Europe’s Culinary Export Powerhouse

Europe is renowned for its delectable culinary traditions, and its nations collectively export billions of dollars worth of food products each year. From France’s world-famous cheeses and wines to Italy’s beloved pasta and pizza, European cuisine offers a diverse array of flavors to please every palate. The export of food products from Europe significantly bolsters the continent’s economy. European nations, celebrated for their culinary heritage and rigorous quality standards, have garnered a global reputation for producing premium food items. In the early months of 2022, the European Union (EU) achieved a remarkable milestone, reaching a total of €369 billion in agri-food trade, marking a 23% increase compared to the same period in 2021 (from January to November). These exports encompass a wide range of products, including fine wines, cheeses, chocolates, olive oils, and processed foods.

Furthermore, the European Union (EU) stands as a dominant global player in the food and beverage market. It ranks as the world’s largest exporter of food and drink products and the second-largest importer. Europe’s food industry specializes in exporting processed agricultural products (PAPs) while maintaining a favorable trade balance. However, Europe’s share of the global export market has gradually declined over the past decade, with Brazil and China emerging as formidable competitors in the field.

The Netherlands has emerged as a global leader by embracing cutting-edge technologies, including vertical farming, innovative seed technology, and robotics. These advancements have positioned the country as a role model in global agricultural production and export, showcasing the potential for sustainable and efficient farming practices. The Netherlands boasts nearly 24,000 acres of crops thriving within its extensive greenhouse facilities, an area nearly twice the size of Manhattan. These Dutch greenhouses are exceptionally efficient, capable of producing as much on one acre as it would take 10 acres of traditional farming. Dutch farms use just half a gallon of water to grow a pound of tomatoes, a remarkable contrast to the global average, which exceeds 28 gallons.

Moreover, Ukraine plays a pivotal role as a major global supplier of staple grains, including wheat, corn, and barley. However, the agricultural sector in Ukraine has faced significant disruption due to Russia’s invasion, posing a threat to global food security. In 2021, Ukraine’s agricultural exports totaled over $27 billion, accounting for 41% of the country’s total exports. The World Food Program (WFP), a United Nations humanitarian organization, heavily relies on Ukraine as it sources 40% of its wheat from the country.

The European Union (EU) and its member states have taken a leading role in providing development aid on a global scale. In June 2022, EU countries pledged a commitment of $8.57 billion for the period 2020-2024 to address the increasing and urgent food security needs worldwide. This commitment is part of the EU’s broader efforts to bolster global food security. EU countries also make substantial contributions to global food security by exporting a significant portion of their agricultural production to developing nations. More than half of the EU’s wheat exports find their way to Africa (countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, and Nigeria) and Asia (including Pakistan). The EU’s dedication to food security represents a significant step towards addressing hunger and malnutrition on a global scale.

Exploring the European Union Food Industry

Mondelez International Inc. (NASDAQ: MDLZ) stands as a global snacks company specializing in the production and marketing of food and beverages, including cookies, crackers, chocolate, candy, gum, and cheese, with net revenues reaching approximately $31.5 billion in 2022. Mondelez International generates two-thirds of its revenue from developed markets and the remaining third from emerging markets, experiencing robust growth at a rate of over 12%. The company operates 133 manufacturing plants on five continents and employs approximately 79,000 people worldwide.

Nestlé (OTCMKTS: NSRGY), a Swiss multinational food and beverage company, is a prominent player in the European food industry. Nestlé’s products are distributed under various well-known brands, including Nescafé, Nespresso, KitKat, Maggi, and Stouffer’s. In 2021, total reported sales amounted to CHF 87.1 billion, reflecting a 3.3% increase, with a 1.3% reduction attributed to foreign exchange effects. Nestlé anticipates organic sales growth of 6% to 8% in 2023, with an underlying trading operating profit margin ranging from 17.0% to 17.5%.

