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Avocado: who does what in Europe

Which EU country has the highest per capita consumption? Who produces and who exports the most? The findings of a Dutch study

A recent study conducted by ICI Business for the Center for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI) highlights the latest trends and figures on the consumption of tropical fruit, and avocado in particular, in the European Union.

First of all, France is the leading end market for avocados, while Scandinavian countries have the highest per capita consumption levels. Although the growth in consumption in some of these leading countries is now slowing, Germany, Italy and Eastern European nations still have good margins for development. It is worth noting that many of these countries are supplied by traders based in the Netherlands or Spain. In addition, Spain is increasingly playing the role of international distributor.

The Netherlands as the main trade hub for avocados

The Netherlands (see Holland in the table) is the main trade hub for avocados in Europe. Numerous importers operate here, where the fruit is also ripened before being distributed to many European destinations.

The Netherlands is responsible for half of Europe’s avocado imports. But the country is also the largest non-producing exporter of avocados in the world. Huge volumes are re-exported from here to Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and many other countries too. Dutch traders have become specialised in avocado ripening, packing and logistics. Moreover, they’re also used to dealing with the different sustainability requirements of European retail chains.

Precisely because of this leading role in the avocado trade, the Dutch market is well acquainted with the fruit and has high consumption levels: despite a relatively small population of just 17 million people, it is one of the top consuming countries in Europe. Even allowing for possible discrepancies in trade figures (which may have skewed the calculated consumption), estimates confirm the leading role of the Netherlands as a trade hub for avocados.
However, as other avocado specialists emerge throughout Europe, the Netherlands could lose its commercial primacy, retaining a largely logistical role.

ICI Business recommendations for producers and exporters: meet with potential buyers at the key international trade fairs, but also consider the possibility of using consolidated trade routes and finding an import partner in the Netherlands, the most important transit country for avocados for the European market.

France: the top destination for avocados

France is the largest destination market for avocados in Europe, especially for high-quality fruit. Consequently, there is a potential for good margins here if you manage to position your product in the major retail chains.

In 2020 France imported 171,000 tonnes of avocados, with an estimated demand of 144,000 tonnes. Although France offers the largest market for avocados in Europe, consumption growth has lagged behind the European average (see table). This may be due to the fact that France is already a mature market, with annual consumption of over 2 kg per capita. Regular price increases also slow down the growth in avocado consumption. However, despite their higher prices, organic avocados are taking an increasing share of the market.

Meanwhile, in supplying the French market, Peru once again overtook Spain, with 41,000 tonnes compared to Spain’s 39,000 tonnes. Mexico, Israel and Kenya round off the top five. Although the market preference is for the local product (from Spain), there is strong year-round demand. And while Spain and Israel are not the cheapest sources for avocados, price is not a problem for a certain type of buyer who focuses more on quality, origin and organic produce.

ICI Business recommendations for producers and exporters: find buyers who supply the major retailers in France and be prepared to meet extra quality requirements. On average, prices and margins are likely to be better when working with retail contracts as opposed to traditional wholesale markets. Check the prices of organic and standard avocados in import, wholesale and retail markets in France on the Market News Network of FranceAgriMer (in French).

Germany offers the highest growth prospects

Avocado consumption in Germany is experiencing strong growth, which makes this an exciting country for exporters.
The promotion of health benefits, together with discount offers, are contributing factors in this fast-growing market. Germany is probably the country with the highest growth prospects, alongside Italy: it is Europe’s most populous country and is still developing its avocado market. Consumption is currently just over 1.2 kg per capita but this figure is rising steadily. Avocado is valued for its health benefits and German consumption is expected to catch up with that of other northwest-European markets: Germany could overtake the United Kingdom in terms of demand and become the second-largest consumer market for avocados.

Total imports in 2020 reached 119,000 tonnes, a 22% increase on the previous year. Favourable consumer prices and an increased focus on healthy eating during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to this growth. Only air-freighted avocados, common in wholesale markets, experienced more difficulties as a result of lockdowns imposed during the pandemic. However, supermarkets more than made up for the wholesale losses.

Germany is the home of discount chains like Lidl and Aldi, which often lead the way in offering customers special promotions on avocados. At the same time, Lidl is known to be one of the strictest retailers when it comes to pesticide residues, which can pose a barrier for avocado exporters. Germany also has the highest sales revenue for organic produce in Europe, making it an exciting market to explore for organic avocados.

