What are the key entry requirements for exporting fruit & vegetables to Europe?

Europe is providing increasing market opportunities to emerging tropical countries, as it offers a large and stable demand for fresh fruit and vegetables with significant purchasing power. The need for year-round availability and the interest in new exotic produce leads to Europe’s continuing dependence on external suppliers.

However, this process is not easy because of the perishable nature of the produce and the financial and technical capacity required. Europe is very demanding when it comes to food safety. Aspects such as quality management are particularly challenging for farmers in developing countries, as meeting stringent standards and regulations require a considerable amount of investment and skills.

But meeting the European requirements is also an opportunity to succeed at a higher level. What are the most common requirements and standards? What are the key recommendations for success in exporting to Europe?

1. Understanding the market: It is important to consider market entry by targeting large consumer countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. However, it is also important to evaluate big trader countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, who are the leading buyers for re-exporting crops to other European countries. Consider also that north European countries have the highest purchasing power, but at the same time have the strictest standards of quality and food safety. Southern countries, such as Italy, are strong producers of fruit and vegetables so the demand for fresh produce is more selective.

Reaching out to business support organizations in your country or internationally can provide valuable information about your sector and its dynamics in Europe. For example, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI) from the Netherlands provides a very complete portal with market information and services available for entrepreneurs in developing countries. Portals such as Fresh Plaza and Fresh Fruit Portal provide good sources of information about the fruit & vegetable sector and the main traders and buyers.

2. Selecting clients: It is important to decide what type of customer you aim to reach, for example, is it large or small international traders and importers, supermarkets or small retailers. It is important to seek buyers according to the type of product and quantities you can supply. According to CBI, “on average, about 75% of all fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe is sold by supermarkets”. Supermarkets are the most demanding in terms of quality, but their capacity allows them to maintain prices that are at competitive levels. However, most fresh produce from developing countries is traded via importers that supply to large retail providing an intermediary role between producers and retailers, which can facilitate the entrance into the market.

It is recommended to attend or follow the international fruit & vegetable fairs in Europe, such as Fruit Logistica in Berlin and Fruit Attraction in Madrid, which allows companies to meet the biggest traders of fruit and vegetables in Europe, with the possibility of accessing updated information about international markets.

3. Quality standards: In Europe there are quality and marketing standards that fresh products must comply with in order to export there. The general marketing standard (GMS) establishes the conditions that produce must have, such as pest-free, cleanness, level of maturation, sizing, packaging, and identification etc. For apples, grapes, kiwi, leafy vegetables, peaches, nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, and tomatoes, there are more specific standards with which to comply. There are some crops that are not subject to specific standards but they must comply with the applicable UNECE standards. You must also consider that each importer/retailer may have their own standards.

Before exporting, check the marketing standards portal of the European Union or consult with the country’s trade agencies or business support organizations such as COLEACP. If you are intending to export to the UK keep in mind that Brexit may affect this, therefore it is recommended to visit the UK trade agency portal.

4. Plant health: Fruit and vegetables exported to the EU must comply with recently updated European legislation on plant health. It presents the requirements to prevent the introduction and spread of organisms harmful to plants and plant products in Europe. The exporters’ home country needs to have phytosanitary agreements with the European Union, especially in the issuing of phytosanitary certificates.

The crops that require health inspection and require phytosanitary certificates prior to shipping to Europe are: leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, kumquat, eggplants, persimmon, apples, pears, mangos, passion fruit, plums, guava, currants, blueberries, and other exotic products such as rose apple, guanábana, quince and bitter cucumber.

It is recommended to consult your home country’s National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) to see if there are any changes or new measures. COLEACP provides technical assistance to entrepreneurs and NPPOs with regards to plant health control requirements. You should also check the EU plant health directive to see if there are any changes or any emergency measures taken due to the identification of high-risk pests. Emergency measures carry immediate changes in phytosanitary certificate requirements and generate rejections because declarations can be completed incorrectly. Additionally, check the plant health interception platform to see if shipments from your home country are recurrently rejected.

5. Food safety: European buyers are increasingly demanding that their suppliers be certified by a private food safety standard such as GLOBALGAP, BRC and IFS. The first has become the most common certification standard required by supermarkets. It is a set of standards for good agricultural practice that covers the whole agricultural production process up until the final non-processed product. It focuses on food safety as well as the environment, labour conditions and product quality. In addition, BRC Global Standards provides a more extensive set of standards, mostly required in North West European countries. It includes the implementation of HACCP principles (hazard analysis and critical control points), as well as the control of the working environment, products, processes and personnel. Consult with your European buyer about the preferred certification. Start with Global G.A.P as it is the market entrance certification. Look for local certifiers that will help you through the process.

6. Sustainability: As consumers are becoming more aware and interested in how products have been produced and traded, most retailers are requiring suppliers to follow and apply standards regarding the impact on the environment, social and labour conditions, trading practices etc. Some large supermarkets have their own certifications, but there are some sustainability protocols that are privately certified. Some examples are the Global G.A.P. Risk Assessment on Social Practice (GRASP) and Fair Trade. Having any of these certifications allows companies to achieve a significant differentiation in the market.

Main consulted source: Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI): Exporting fruit and vegetables to Europe.