Spain is the number one exporter of fresh fruit and vegetables globally

Spain is the most important exporter of fresh fruit and vegetables globally. This has been the case for a long time. In recent years, Spain’s share in the total world trade of fresh fruit and vegetables has always been around 10 per cent. Spain represents about 12 per cent of the global trade, not including bananas.

Annually, Spain exports more than 12 million tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables, valued at more than 12 billion euro. For comparison: the Netherlands annually exports (including re-export) 9 million tonnes of fruit valued at 9 billion euro. Globally, that puts the Netherlands in fourth and third place, respectively. Spanish export, which grew until 2014, has remained stable at that level in 2015 and 2016. In the first 7 months of this year, Spanish export grew by a few per cent. It’s noticeable that Spain has also been importing more and more fresh fruit and vegetables. In recent years, import grew by 5 per cent on average per year, to 2.15 million in 2016. Besides bananas and apples, this also concerns oranges.

Two-thirds of export vegetables from Almeria during winter months
About 60 per cent of Spanish export of fresh fruit and vegetables comes from three provinces: Almeria, Murcia and Valencia. Almeria and Murcia are Spain’s vegetable gardens, and Valencia is its citrus province. More than 40 per cent of Spanish citrus export comes from Valencia, followed by northern neighbour Castellon with 25 per cent. Almeria is the province of export of tomatoes (60 per cent), bell pepper (70 per cent), cucumbers (70 per cent) and courgettes and aubergines (both 80 per cent). Murcia, slightly to the east, is large in the export of lettuce (70 per cent), cabbage (70 per cent) and melons (70 per cent) and grapes (60 per cent).

Off all citrus produced in Spain (7.1 million tonnes), more than 40 per cent (3.0 million tonnes) could be sold abroad. A slightly smaller amount (2.7 million tonnes) was eaten as fresh product by the Spaniards themselves, and 1.2 million tonnes went to industry. Of the orange production of 3.7 million tonnes, more than a third was exported in 2016. Navellate was the variety exported most, with 45 per cent. Regarding amount, Navellina was the most important export variety. Of all tangerines and lemons produced in Spain, just over half could be sold abroad last year.

Traditionally, Spain is large in citrus. Oranges are Spain’s most important export product, followed by tangerines. Their shares in global trade were 23 and 29 per cent, respectively, last year. The other large Spanish export products are tomatoes (share global trade in 2016 12 per cent), and peaches/nectarines (39 per cent), bell pepper (22 per cent), watermelon (20 per cent), cucumbers (24 per cent), lemons (16 per cent), lettuce (47 per cent) and melons (20 per cent).

Bestsellers declining; other products larger increase
It’s noticeable that bestsellers in the Spanish export range — oranges, tangerines, tomatoes and bell peppers — reached their peak a few years ago. In 2013, the top three still represented 38 per cent of the total Spanish export of fresh fruit and vegetables, last year this was only 32 per cent. Of the top three, export declined by 13 per cent compared to 2013, while the other products were exported 18 per cent more compared to 2013.

The growth in recent years was therefore at the expense of other products. Products which Spain managed to sell abroad more are mostly cucumber, butterhead lettuce, melons and peaches. The flat variants of this product have clearly been injected with new life. Other growers in the range are: cauliflower/broccoli, onions. strawberries, garlic, aubergines, grapes, carrot, apples, plums, avocados and apricots.

Nearly everything to EU countries
Spain might be the most important exporter of fresh fruit and vegetables, Spanish product mostly stays within EU borders. Last year, 93 per cent of export was focused on EU countries. That hasn’t changed much in recent years either. It can be noticed that Spain is looking for new sales markets, but this mostly concerns limited volumes. Growth regions for Spain are Latin America, the Gulf states and South and East Asia.

Germany, France and the UK were the most important sales markets in 2016, with 26, 18 and 13 per cent of total export respectively. Combined, the top three is good for 57 per cent of total export. If we add the Netherlands, with eight per cent, to that, the four most important countries are good for two-thirds of the total export.

Germany is most important and continues to grow
Spanish export to Germany is still going well. From 2010, the average growth per year amounted to 7 per cent. In the first 7 months of 2017, export once again increased, although only modestly, by just 2 per cent. Oranges and tangerines are the bestsellers in export to Germany, but 4 products that increased considerably follow these two products closely:watermelons (average growth 2010/16 of 10 per cent), cucumbers (11 per cent), bell peppers (15 per cent) and tomatoes (8 per cent). 

While the Spanish export assortment to France is fairly similar to the average regarding composition, the assortment to the UK looks differently. Oranges are only in fifth place, after tangerines, tomatoes, cauliflower and onions. With an average growth of 7 per cent in recent years, the British market is important for the sales of Spanish fruit and vegetables.

Mostly greenhouse vegetables to the Netherlands in second half of year
The importance of the Netherlands in Spanish fruit and vegetables has declined somewhat, from 9 per cent 2016 to 8 per cent last year. On the other hand, the import from Spain represents 14 per cent of total Dutch fruit and vegetable import. The most remarkable in the Spanish export assortment to the Netherlands is the limited share of Clementines, which is only four per cent of total Spanish export of this product. But the Dutch share in the export of other important products — peaches, nectarines, lemons and strawberries — is also small. The Dutch share is largest for tomatoes, cucumbers, bell pepper, melons, cauliflower and courgette, 11 to 14 per cent. Spanish product represents more than half of total Dutch import for a number of products. This concerns tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, lettuce and courgette. During the Spanish export season for these products their dominance is naturally considerable. In that period, foreign competition for these products is at a minimum.

The Dutch export season of the important greenhouse vegetables — tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers — differs slightly from that of the Spanish season. In Spain, emphasis is on the winter months, while it’s during spring and summer in the Netherlands. In the previous Spanish export season, 2016/17, considerably fewer tomatoes were exported. From November until February, Spanish tomato export was significantly smaller than in previous years. A similar thing can be seen with cucumbers. Of bell peppers, practically the same amount was exported in the previous Spanish export season compared to previous years. 

An entirely different product, peaches, which have been injected with new life thanks to the rise of the flat version, has been exported more in all months. Considerable amounts are now even exported of the Spanish peaches in September and October. 

For more information:
Jan Kees Boon
Fruit & Vegetable Facts

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