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close this bookThe Courier N 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)
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View the document‘New’ ACP export products
View the documentThe fruit and vegetables market in Europe: the case of France
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The fruit and vegetables market in Europe: the case of France


The European Community market in fruit and vegetables has not ceased to grow, thanks to the enthusiasm of populations ever ready to try new produce. Some 22 million tonnes were bought, sold or re-exported in 1988. Although 65 % of these are represented by exchanges between Member States, imports from other sources amounted to 7.5 million tonnes. The ACP States managed 775 000 tonnes, an increase of almost 50 000 tonnes over the 1987 figure, but which, in no way, indicates an increase in the share of the market, which is still dominated by Latin America.

As 1992 approaches with the prospect of a more open European market in fruit and vegetables for all, the competition will be tougher. The ACP States will have to fight for every niche in tie market and being able to do this means not only understanding the consumers, but responding as well to such exigencies as regularity and reliability in supply as pointed out, for example, in our dossier No. 92 on Exotic Tropical Fruits. In the article below, Mr G. Delmas takes a close look at the French market, one of the biggest in fruit and vegetables in Europe.

Changing consumer types

Numerous studies have served to build up a picture of the French in which three distinct groups stand out, each with a different attitude to the buying of fruit and vegetables, particularly when it comes to exotic or off-season produce.

- There are first the ‘traditionalists’, who represent 27% of the population, who are reluctant to change their habits, and who prefer to shop in specialist departments or stores. They are good consumers of fruit and vegetables but have a poor awareness of new items. They will only buy exotic produce if advised and convinced by the retailer.

- This group is followed by the ‘middle of the road’ people: 23% of the population who are ready to change their eating habits. They are aware of all that is new and are good consumers of fruit and vegetables (notions of health and a balanced diet) and are therefore very open to exotic and off-season produce.

- Then there are the ‘modernists’: 50% of the population whose eating habits are asserting themselves but are also diversifying. Today, we can break this group into three components: the ‘disinterested’ (15%) who are characterised by a lack of interest in what they eat often reflected in a breakdown in the regular three meal a day pattern. Their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is very low; the ‘eclectic’ (10%) who have a genuine concern for refinement in their diet and are attracted by foreign cuisine, frozen products and restaurants. They are only irregular consumers of fresh fruit and vegetables (special occasions): Such people tend to prefer new products (exotics); the ‘hedonists’ (25%) who seek a diet which is both refined and adapted to the modern way of life. They display a sustained interest in fruit and vegetables (health and balanced diet) and are very open to exotic produce.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this rapid analysis of French society:

(1) the middle of the road plus the hedonists, or 48% of the population, could provide the basis for a strategy to significantly develop the market for fruit and vegetables and in particular exotic produce: this is encouraging for the future.

(2) The distributor must recognise the diversity of the market, which means that he can no longer present the same product in the same way to a standard consumer, but must satisfy a varied clientele by a variety of presentations. In this new context, exotic produce will have its place.

Developments in the retail trade

At present the retail trade is broken down into:

- The ‘modern’ outlets (hypermarkets, supermarkets and street corner supermarkets) which account for 50% of sales. Each has its own characteristics, but they share in common the fact that they serve a clientele whose tastes and choice, as already described, differ.

To satisfy this clientele, the majority of such outlets display exotic produce. This may be either permanent, as in the case of hypermarkets and supermarkets, or temporary, as in smaller outlets, for example during the Christmas period.

- The specialist outlets which account for 30% of sales, either on the streets or in high street shops: all of the latter have an exotics section, often with a wide choice and ready advice for the housewife.

- The small general stores which represent 20%. They carry little exotic produce.

- Then the catering sector, which represents 12% of the market, and which is now beginning to take an interest in exotic produce when price allows (mainly fresh pineapple, avocado and kiwifruit).

To sum up, the retail trade represents a promising field for the development of exotic produce. However, such development can only be harmonious if produce maturity is regular, grading is reliable, packaging is durable and sufficiently attractive for public display, and customer interest is stimulated by point of sale material, in-store promotion and tastings.

