

#1 supplier and share

#2 supplier and share

#3 supplier and share

#4 supplier and share

#5 supplier and share

#6 supplier and share

#7 supplier and share

09061900 cinnamon and cinnamon-tree flowers

7,660

5,465

1,193

Indonesia (97.2%)

Sri Lanka (2.7%)

 

 

 

 

 

09041100 pepper of the genus piper, unprocessed

58,646

5,327

-3,796

Indonesia (82.2%)

Sri Lanka (17.2%)

Côte d’Ivoire (0.1%)

Lebanon (0.1%)

Egypt (0.1%)

Nigeria (0.1%)

 

09101100 ginger, unprocessed (note that a large share consists of fresh ginger)

116,702

2,982

-221

Nigeria (92.1%)

Uganda (2.9%)

Indonesia (2.4%)

Ghana (1%)

Burkina Faso (0.7%)

Côte d’Ivoire (0.6%)

Sri Lanka (0.2%)

09101200 ginger, processed

5,947

2,493

315

Nigeria (81.7%)

Côte d’Ivoire (11.4%)

Burkina Faso (3.7%)

Indonesia (2%)

Sri Lanka (0.9%)

Myanmar (0.1%)

 

09081200 nutmeg, processed

2,302

2,069

742

Indonesia (95.8%)

Sri Lanka (4.1%)

Lebanon (0.1%)

 

 

 

 

09062000 processed cinnamon and cinnamon-tree flowers

4,864

1,954

-826

Indonesia (88.7%)

Sri Lanka (10.9%)

Egypt (0.2%)

Lebanon (0.1%)

 

 

 

09081100 nutmeg, unprocessed

2,161

1,900

-111

Indonesia (97.0%)

Sri Lanka (3%)

 

 

 

 

 

09061100 cinnamon "cinnamomum zeylanicum blume" unprocessed

2,716

1,286

-566

Indonesia (51.3%)

Sri Lanka (48%)

Lebanon (0.6%)

 

 

 

 

09109933 thyme (excl. processed and wild thyme)

1,413

1,236

119

Egypt (51.6%)

Morocco (33.6%)

Kenya (7.4%)

Jordan (4.1%)

Lebanon (1.6%)

Ethiopia (1%)

Bangladesh (0.3%)

09092100 coriander seeds, unprocessed

3,843

1,115

5

Morocco (87%)

Egypt (12.1%)

Jordan (0.6%)

Lebanon (0.2%)

Bangladesh (0.1%)

 

 

09103000 turmeric "curcuma"

16,278

215

56

Myanmar (41%)

Bangladesh (20%)

Nigeria (13.3%)

Indonesia (9.9%)

Sri Lanka (8.6%)

Uganda (2.6%)

Lebanon (2.1%)

Source: Eurostat (2021)

Secondly, it should be noted 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 herbs and spices, most individual countries supply only a limited range of products.

Ginger

Ginger offers the most opportunities for developing countries hoping to enter the European herbs and spices market. Imports of ginger from developing countries totalled more than 152 thousand tonnes in 2020, roughly 40 thousand tonnes more than in 2016. Ginger imports accelerated in 2020 thanks to  measures aimed at mitigating the spread of Covid, with home-stay orders leading to more spending on healthy ingredients. China is the leading supplier of ginger to Europe, followed by Peru, Brazil, Nigeria, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Costa Rica.

The top-four European markets, i.e., the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain are the markets 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 will give you a competitive edge. 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 leading organic food markets in Europe. The most interesting markets for Fairtrade certified ginger in Europe are Germany (31 Fairtrade certified company in 2020), the United Kingdom (19 certified companies), France (23), the Netherlands (17) and Switzerland (16).

Tip:

Curcuma

European demand for curcuma has been booming in recent years, partly because of the trend towards healthier eating habits. By far the biggest European market for curcuma longa is now and is expected to remain the UK, where there are millions of people with a South Asian background.

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. In addition, this product has become a trendy ingredient for 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 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. It will probably take 10 years for  a market share of 10% to be reached.

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 52. Germany has the most Fairtrade certified curcuma traders in Europe (10), followed by France (8), Italy (7) and Switzerland (7).

Tip:

Pepper

Vietnam is Europe’s main supplier of pepper, followed by Brazil, Indonesia and India. Vietnam is the leading supplier of pepper to Europe, boasting more than 50% of the European import volume. Smaller volumes are imported by Brazil (28%), India and Indonesia (7% each) and Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Ecuador (each between 0.7 and 1.6%). While China is an important player for ginger and capsicum, it accounts for less than 1.5% of the 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 is 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 in the bakery segment. Although the volumes of cinnamon have not increased by as much as those of ginger and curcuma, Ceylon cinnamon can also be considered as a spice that promotes human health. An effective dose (1-6 grams per day) has anti-diabetic (blood sugar level lowering) effects (note that the most common type of cinnamon (which is also cheaper), cinnamon cassia does not have this effect). For this reason, Ceylon cinnamon has tremendous potential in the European market and there is considerable room for growth.

The European importation of cinnamon grew by 6% annually between 2016 and 2020, reaching nearly 20 thousand tonnes by 2020 and a value of €60 million. In 2020, Indonesia was the main supplier to Europe with a share of 49%, followed by Vietnam (22%), Madagascar (10%), China (7%) and Sri Lanka (6%). There are also new emerging suppliers from developing countries such as Tanzania and Laos. Organic and sustainably-sourced cinnamon is becoming important in Europe. It is one of the most frequently traded Fairtrade-certified spices in Europe. In 2021 there were 117 Fairtrade-certified cinnamon traders in Europe.

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 markets with high consumption, 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. European imports of dried thyme have increased at an annual growth rate of 2% in volume since 2016, reaching 10 thousand tonnes by 2020. Around one-third of European dried thyme imports come from developing countries. Also, a large share of the 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, and other emerging markets, such as Egypt, Turkey, and Israel.

Tip:

Nutmeg

Indonesia is the top supplier of nutmeg to the European Union, accounting for 86% of the total import volume of 2,302 tonnes, followed by Sri Lanka. The volume of nutmeg exported to the European Union experienced a sharp increase in the 2016-2020 period, which is most likely due to nutmeg’s growing popularity as a supplement. Figure 6 clearly shows how the coronavirus pandemic has led to a structurally higher daily search volume for the word “nutmeg”, worldwide.

Figure 5: Worldwide Google Search Volume for the word “nutmeg” in the 2016-2021 period.

Worldwide Google Search Volume for the word “nutmeg” in the 2016-2021 period.

Source: Autentika Global compilation based on Google Search Volume Statistics (2021)

Tips:

  • Read the CBI’s trends report for a summary of trends in the European herbs and spices market.
  • Review the full list of herbs and spices from developing countries in the Annex to this study.

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

Please review our market information disclaimer.

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