The fruit and vegetable sector in the EU - a statistical overview
Data extracted in July and August 2019
Planned article update: September 2023
Author: Antonella De Cicco
In 2017, 1.9 % of all utilised agricultural land in the EU (3.4 million hectares) was dedicated to growing fruit.
In 2017, 1.2 % of all EU arable land (2.2 million hectares) was used to produce vegetables.
This article describes the fruit and fresh vegetables sector in the European Union. A range of agricultural data from a number of Eurostat agricultural statistics (farm structure survey, annual crop production statistics, agricultural prices, agricultural economics accounts) are used, in addition to trade statistics, industrial production statistics and data on the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables in order to depict the various stages in the process of bringing fruit and vegetables from fields to the market.
Where are fruit and vegetables grown in the EU? By how many farms? Over what area?
About 1.5 million holdings (hereafter termed 'farms') in the European Union (EU) managed fruit orchards and about 0.8 million farms cultivated fresh vegetables
A little over 1.5 million farms in the EU managed fruit orchards in 2016, which was equivalent to about one in every seven (14.8 %) of all the EU's farms which had some utilised agricultural area. A small majority of the EU's farms that had fruit orchards were located in three Member States: Romania (21.6 % of the EU total), Spain (17.1 %) and Italy (14.8 %).
However, only about one third (35.4 %) of the EU's farms that managed fruit orchards in 2016 (some 537 400 farms) were specialised in fruit and citrus cultivation. The remaining one million or so farms on which fruit orchards were managed had their focus of production either as crop specialists, livestock specialists or in mixed farming.
Farms specialising in fruit and citrus fruit production represented 5.2 % of all the EU's farms in 2016. A little more than three-quarters of these specialist fruit farms were located in five Member States; these were Spain (28.3 %), Italy (15.7 %), Romania (12.6 %) Greece (10.9 %) and Poland (10.5 %).
It is also worth noting that of the 1.5 million farms that managed fruit orchards in the EU in 2016, almost 62 000 farms (4.1 % of the total) managed organic fruit orchards. One third of these organic fruit orchard farms were found in Italy (34.6 %), with a further one third being split across Spain (17.1 %) and Poland (14.8 %) .
About 823 000 farms cultivated fresh vegetables across the EU in 2016, which represented 8.0 % of all the EU's farms which had some utilised agricultural area. One half of these farms were located in just three Member States; one quarter (26.0 %) were in Romania, and a further one quarter across Poland (14.4 %) and Spain (13.1 %) (Table 1 and Figure 1).
Specialisation in fresh vegetable production is less widespread than it is for fruit. Bearing in mind that the classification for specialist horticulture farms also includes farms that produce flowers and ornamental plants in addition to fresh vegetables, there were only 191 000 farms in the EU that were classified as specialist horticulture holdings; about one half of these specialist farms were spread across Spain (16.6 %), Poland (13.6 %), Italy (11.2 %) and Romania (11.0 %).
There were relatively few farms in the EU growing organic fresh vegetables in 2016; of the 27 000 farms (3.3 % of all fresh vegetables farms), one quarter (24.1 %) were found in Italy.
3.4 million hectares in the EU dedicated to growing fruit — two-fifths in Spain – with almond trees and apple trees the most cultivated
Almost 3.4 million hectares of land were planted to fruit in the EU in 2017, representing 1.9 % of all utilised agricultural land (Table 2). Nut orchards accounted for one third (33.8 %) of the total area of fruit, pome fruit orchards (apples and pears) a further one fifth (19.2 %) of the total, stone fruit orchards another one fifth (18.6 %), and citrus fruit orchards about one seventh (14.9 %) of the total. The remaining area planted to fruit was split between berries (4.5 % of the total fruit area), the diverse group of tropical & subtropical fruits which mainly includes kiwi, but also figs and bananas (4.1 %), and table grapes (2.8 %).
Spain accounted for by far the highest proportion (40.1 %) of area within the EU devoted to fruit production in 2017, reflecting its production of nuts and citrus fruit. Italy accounted for the next highest share (17.5 %), followed by Poland (9.6 %).
