Food and Beverage

Food and Beverage

A Large Potential Market for Foreign Exporters

Jam and Honey | © Romography -

Source: Jam and Honey | © Romography -

Industry Overview

Germany's 80.6 million inhabitants make the food and beverage market the largest in Europe. The sector ranks fourth among the local producing industries and has a workforce of around 555,000 across the roughly 6,000 predominantly small and medium sized enterprises (BVE, 2013).

Germany's main trading partners in the food and beverage industry are other EU countries followed by Russia, the United States, Switzerland, and China (BVE, 2013). In the past ten years, food imports have steadily increased, thus underlying the rising demand for foreign as well as exotic foods.

Our Industry in Numbers

  • Largest food producer in Europe with total sales of around EUR 175 billion in 2013.
  • Exports of processed foods and agricultural commodities amounted to EUR 53.6 billion in 2013.
  • Imports of processed foods and agricultural commodities to the value of EUR 47.2 billion in 2013.
  • Largest sector sub-segments in 2013: meat and sausage (23.3%), dairy (16.2%), baked goods (8.8%), and confectionery food (7.7%)
  • The market grew by 3.6% in 2013, especially due to rising demand for value-added foods, including convenience and functional foods.

Market Potential

Given the large size of the German market, the existing opportunities in the food and beverage sector are very attractive to exporters worldwide. Especially the increasing demand for health & wellness and convenience foods as well as organic products in the past years, represents a large potential for foreign companies active in these market segments. Yet barriers to entry are low due to the industry’s fragmentation and the presence of various companies at all stages of the food chain. Depending on the market segment, new entrants should have no difficulties in finding suppliers, distributors or other relevant partners.

German consumers expect high quality and low prices for their food and beverage products. The domestic food and beverage sector has profited from the fast economic recovery in Germany and the growing demand for food products made in Germany brought the export quota to an all-time high. Moderate growth was recorded in the meat and sausage products, confectionery, baked goods, and non-alcoholic beverage segments. In 2013, the German food and beverage market grew by 3.6%, with a very positive outlook for 2014 and beyond.

Market Access

The German food & beverage industry can still be regarded as fragmented and competitive. 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 violate German food laws. If this is the case, importers must obtain a permit from the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) in order to sell the product in Germany. The duties to be paid for food brought from outside the European Union are subject to European legislation as well. The tariffs for different food products are published in TARIC, the Online Customs Tariff Database.

FOOD SAFETY - The legal framework on food safety was established by the European Union. The European Food Safety Authority plays a key role in the risk assessment of food. Many developments of the previous years were aimed to increase transparency and consumer confidence, by providing better information on food ingredients. Traceability of food products is also of utmost importance. For example, the country of origin must always be listed on food labels and all intermediaries (suppliers, distributors, etc.) that joined the food chain must be included as well. Companies trading food of animal origin from one country of the European Union to another need a special permit that is issued by the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food (BLE).

NOVEL FOODS - Novel food imports in Germany must undergo a safety assessment before being brought into circulation. Importers of novel foods must apply for a license to sell these products at the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). As the responsible federal authority, the BVL will perform the necessary testing and send the results to the European Commission and the Member States for final approval. Detailed guidelines for the import of novel foods can be found at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

FOOD LABELING - Food labeling requirements are laid down in EU legislation. This means that uniform standards apply throughout all Member States of the European Union. In December 2014, the new EU Regulation No. 1169/2011 on food entered into force. This directive requires that consumers are clearly informed about the nutritional value, ingredients, and instructions for use before they purchase a food product. In addition, the regulation improves the legibility of information on packages by imposing the highlighting of allergens and specifying a minimum font size.

PRODUCT PACKAGING - Exporting companies should be aware that product packaging is very important to German consumers since they are highly environmentally conscious. Manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers must make sure that their packaging materials for their food products comply with the EU's and Germany's domestic regulations in terms of recycling and disposal. There are several dual system companies licensed in Germany offering various waste disposal schemes. Foreign exporters are free to choose which dual system they join. It is not mandatory to display any dual system membership seal on sales packaging.

HEALTH CLAIMS – The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) maintains a register of all authorized health and nutrition claims, which applies across the entire European Union. This register is accessible online and any food business operator may use the claims contained therein for the purpose of their operations within Germany. However, the use of claims is subject to control by the competent German authorities (see above) and, where applicable, certain conditions and restrictions must be respected. One important provision is that health claims should only be used for the nutrient, substance, food or food category for which they have been authorized and not for any products containing them. In addition, food business operators should never make use of unauthorized claims.

Distribution Channels

Few German retailers import products directly from other countries. Most food retailers rather buy from central buyers/distributors specialized in the import of food & beverages. In general, these wholesalers have specialized in products or product groups; 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 and also take care of the shipping, customs clearance, warehousing and distribution of the products within the country. It is advisable that foreign exporters find a local representation in order to place and promote their products successfully within Germany. In addition, more and more retailers, but also some food producers itself launch online shops, which are groewing slowly but steadily. Especially some niche segments, including e.g. wines or food supplements, gained a remarkable online market share.

The German retail food sector is dominated by five large retailers that claimed more than 75 percent of the market share in 2013. Recently, consumers and food retailers have increasingly been paying attention to the quality, transparency, and traceability of products. The overall market share of discounters offering a limited selection of mainly private label goods at low prices remained stable at around 41 percent. As mentioned above, most of the German retailers rely on specialized distributors/wholesalers for their products. However, some supermarket chains will sometimes contract directly with a foreign supplier and appoint an importing company of their choice to bring the products into Germany accordingly.

Especially for foreign food and beverages companies, another useful way of finding the right distribution channel for their products is to visit or participate in the various food trade fairs taking place in Germany. Trade shows like ANUGA, ProWein - the international trade fair for wines and spirits, BioFach - the world’s leading trade fair for organic food, INTERNORGA - the international trade fair for the hotel, restaurant & catering sector, or ISM – the international confectionery trade fair in Germany, enjoy an exceptional reputation among industry experts worldwide. Participating in any of these events facilitates the direct contact with German food retailers, importers and wholesalers.

Supporting Institutions

Foreign companies looking for German food importers, wholesalers or distributors can find further information at the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE), the Federal Association of the German Retail Grocery Trade (BVL), the Federation of German Wholesale and Foreign Trade (BGA) as well as at the respective industry associations for the various segments of the food market.

The BVE – The Federation of German Food and Drink Industries represents the interests of 21 branch associations and 50 food and beverage companies in Germany. It is one of the first stops for foreign companies looking for information and contacts in the German food and drink industry. The BVE's main responsibility is to represent the interests of its members at both national and international levels.

The BVL – The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety serves as the federal organization for the food retail trade in Germany and represents all sales channels and companies in the field. The association's role is to safeguard the sector's interests with regard to legislation, the public authorities and the general public in Germany and Europe.

The BGA – The Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services is the leading business association mainly focused on supporting the middle market, also known as the German Mittelstand. The Association represents 28 regional employers’ associations and 51 branch associations from across the wholesale and foreign trade sectors. Its goal is to assert the interests of its members vis-à-vis the German Bundestag, the German government and relevant ministries.

Information about the different industry-related trade fairs being held in Germany can be found in the database of the Association of the German Trade Fair Industry (AUMA).