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Germany, the largest food and beverage market in the EU

Germany is by far the biggest market for food and beverages in the European Union. The food retail sector is saturated, highly consolidated, and competitive. There is good sales potential on the German market for exporters of nuts, fish and seafood products, dried fruits, bakery products, and organic products.

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The food processing industry represents the third-largest industry in Germany. In 2019, Germany produced an estimated USD 221.7 billion of processed food and drinks. The following products have good sales potential on the German market: nuts, fish and seafood products, highly processed ingredients, dried fruits, sweet potatoes, bakery products, organic products, and pulses.

Germany economy indicators
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Among the largest food-importing nations in the world

With more than 83 million of the world’s wealthiest consumers, Germany is by far the biggest market for food and beverages in the European Union. Germany remains the largest economy in Europe. At the same time, Germany has an ageing society.

Germany is a major producer of food and agricultural products and a leading player in the global marketplace. Germany is also the third largest importer of agricultural products after the United States and China.

In 2020, imports of food products reached USD 104.8 billion, an increase of 0.9% compared to 2019. 79% of these imports originated from other EU member states. In 2020, the German food processing industry is dominated by small and medium size companies; 95% of which have less than 250 employees.

In 2019, the sector generated a turnover of roughly USD 221 billion, accounting for 5.8% of the German GDP. The largest sub-sectors by value were meat (25%), dairy (15.3%), bakery (9.8%), confectionery and long-life bakery products (7.2%), and alcoholic beverages (6.2%).

The German Food Retail Industry

The sector is saturated, highly consilidated, and competitive. The top four retail groups together account for arounf 75.5% of the total revenue. Small neighborhood retailers continue to face strong competition from modern grocery retailers. Germans are generally price sensitive but wealthy consumers are willing to pay a higher price for premium quality products.

German citizens spend only 14% of their income on food and beverage products. Low food prices result from high competition between discounters and the grocery retail sale segment. Germany’s COVID-19 related lockdown and physical distancing measures heavily impacted its food sector as well as consumers’ shopping and consumption patterns. Much of the demand for food and agricultural products shifted from restaurant and food service to food retail in 2020. Retail sales were driven by consumers’ building of emergency stockpiles and a trend for home-cooking.

Germany consumer oriented products

German consumers are very particular about what they like and what they do not like in their grocery retailers, and grocery retailers can count on a strong base of loyal customers. The failure of Walmart to establish itself in Germany over a decade ago shows how hard it is for international players to successfully enter the German market.

The growth of discounters is slowing because of market saturation and the continuing trend towards shopping at supermarkets in convenient city locations. As urbanization is growing and consumers’ lifestyles are changing, more and more people seek convenience when doing their grocery shopping. To counter this, discounters are also attempting to adapt and expand in hopes of differentiation. Additionally, they are focusing more on quality and choice rather than price with new concepts and the introduction of more premium and convenience foods.

Key market drivers and consumption trends
  • Fair trade and organic products have become more important on the German grocery market. Germany is the second largest organic market in the world and presents good prospects for exporters of organic products.
  • An aging population and increased health consciousness of consumers is fueling the demand for health and wellness products and functional food products.
  • Increasingly high-paced society and the rising number of single households are driving the demand for convenient ready-to-eat meals, desserts, and baking mixes.
  • Ethnic foods, beauty and super foods, clean label foods, “free from” products (e. g. gluten or lactose free), and locally grown are further trends that attract more and more German consumers.
  • Increasing share of consumers who view their purchasing decision as a political or life-style statement (non-GMO, “free-range” eggs, vegetarian or vegan diet, etc.).
  • Consumers increasingly demand traceability and information about production methods.

Products with good sales potential:

ProductsMarket attractiveness
Tree nutsThe U.S. is consistently the leading exporter of almonds, pistachios, and walnuts to Germany. Turkey has the lead in hazelnuts. Netherlands is a large re-exporter of cashew nuts. Demand is strong for tree nuts, particularly for snacking and confectionery.
Fish and seafoodAfter a downward trend in 2018, demand in Germany is on the rise again. USA is the second largest supplier of Alaska Pollock fillets. Tradition in seafood trading and processing. Fish is popular.
Wine & BeerWine only grows in southern part of country.
Food PreparationsStrong domestic food industry.
PeanutsVolumes consist of re-exported peanuts from Argentina, USA, Brazil. High demand from well-established snack food industry
MeatFocus on pork rather than beef production.
Sauces and PreparationStrong domestic food industry.. USA is well known supplier of BBQ sauces.
Snack Foods excl. nuts Tradition in snack food production. Germany is one of the global market leaders in snack foods. Volumes also consist of re-exports from China, Thailand, & USA.

The German Foodservice Industry

COVID-19 related lock-down and physical distancing measures heavily impacted the German food sector in 2020. In comparison to 2019, German food service sales decreased by 38.6 percent to USD 68 billion, with all three major market segments – hotel, restaurant, and catering – suffering from sales losses. The entire sector has been hit hard by the pandemic and government financial support was often not enough to compensate for the losses.

The German food service sector is large and highly fragmented but can be divided into the commercial and institutional food service markets. The German commercial food service market includes hotels, restaurants, fast food and take-away outlets, bars, cafeterias, coffee shops, and similar channels. The institutional food service market consists of hospitals, universities, nursing homes, and cafeterias.

Purchasing by hotels, restaurants, and institutions is fragmented and competitive. Few of these businesses import products directly from other countries, except for items that they purchase in large quantities. Most companies would rather purchase from central buyers/distributors importing food and beverages. In general, these wholesalers specialize in products or product groups. Some are even experts in food products from a specific country of origin. Specialized importers have an in-depth knowledge of import requirements, such as product certification, labeling, and packaging.

To cover the entire German food service market, regional distributors have organized in groups, such as Intergast and Service-Bund. Some of those distributors organize in-house food shows once or twice a year, during which their suppliers can showcase their products to potential customers..

Route-to-market

Success in introducing food products depends largely on market knowledge and personal contact with key decision-makers. Participating in German food trade shows is a proven and cost-effective way to find the right distributor and facilitate direct contact with German food brokers, importers, and wholesalers.

Few German retailers import products directly from other countries. Most food retailers prefer to buy from central buyers/distributors specialized in food and beverage importing. In general, these wholesalers specialize in products or product groups, and some are even experts in food products from a specific country of origin.

These specialized importers have in-depth knowledge of all importing requirements, such as the necessary product certificates, labeling and packaging. They also take care of the shipping, customs clearance, warehousing, and distribution of the products within the country.

If a potential exporter is considering working through a distributor in another country (the Netherlands is common), they should be aware that food imports from other countries within the European Union fall under the “free movement of goods” principle. This means that products that are imported by other EU-countries may be brought into Germany even if they do not meet German food laws.