Originally printed in the December 2019 issue of Produce Business.
Fresh fruits and vegetables imported into the EU market are gaining in volume, possibly representing new opportunities for exporting countries to build market share or achieve new entry.
In the past year, more than ten million imported tons of produce, excluding bananas, reached the EU market for the first time. Compared to 2017, this represents a gain of 10%.
Before 2017, a steady climb in volume was noticed. Compared to 10 years ago, 1.3 million more tons of fresh produce was imported from outside of the EU. This represents an increase of 20%.
Bananas are not included in our analysis, but this item grew even faster in imports than that of all other produce items in the past 10 years. Last year, nearly six million tons of bananas were imported into the EU, compared to about 4.5 million tons 10 years ago.
An important share of imported produce from outside the EU arrives in the Netherlands, comprising about 1/3 of total EU imports. The countries using the Netherlands the most for imported product (excluding bananas) are South Africa, Costa Rica, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Egypt.
The UK is currently the second largest importer of product, with Spain and France both significant importing countries as well. Two fast-moving import destinations are Portugal and Poland. In the UK, the increase of imports actually fell behind the average of other countries. In Italy and Belgium, imports from outside the EU even decreased over the past 10 years.
Primary Countries Exporting to EU
South Africa and Morocco are the most significant exporters of produce to the European market. Imports from Morocco, in particular, increased considerably in recent years, with Moroccan products mostly arriving to the EU through Spain and France.
Two other important suppliers of fresh produce to the EU are Turkey and Costa Rica. In the case of Turkish product, most is sent to Romania, Bulgaria and Austria.
These top four countries (South Africa, Morocco, Turkey and Costa Rica) account for nearly half of the total amount of fresh fruit and vegetables (excluding bananas) that are imported into the EU. After the big four, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Egypt — New Zealand and Argentina are the next group of production countries supplying the EU. The biggest one of these is Peru, which has seen its exports to the EU grow from 160,000 to 630,000 tons over the past 10 years. Last year, Peruvian exports to the EU increased by another third compared to 2017. Additionally, imports from Egypt increased considerably. Brazil has also fared well in recent years.
On the other hand, the EU is importing increasingly less produce from traditional suppliers such as Chile, New Zealand and Argentina.
Items Trending Upward
Oranges and pineapples represent the two largest import items from outside the EU. The increase in orange imports was about the same as the overall average, but the growth in the sales of pineapple did not increase as rapidly. Grape imports also grew, albeit not very quickly. The fourth product imported, lemons, did increase rapidly.
Tomatoes are the next item with a decent increase, but the product in sixth place ranking is a preeminent growth product: avocado. In ten years, the EU import of avocados has quadrupled, from 200,000 to 600,000 tons. Other major growers of significance are watermelons and mangos.
Spotlight on Southern Hemisphere Fruit
The most important produce suppliers of the EU are countries in the Southern Hemisphere, which benefit from having a sales season different than that of EU producers. With a little overlap of seasons, oranges are the most significant imported product into the EU, arriving from the Southern Hemisphere between July and November.
Last year, South Africa exported 465,000 tons of oranges to the EU, with the Netherlands being the most important buyer (228,000 tons), followed by Portugal (82,000 tons) and the UK (70,000 tons).
Egyptian oranges enter the EU around the same time as Spanish oranges. Despite the competition, Egyptian oranges grew from 140,000 to 330,000 tons in that period, with the Netherlands (137,000 tons) and the UK (72,000 tons) being the most important buyers.
Lemons, Grapes and Melons
Even though Spanish lemons are available within the EU year-round, a relatively large amount of lemons is imported into the EU from May to October. Argentina (185,000 tons), Turkey (140,000 tons) and South Africa (110,000 tons) are the largest exporters of lemons to the EU.
Another major import product is grapes, with a sales season (November to July) mostly counter to the EU grapes on the market (July to December).
Most of the grape imports are from Southern Hemisphere countries (South Africa, Chile and Peru), but considerable amounts also enter the EU market from India, Egypt and Turkey.
For melons, the pattern is similar to grapes, with some overlap of product imported into the EU counter to the EU (Spanish) sales season of May to October. Brazil is the main export country, with EU imports of Brazilian melons increasing from 175,000 tp 235,0000 tons in 10 years. Honduras imports also increased considerably.
Jan Kees Boon is the statistician behind Fruit and Vegetable Facts (Fruitandvegetablefacts.com), which specializes in providing quantitative data on developments in the international market, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org