The United States continues to be the largest supplier of tree nuts to Europe. While EU investment and production of tree nuts continue to increase, production is still far from meeting domestic demand. In 2020, EU-27 tree nuts imports from the United States reached $2.8 billion USD. The COVID-19 health crisis and the logistical issues and delays experienced globally moderately decreased U.S. exports of tree nuts to the EU, but exports began recovering in the first half of 2021. The demand for tree nuts is expected to remain strong, as consumers continue to demand healthy snacks and the hospitality, HRI, and impulse purchase channels are steadily recovering.
The EU Market: A Key Trading Partner for US Tree Nuts
In 2020, the European Union (EU)-27 imported $7.2 billion in tree nuts from the world. The United States, with $2.8 billion, is the largest EU-27 tree nuts supplier, accounting for 39 percent of total imports. Turkey is the second largest supplier with 22 percent of imports, followed by Vietnam, Chile, and Iran.
U.S. almonds (both in-shell and shelled) totaled $1.5 billion , followed by pistachios with $699 million and walnuts with almost $393 million. Within the EU, the most significant importers of U.S. tree nuts (in order of importance) are Germany, Spain, and The Netherlands.
These numbers prove the importance of the United States as an agricultural trading partner to the EU.
The Food Processing and the Snack Industry Remain the Most Significant Buyers
The growing popularity of healthier snacking and eating habits among European consumers continues to encourage consumption of nuts, both tree nuts and ground nuts. Tree nuts are covered in the media and food blogs for their health benefits. Many consumers perceive them as beneficial and increasingly include them in their diets. The desire for general health and wellbeing, the increasing interest in plant-based diets (vegan and vegetarian) – along with the publication of scientific studies highlighting the benefits of nut consumption – continue fueling demand for these products.
In addition, the European food processing and snack industries are the largest users of tree nuts, both as an ingredient (for traditional sweets and pastries) and for re-processing and re-export to third countries. Almonds are mainly used as an ingredient for the manufacturing of marzipan, nougat, turron (a Spanish traditional Christmas confection), and many other pastries and sweets. European food manufacturers also use walnuts and pistachio nuts as an ingredient for manufacturing ice cream and confectionary products.
The snacking industry is channeling its efforts to offer consumers new products and new ways to consume nuts. Thus, due to the mature nature of the European market, EU manufacturers are focusing their strategies on launching new value-added innovative products rather than focusing on volume sales. They continue to emphasize the health benefits of tree nuts, both through advertising campaigns and in packaging.
During the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, retail was the big winner, particularly in the first half of 2020, with the closure of the HRI channel in most countries. With nuts becoming an increasingly important part of European consumers’ diet, the challenge for retailers will be to find the right balance between price, quality and formats that best suit consumer demand. In addition, consumers are paying more attention to sustainability and responsible consumption. Eco-friendly production, packaging, and distribution is becoming more popular amongst European consumers, especially in northern countries.
Expanding Business in the EU Market
The COVID-19 impact on trade shows has been significant since trade shows came to a halt with the pandemic. With the gradual removal of restrictions, the trade show industry is slowly but surely reopening. Trade shows are an excellent opportunity to get to know the market and to meet potential importers. New-to-market exporters interested in getting a better understanding of EU food regulations and market opportunities are encouraged to reference the Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards (FAIRS) reports and Exporter Guides produced by various EU FAS Offices.
U.S. Cooperators Active in the EU Market
Trade associations like the Almond Board of California, American Pistachio Growers and the California Walnut Commission continue to develop strategies for the EU market. These trade associations, in cooperation with FAS offices, work actively to further develop the market for U.S. tree nuts. Read the full report from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, including specifics on almonds, walnuts and pistachios HERE.