The commercial development of exotic and off-season products

During their presence on the market, all products (industrial or agricultural) pass through a certain number of phases: launch, growth, maturity, saturation and decline.

Exotic and off-season products cannot escape from this rule and it is interesting to set them in their respective places in this cycle. A glance at the graph on the next page reveals the following:

- Some off-season fresh fruits which are also products that have reached saturation point, in particular plums, apples, peaches and melons, stagnate.

- There is a rapid advance of nectarines, fueled as they are by imports from Italy (two-fold increase) and from Spain (fivefold increase).

- There is a rapid advance of out-of-season grapes (South Africa and Chile). - There is a rapid advance of strawberries due solely to Spanish growth (90% of the increase) and an even earlier start to the season: the first significant quantities arrive at the beginning of February.

- There is a concentration of papaya sources (Ivory Coast: 35% of the supply; Brazil: 39% of the supply).

Comments on the produce


- French consumption has been falling: 70309 t in 1986/87;59093 tin 1987/88; 52 175 t in 1988/89 and 55 816 t in 1989/90.

This is doubtless due to the development of traffic from Cd’Ivoire to the ports of Northern Europe and away from France (imports down from 70 309 t in 1987 to 55 816 t in 1990).

- Decline of airfreight (22 900 t in 1985 to 8 800 t in 1990) in favour of container shipments.


- Increased competition between Israel and Spain between November and March.

- Strong competition in May/June between South Africa and Israel.

- Consolidation of Mexican sources.


- Steady growth in French consumption ( + 25% in 3 years). Nevertheless, the wide spread of producer countries and the difficulty of overcoming technical problems at the production and transport stages are hindering the growth of imports.

- It is important to note the great advances made by Mexico, which has become France’s number one supplier, as well as by Cd’Ivoire, South Africa and the USA, while Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali have fallen back.

- There has been a profound change in sources:

· In 1976/77, African countries provided 68% of the supply (520 t out of 767 t);

· In 1987/88, Central and South America provided 51% of the total.


- Product is in the saturation phase with traditional varieties declining and ‘small citrus’ such as mineola and temple advancing.

- Note the stability of traditional suppliers (Morocco, Spain and South Africa) and the spectacular leap forward by Argentina (5 049 t to 22 200 t).


- France is the biggest European importer of this fruit.

- Main sources in 1989/90, totalling 3 305 t: Brazil: 1863 t; USA: 347 t; Mexico: 611 t; Martinique: 89 t; Nicaragua: 181 t.



- The market has expanded over the past ten years with the emergence of two important trends:

· a sharp decline in white grapefruit in favour of red varieties which now represent more than 50% of the supply,

· a decline in tonnages from Israel (white varieties) in favour of New World sources: USA: 45% of the supply; Argentina: 12% of the supply.


- First comment:

It should be noted that 66% of beans consumed in France come from family plots. When beans are not available from this source, the consumer is quite prepared to buy the frozen or canned product but also fresh beans, price being almost no object. This fact represents a certain guarantee. The annual average price of FF 17 covers a range between FF 14 or FF I 5 in summer and FF 20 or more in winter and early spring.

- Second comment:

The market for fresh beans in winter is heavily dependent on imports (Kenya, Burkina Faso and Senegal). However, Spanish goods represent a growing proportion of the tonnage in a period which puts them in direct competition with African sources.

Current trends - Threats:

· The emergence in Europe of two producers: Holland and Spain, the latter in direct competition with ACP products (avocados, beans, nectarines, strawberries, etc.).

· The growing influence of South America (Chile, Brazil and Argentina), Central America (Honduras and Mexico) and North America (USA).

- Opportunities:

· A growing taste for new products, exotics and fresh produce on the part of the European consumer.

· Greater use of container transport, offering better storage conditions than conventional sea transport and cost savings compared with airfreight.


Bearing in mind all of the above, ACP countries must remain vigilant and pay particular attention to the overall marketing of their produce:

- harvesting and shipping at optimum ripeness,

- even size grading,

- better targeting of market openings through improved market intelligence

- dynamic point of sale activity (in-store promotion, demonstrations, tastings, etc).