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Eastern Europe a growth market for fruit & vegetables

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The EU market for fresh fruit and vegetables is declining in volume but growing in value. In much of the eastern European Union consumption is still growing and consumers are shifting from basic fruit and vegetables towards more diverse produce, including exotics. At the same time, the availability there of other food products, such as snacks and fast food, is a source of heated competition for fresh fruit and vegetables. The markets in countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy and France are large but nearly saturated. Only certain market niches and product groups provide opportunities for growth.

More and more EU entrepreneurs in this business are opting for offshore outsourcing, i.e. moving parts of the production process to developing countries (DCs). As they face increasing pressure to improve, many of them consider offshore outsourcing a strategic means of lowering production costs, increasing their own company’s capacity for products with a higher added-value outsourcing products with a lower added-value. While the number of fruit and vegetable growers in the EU has been declining for decades, their involvement in offshore fruit and vegetable growing is increasing.

Fruit outperforms vegetables
DCs play a very important role in EU fruit trade and a substantial, if smaller, role in the vegetable trade. In 2007, 37% of the imports of fruits into EU member states came from DCs, compared to 13% of total vegetable imports. In terms of volume, fruit imports from DCs also outperform vegetable imports. A major reason for this difference is the fact that the EU countries are highly dependent on imports, as some fruits are not grown in the EU, such as bananas or mangos, and others, such as citrus fruits, are only produced seasonally.

Opportunities and threats
The fresh fruit and vegetables market in the EU offers both opportunities and threats for exporters in DCs. The creation or adaptation of products that serve market segments and capitalise on trends in consumption, production and trade offers major opportunities. Obviously, tropical (super) fruits also offer good opportunities as they cannot be produced in the EU and therefore have to be imported. Likewise, products that can fill the EU supply gap during the off-season are likely to be successful. Organically grown products with a fair-trade label and developed in a sustainable manner will also readily find their way onto EU markets.
Threats to export include: stagnating consumption in the old EU countries and strict quality demands.

Source: CBI News (Sept 2009)