ICI Business recommendations for producers and exporters: in order to supply the German market, make sure you meet Lidl standards. These are the strictest of all, meaning that the pesticide residue levels of your avocados must be at most a third that of permitted European limits.
In addition, when you present your product, focus on facts, such as the results of laboratory analyses. German buyers are not particularly receptive to emotive sales pitches.

United Kingdom: an interesting consumer market, but with a growing economic squeeze

The United Kingdom is one of the biggest markets for avocados (see table), but with high standards and an increasing squeeze on prices. Suppliers need to be competitive and extremely well organised.

The United Kingdom imported 122,000 tonnes of avocados in 2020. This represented a slight increase on the previous year. As in France, consumption in the United Kingdom increased rapidly until 2016. Higher costs and prices triggered by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed recent fruit sales; in addition, there is a growing awareness of various sustainability aspects of avocado plantations, like their water consumption. Nonetheless, avocado consumption will continue to increase and a growing interest in a plant-based diet is expected to keep demand high.

The United Kingdom remains one of the top markets for avocados, but be prepared for a continuing squeeze on prices, while the quality and certification standards remain some of the highest anywhere.

ICI Business recommendations for producers and exporters: you will have to be flexible in terms of volume and prices in order to maintain your operations in the United Kingdom. There may be some trade shifts due to increased administrative costs associated with EU imports, which could provide new opportunities for non-EU suppliers, especially if they have a similar supply season as Spain, the main European producer of avocados.

Spain: imports complementing production

When it comes to avocados, Spain is not only a producer and consumer, but also an emerging trade hub. It is an interesting target country for exporters, as they are likely to find a wider market than just Spain itself.

According to Eurostat, in 2020 Spain was the main producer of avocados in Europe with 99,000 tonnes. Other sources report slightly lower figures: 81,000 tonnes for the 2019/20 season and 61,500 in 2020/21. This makes it difficult to estimate Spain’s true consumption rate. Either way, Spanish traders are buying more and more avocados from abroad to supplement their own production season and satisfy international supply contracts. This makes Spain the second-biggest European exporter of avocados after the Netherlands.

Most of the 157,000 tonnes of avocados imported comes from Peru and Mexico. But there is also an increase in imports from Morocco (17,000 tonnes in 2020) which overlap with the Spanish growing season. This confirms the Spanish demand for re-export. Most of the avocados traded by Spain end up in France (53,000 tonnes), followed by the Netherlands and Germany (21,000 and 14,500 tonnes respectively).

Over the next few years, Spain is expected to become a larger consumer of avocados, but more importantly, it will also play a greater role in the European avocado supply.

ICI Business recommendations for producers and exporters: use Spanish avocado importers and traders above all to bolster your position in France and southern Europe. Also, visit Fruit Attraction to establish contacts with Spanish avocado companies.

Italy as an emerging country

The potential associated with a large population and hitherto underdeveloped consumption are excellent reasons for exporters to keep a keen eye on Italy.

Avocado consumption in Italy is, indeed, very low (450 grams per capita), lagging far behind the European average. This may be due to Italian consumers’ loyalty to traditional fruit and vegetables, which means that “new products” like avocados take time to become established. Green skins and smaller sizes (12-14) are more popular, but people are gradually becoming accustomed to the Hass variety too.

In any case, despite the traditional consumers, Italian traders are optimistic about avocados. And with good reason! The import volume in 2020 was just shy of 29,000 tonnes, representing an increase of 18% on the previous year. Most of the avocados imported transit through the Netherlands, France and Spain. According to estimates in 2020, consumption has doubled in the past five years. Although Italy’s current import level doesn’t earn it a place among the European top five, the opportunity for development in its avocado market means it must be considered one of those with the greatest potential.

ICI Business recommendations for producers and exporters: take advantage of the growth potential of avocados in Italy and start building relations with importers. Traditionally, Italian companies are more focused on their internal market. As a result, you’ll need to be proactive and go and meet them on their territory. The most popular meeting place for Italian fruit companies is the Macfrut trade fair in Rimini (from 4th to 6th May 2022).

And on 6th May 2022 in Rimini, Macfrut will host the Tropical Fruit Congress: a whole day, focusing this year on avocados (including Italian-grown avocados). The event will also include: thematic exhibition areas, with b2b networking and technical workshops.

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