Almond orchards were the single species occupying the largest fruit area in the EU in 2017: 743 000 hectares (22.5 % of the EU fruit area), of which 85.2 % were in Spain (the world’s third largest almond producer after the United States of America and Australia).
Apple orchards were the second most common single species, accounting for 15.5 % of the total fruit area of the EU. Apples were grown in every Member State. Nearly one third (31.1 %) of the EU's apple orchards were in Poland, a Member State where apples accounted for one half (50.2 %) of its total fruit area. A further one third of the EU's apple orchards were found across Italy (11.0 %), Romania (10.6 %) and France (9.6 %). The share of apple orchard area in Romania was much higher than its equivalent share (3.4 %) of the European apple harvest. A majority of the EU's apple production came from Poland (24.3 %), Italy (19.0 %) and France (17.2 %).
Fresh vegetables were grown on almost 2.2 million hectares in the EU, nearly half of which was in Italy, Spain and Poland combined
About 2.2 million hectares of land in the EU was used to produce fresh vegetables in 2017, the equivalent of 1.2 % of all the EU's utilised agricultural land (Table 2). Note that melon and strawberry production is also included in these figures.
The group of fresh vegetables that comprises tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, melons, courgettes, cucumbers and gherkins accounted for a little over one quarter (27.1 %) of this total area. Root, tuber & bulb vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, onions, shallots and garlic accounted for a further one fifth (20.3 %) of the total, followed closely (18.1 %) by the diverse group of leafy and stalked vegetables (such as lettuce, spinach, chicory, endives, asparagus, artichokes, etc.). Fresh pulses (mainly peas and beans) were produced on 13.6 % of the EU's fresh vegetables area, brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli) on 12.5 % and strawberries on 4.9 %.
The areas planted to fresh vegetables in Italy (17.8 % of the EU total), Spain (17.3 %), France (11.8 %) and Poland (10.8 %) were considerably more than other Member States and together represented a clear majority of the area planted to fresh vegetables in the EU in 2017.
At the level of individual fresh vegetables, the area planted for tomato production (10.8 % of the EU's total fresh vegetables area) was greater than that of any other fresh vegetable. The cultivation of tomatoes in the EU was based on areas planted in Italy (38.4 % of the EU total) and in Spain (25.2 %), and to a lesser degree in Romania (9.2 %) and Portugal (8.7. %). A majority of the EU's tomato production was harvested in Italy (32.0 %) and Spain (29.7 %), with a further one tenth coming from Portugal (10.0 %). Despite the area planted to tomatoes in Romania, it only accounted for 2.5% of the EU's tomato harvest. This contrasted with the situation in the Netherlands, which supplied 5.2 % of the EU's tomato harvest despite cultivating it on only 0.7 % of the EU's overall tomato area.
Onions were the second most cultivated fresh vegetable, accounting for 8.1 % of the EU's total fresh vegetables area. The key onion producing Member States were the Netherlands (19.0 % of the EU's total onion area and 26.4 % of its production), Poland (14.7 % and 9.9 % respectively) and Spain (14.1 % and 19.5 % respectively).
EU production of fruit and fresh vegetables in 2017 valued at EUR 57.5 billion
The total value of the EU’s output of fruit and fresh vegetables at basic prices (i.e. including subsidies but excluding taxes on products) was EUR 57.5 billion in 2017 (Table 3, Figure 3). This represented 13.9 % of the value of all the agricultural goods and services produced in the EU. The value of fresh vegetables produced in the EU was EUR 34.5 billion in 2017 and that of fruit was EUR 22.9 billion.
Spain (24.4 %) and Italy (18.5 %) together accounted for about two-fifths of the total value of the EU's fruit and fresh vegetables production in 2017. However, the relative share of fruit and fresh vegetables production within the total value of agricultural output was highest in Greece (32.2 %) and lowest in Luxembourg (0.6 %).