Diageo Plc (LON: DGE), a British multinational alcoholic beverage company headquartered in London, is a prominent player in the European food and beverage sector. Diageo’s products are sold under various brands, including Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Guinness, Baileys, and Captain Morgan. Diageo Plc is dedicated to developing new products and services to meet customer needs while also committing to reducing its environmental impact and improving the lives of its stakeholders. In 2022, Diageo Plc recorded revenues of £20.56 billion, with an annual EPS that was 21.85% higher than in 2021, at £5.93. In the same year, Diageo sold 5.4 billion units of alcohol, contributing to a retail sales value of $1.17 trillion in the global alcohol market.

Europe’s Leading Food Exporters

To rank the 16 biggest food exporters in Europe, we employed two key metrics: the Value of Food Exports and the Growth in Value of Food Exports (from 2021 to 2022). This data was sourced from the Observatory of Economic Complexity. We calculated the average of both metrics and ranked the 16 biggest food exporters in Europe in descending order from 16 to 1, with 1 representing the largest food exporter and 16 representing the lowest food exporter on our list.

Now, let’s delve into the top 16 food exporters in Europe:

  1. Romania
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 3.32
    Romania’s economy heavily relies on food exports, with 2.9 million agricultural landowners, accounting for one-third of the EU’s agricultural holdings. A significant portion of Romania’s population, 23%, is employed in agriculture, compared to the EU average of 4.9%. The country exports 70% of its agri-food products to the EU, with major food imports in 2018 including meat, edible fruits, protein meals, and dairy. Major exports consist of grains, oilseeds, live animals, and fats.
  2. Portugal
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 4.64
    In 2021, Portugal primarily exported food products to Spain, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Portugal’s food and beverage exports encompass a wide range of products, including canned fish (including sardines and tuna), olive oil, wine, dairy products (including cheese), pastries, and preserved fruits. In 2022, Portugal’s exports of meat, fish, and seafood preparations totaled $403.83 million.
  3. Sweden
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 4.82
    Sweden’s food exports are primarily directed towards several key markets, including Denmark, Finland, Norway, and the United States.
  4. Hungary
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 5.4
    Hungary maintains a surplus in its agricultural trade balance, with agricultural exports comprising 8.9% of the country’s total exports in 2021. The country dedicates approximately 4.3 million hectares to arable land and permanent crops, with around 120 thousand hectares under irrigation.
  5. Czechia
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 5.66
    The agri-food sector plays a pivotal role in the Czech Republic’s economy, with farms covering 44% of the country’s land area. Key export products include milk, livestock, grains, sugar, and malt.
  6. Switzerland
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 5.82
    In 2022, Switzerland’s food exports accounted for 2.6% of its total merchandise exports. While Switzerland’s food exports have experienced substantial fluctuations in recent years, they have generally declined from 1973 to 2022.
  7. Denmark
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 7.52
    Denmark is the sole country in the Nordic-Baltic region to exhibit a surplus in agricultural product exports, producing three times its domestic food requirements.
  8. Greece
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 6.73
    Greek food product exports surged by 10.6% in 2020, reaching a total value of $7 billion. Greece exports food to many countries, with its top five export destinations being Italy, Germany, Turkey, Cyprus, and Bulgaria. Notably, cheese, table olives, olive oil, and cotton constitute the core Greek exports, accounting for 28.7% of the total product exports in value.
  9. Austria
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 10.5
    In 2021, Austria’s agricultural and related product imports amounted to $21.1 billion, while its exports reached $23.6 billion.
  10. United Kingdom
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 19
    In 2022, the United Kingdom achieved remarkable heights in food and beverage exports, surpassing pre-pandemic levels across most categories.
  11. Spain
    • Food Export Value in 2021 (USD Billion): 21.3
    Spain stands as a net seafood exporter, reaching a record high of $5.9 billion in 2022, marking a 3.4% increase from 2021. The Spanish food industry is a leading export sector, contributing to 22% of the country’s GDP. Key products such as olive oil, wine, canned foods, and cheese are best sellers, especially within the EU. Spanish agri-food and fishing exports increased by 2.7%.


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