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Be it through trade, political linkages, cultural-social or scientific evolutions, wars, or royalty, Europe’s identity as a continent has always been shaped by the interdependencies of its states. Today this interdependence is stronger than ever, and is mainly influenced by the European Union.
While harmonizing efforts of the European Union have, in many ways, prepared for an easier access, the cultural and political diversity of the European states is still a factor to consider when doing business in Europe. On the other hand, these elements contribute to the creativity and colorfulness of a densely populated continent. This article shares an insight on some traditional and modern facets of the food and beverage market in Europe.
Political, Economic and Demographic Facts
Europe’s population is about 730 million, which accounts for almost 12% of the world population. Of this, approximately 460 million (more than 60%) live in the 27 states of the European Union. The non-member states include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Albania and some Balkan nations (see Figure 1; Table 1).
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The European Union has the world's largest economy, which is slightly bigger than that of the United States. The average share of domestic product per EU citizen is about $32,000; this value in the United States is about $43,000. Then again, there is a difference in GDPs between the EU member countries, especially with the Eastern European nations showing relatively lower values despite being emerging markets. However, when compared to Western EU states, the annual GDP growth is higher for many of the Eastern EU nations.
An Aging Population
Europe’s population is larger than that of the United States. However, unlike the latter, the birth rate in almost all European countries is on a decline. The consequences of declining birth rates is evident in Figure 2 and Figure 3, which depict age distribution for the years 2004 and 2050 in the EU-25 countries, i.e. countries that were member states before January 1, 2006 (the date of accession of Romania and Bulgaria). The data shows a dramatic shift towards an older, geriatric population, as a result of the reduction in birth rate (1.5 children/woman on average). However, the required birth rate necessary to maintain an existing population size is 2.1 children per couple.
This shift in age distribution influences the region’s food and beverage sector, by initiating product development activities in the following areas:
- Nutritional and fortified products for osteoporosis (calcium), support of tendons (magnesium), vitality (vitamins), etc.
- Multi-grain foods for enhancing digestion
- Probiotic dairy products
- Organically certified fruits and vegetables and the prepared foods thereof
Increasing Muslim Population and Demographic Considerations
Europe’s Muslim population is large and growing. In past 50 years, it has exploded from less than 250,000 to about 25–30 million in Western Europe. A considerable section of this population needs halal certified food products, which are prepared in compliance with the dietary laws of its religion. As such, when it comes to prepackaged or processed foods, questions about their compliance with these dietary laws arise. For example, MSNBC has reported that some restaurants in Tuscany, Italy, source steaks of the famous Florentine quality from halal certified butchers. Needless to say, halal certified products have seen a tremendous growth in this region.
Moreover, the national origins of the Western European Muslim community vary on the basis of historical reasons for its immigration. This results in different ethnic backgrounds such as:
- Benelux: Moroccan, Turkish and Indonesian
- France: mostly Algerian
- Germany: mostly Turkish
- Spain: mostly Moroccan
- United Kingdom: Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian
Breakfast Food Segment in Europe
A common notion among Europeans is that “Americans really like breakfast cereals!” And a visit to a US supermarket only confirms this belief. Interestingly, despite the dominance of European breakfast staples—the breakfast croissant, brotchen rolls and breads (baguette, whole grain, dark, raisin and nuts, etc.)—breakfast cereal, muesli and granola have made their way onto European supermarket shelves. Table 2 describes some products found in German and Benelux markets.
Regional Influence on Product Development and Marketing
For a New Yorker living and working in the European Union, an excellent example of the evolution of regional products can be cross-examined in the tri-state area, generally referred to as the Rhine-Maas Euregio (see Figure 4). Here, between the rivers Rhine and Maas, lie borders of three nations—Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, with three separate languages (French, German and Dutch) being spoken. In addition, three major cities, one in each country—Aschen (Germany), Liège (Belgium) and Maastricht (Netherlands)—are located within a radius of about 50 km, each having its own historical importance. In totality the population of the Euregio region is about 3.4 million.
Three regionally baked products (Germany: Aachener Printen; Netherlands: Stroopwaffels; Belgium: Gaufre Liégeoises), produced by the local bakeries or homemade, all made using different recipes, are found in this region. Subsequently, based on these traditions, baking industries developed in the areas, spreading these products across Europe and abroad.
Aachener Printen, a spiced gingerbread type cookie, is available all year long and has been well-known since the 15th century. Printen are made from a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, aniseed, clove, cardamom, coriander, allspice and ginger; however, the actual recipe is kept secret by every Printen bakery. While the basic printen is rectangular shaped, printen specials are molded in various figurative forms. In addition, there are printen with nuts (usually almonds/mandel), covered in chocolate or glaze and marzipan.
Stroopwaffels, on the other hand, are made of two thin waffles with a thick sugary syrup (stroop) sandwiched in between. The product was created in the 18th century, when these types of waffles were made of pieces of so-called bread rassis. These were originally produced in the Dutch city of Gouda—a city known for its hard cheeses. Over the past few years, stroopwaffels have been introduced in different forms, including 'mini' and organic varieties. Still, a health-conscious alternative is advised, considering the sugar content of this delicacy.
Gaufre Liégeoises, or Belgian waffles, are generally rectangular in shape, but are known as galette when baked into a round shape. According to legend, the Liège waffle was invented in the 18th century by the chef of the Prince of Liège. When asked for a pastry based on large pieces of pearl sugar, the cook tried baking a pastry-type brioche in a waffle iron with pearl sugar mixed in the dough. The scent of vanilla that emerged during cooking delighted the prince, and the waffle recipe quickly entered culinary traditions in the region of Liège; soon, it spread throughout Belgium. Gaufre is available in different varieties such as caramelized, chocolate and powdered sugar.
Regional and cultural diversities play a crucial role in product and market development in the European food and beverage industry. Clearly, in-depth knowledge of regional products, consumer preferences and demographic development can help to gain easy access into this market.
Address correspondence to Steven Hanft, CONUS Business, Advice & Training, Aachen, Germany and Laren (Amsterdam area), Netherlands; email@example.com; www.conusbat.com