Tomatoes and apples are the most valuable fresh products
Tomato production in the EU was valued at EUR 7.3 billion in 2017, accounting for one fifth (21.1 %) of the value of total fresh vegetables production. The contribution of tomatoes to the total value of fresh vegetables produced in each Member State in 2017 varied greatly but was highest in Poland (41.9 %) and Bulgaria (34.2 %). Nevertheless, it was the value of tomato production in Spain (24.9 %), Poland (14.3 %) and Italy (13.9 %) that accounted for a little more than one half (53.2 %) of the EU total. (Table 3bis and Figure 3bis in Excel file enclosed).
The production of apples in the EU in 2017 was valued at EUR 3.8 billion, accounting for 16.5 % of the value of EU-28’s fruit production. The contribution of apples to the total value of fruit produced in each Member State in 2017 was highest in Slovakia (70.6 %), Luxembourg (66.1 % ) and Czechia (65.3 %). Nevertheless, it was the value of apple production in France (22.9 %), Poland (17.6 %) and Italy (17.0 %) that accounted for about three fifths of the EU total.
Fresh fruit and vegetables were traded mainly on the European market: Spain was the leading trader
Member States export fruit and fresh vegetables to other Member States within the EU and to countries outside the EU. However, the trade flow of fruit and fresh vegetables within the EU was eight times bigger in terms of value than the export flow to non EU-countries in 2017: EUR 36.8 billion compared with EUR 4.6 billion.
The intra-EU trade in fruit accounted for 57.2 % of the total value of the internal trade in fruit and fresh vegetables in 2017. Among fruit, the value of the intra-EU trade in citrus fruit as a whole was highest (representing 12.3 % of the total value of fruit and fresh vegetables). Among the fresh vegetables, the value of the intra-EU trade in the grouping of crops within ‘other vegetables’ was highest (representing 13.9 % of the total value of fruit and fresh vegetables). In terms of a single crop, rather than a grouping of crops, the value of the intra-EU trade in tomatoes was highest in 2017 (accounting for 9.4 % of the total value of fruit and fresh vegetables), followed by apples (4.7 %) and oranges (4.4 %).
Three Member States accounted for more than two-thirds of intra-EU exports in value terms; these were Spain (33.3 %), the Netherlands (26.8 %) and Italy (10.9 %).
The intra-EU export of specific fruit and vegetables was dominated by some Member States: Spain accounted for a majority of the value of intra-EU exports of citrus fruit (64.4 % of the total value), of melons and watermelons (53.7 %), of apricots, cherries and peaches (51.9 %) as well as of lettuce and chicory (51.1 %); the Netherlands accounted for the highest share in tomatoes (45.5 %); and, Italy for the highest share in intra-EU exports of apples and pears and quinces (29.9 %) to Europe.
The EU is a net importer of fresh fruit and vegetables from non-EU countries. Nuts and bananas each accounted for about 20 % of the value of total fresh fruit and vegetables imports in 2017
The EU imported fruit and vegetables from third countries to the value of EUR 20.1 billion in 2017, with imports of fruit dominating (accounting for 84.7 % of the total value). In more detail, the import values of fresh and dried nuts (20.0 % of the total value of fresh fruit and vegetables extra-EU imports), bananas (19.5 %), the grouping of dates, figs, pineapples and avocados (14.2 %), citrus fruit (9.9 %) and grapes (9.1 %) were highest.
Fruit and vegetables were imported from a large number of countries, scattered around the globe. However, a little more than two-fifths (44.8 %) of the total imported value came from just five countries: the United States (11.9 %), South Africa (8.9 %), Turkey (8.7 %), Morocco (8.2 %) and Costa Rica (7.0 %).
There was clear specialisation in the market both for fruit and fresh vegetables.
