Food & Drink sector in Belgium
The Belgian food and drink industry has a trade balance of €3.4 billion and a turnover of €46.6 billion (2012). Imports are mainly from France, The Netherlands, Germany and the UK.
As a result of its strong gastronomic tradition and cultural diversity, Belgium is often used by large companies as a test market for food products. With the EU market allowing free movement of products, there is an increase in the availability of new products on the Belgian market. Labels in different languages have become the norm and it is now obligatory to have labels in both official languages i.e. Dutch and French.
The food & drink market is driven by demand from the consumer to the distributor to the manufacturer. This is an indication that Belgium is a mature market.
The distribution sector is very powerful in Belgium. It should be noted that approximately 60% of all purchases are made at hypermarkets and supermarkets; if we add to this the smaller supermarkets and corner supermarkets then we reach almost 100%. The three largest players are Colruyt, Delhaize and Carrefour groups; together they account for 70% of the market.
Since 2008, household spending on food and drink has remained stable. In 2010 (latest available figures) a Belgian household spent on average €5,315 on food and drink. The main categories are fresh meat (mainly beef), sandwich meats, prepared meals and biscuits. A traditional Belgian meal still consists of meat, vegetables and potatoes.
In Belgium, the market for food products has changed dramatically over the last few years. In part, this is as a result of changes in household and typical consumption patterns, for example, breakfasts are now being taken away from home and snacking on the road is more commonplace. Additionally, in Belgium, there is a growing ageing population; both partners in a household work and Belgians are travelling more extensively.
There is a growing interest, and hence opportunities, in the following sectors:
Snacks, especially food available at petrol stations for example, for eating on the go.
Exotic ethnic foods.
Healthy foods such as, gluten free, lactose free and organic products.
Sectors offering good opportunities at present include:
Snacks and convenience foods
This is a market segment which is growing faster than predicted. The trend is attributed to the growing number of single households, both amongst the elderly and younger age groups and as a result of the changing eating habits of families. For example, it is not unusual that in a family with children every member of the household wants to eat something different and so, Belgians resort to prepared meals. Additionally, changes in lifestyle and new retail formats contribute to the increase in this phenomenon.
However, Belgian consumers still demand healthy options and the fast food industry is making clear efforts to offer healthier alternatives.
The organic food market continues to grow. Organic food is more popular with the 35-65 age group, women and people on higher income. Belgium currently imports more than 50 percent of the organic food it consumes. This is expected to increase as demand for prepared meals and a more diverse range of products rises.
The most popular products are bread, vegetable coffee, dairy and fruit. But the market share is highest with meat replacement products, soya tea and eggs. Organic food is mostly eaten at home.
Belgians travel widely and are hence influenced by foreign cuisine. The demand for ethnic food has increased dramatically over the last years, but seems to have reached its peak at the moment. However, there still seems to be room for speciality products offering a little something more. Belgian chefs in top restaurants are showing keen interest in ethnic products and use them in their preparations.
Getting into the market
Belgium is a highly competitive growing market with opportunities for international trade, especially for small and medium sized businesses. The Belgian market places a high premium on factors such as design, quality, delivery, and after sales service.
British companies wishing to enter and / or develop their business in the Belgian market are advised to undertake as much market research and planning as possible.
There are few barriers to entry with Belgium being a multilingual country with numerous cultural and business links to the UK.
Market intelligence is critical when doing business overseas, and UKTI can provide bespoke market research and support during overseas visits though our chargeable Overseas Market Introduction Service (OMIS).
To commission research or for general advice about the market, get in touch with our specialists in country – or contact your local international trade team.
Nadine Vandenbroucke, British Embassy Brussels. Tel: + 32 2 287 62 33 or email: Nadine.firstname.lastname@example.org
UKTI runs a range of events for exporters, including seminars in the UK, trade missions to overseas markets and support for attendance at overseas trade shows.
Date: 16 – 18 March 2014