- three-quarters of extra-EU nuts imported came from just the United States (55.8 % in value terms in 2017) and Turkey (17.3 %);
- two-thirds of bananas came from Central and South America (Colombia accounting for 24.2 %, Ecuador for 23.2 %, and Costa Rica for 19.0 %);
- almost half of dates, figs, pineapple and avocados came from just Costa Rica (20.9 %), Peru (18.5 %) and Chile (8.5 %);
- about one third of citrus fruits came from South Africa (34.3 % in value terms), with an additional third from the combined imports from Morocco (10.4 %), Argentina (9.8. %), Turkey (7.8 %) and Egypt (7.2 %);
- grapes were mostly imported from South Africa (28.9 %), Turkey (18.5 %) and Chile (13.6 %);
- fresh strawberries and other berries were mainly supplied by New Zealand (18.1 %), Morocco (16.6 %) and Chile (16.1 %).
- more than three-quarters of apples and pears came from just Chile (30.0 % in value terms), South Africa (26.3 %) and New Zealand (22.7 %);
- four-fifths of cherries, apricots, plums and peaches originated from Turkey (35.6 %), South Africa (27.6 %) and Chile (16.3 %).
- Morocco was the EU's main third country supplier of tomatoes (75.2 % in value terms in 2017), fresh pulses (48.1 %), and the composite group of other vegetables (26.6 %);
- Kenya was the main non-EU supplier of cabbages (45.1 % of the value of extra-EU imports);
- Israel was the main non-EU supplier of carrots (41.1 %);
- Turkey was the leading supplier of cucumbers (30.9 %), China of onions and garlic (27.0 %) and Egypt of lettuce (24.2 %).
Switzerland was the largest export destination of the EU’s fruit and vegetables
EU exports of fruit and vegetables to non-EU countries were valued at EUR 4.7 billion in 2017. Being much less than the value of imports, the EU had a trade deficit of EUR 15.5 billion in fruit and fresh vegetables in 2017.
The EU exported apples and pears to the value of EUR 0.9 billion in 2017, the main importers being Belarus (20.0 % in value terms), Brazil and the Saudi Arabia (8.7 % each). It exported fresh strawberries and berries to the value of EUR 0.7 billion and citrus fruits to the value of EUR 0.5 billion, with Switzerland being the principal destination (27.2 % and 29.1 % respectively in value terms).
In terms of the total value of extra-EU exports of fruit and fresh vegetables, the main destinations were Switzerland (22.9 % of the total) Norway (11.9 %), Belarus (8.3 %), the United States (6.5 %) and United Arab Emirates (4.6 %).
A majority of fruit and vegetable exports from the EU were transported by road (56.0 % of the total value), although one-third (34.3 %) also went by sea, and one-tenth (9.7 %) by air. In contrast, about three-quarters of the value of extra-EU imports of fruit and vegetables arrived by sea (73.3 % of the total value), one-fifth by road (19.2 %) and and the rest by air (6.8 %).
Processed fruit and vegetables were worth EUR 51.5 billion, or 6.5 % of the overall value of the EU food industry’s output. Processing is concentrated in five countries
Besides being consumed directly and traded as raw commodities, fruit and vegetables are also processed into a wide range of food products. These can be grouped into frozen, dried and preserved fruits and vegetables (canned vegetables, jams, marmalades and dried fruits) (72.5 % of sold production), juices (19.6 %), tomato ketchup (3.2 %), prepared meals (4.1 %) and the grouping of drained fruits and homogenised vegetables and fruits (1.3 %) (Table 6).
In terms of specific products, the highest production values were for non-concentrated orange juice (excluding frozen) with a share of 4.2 % of the total of processed fruit and vegeatbles, followed by tomato ketchup (3.2 %) and apple juice (2.9 %).
Although fruit and vegetable processing took place throughout the EU, five Member States were responsible for over two-thirds (69.1 %) of the total value of production in 2017; they were Italy (22.3 %), Spain (15.1 %), Germany (11.8 %), France (10.2 %) and the United Kingdom (9.8 %).
The EU as a whole was a net importer of processed fruit and vegetables, but some Member States did record trade surpluses, including Spain and Italy.
Source data for tables and graphs
Statistics on crop production
Statistics on crop products are obtained by sample surveys, supplemented by administrative data and estimates based on expert observations. The sources vary from one EU Member State to another because of national conditions and statistical practices. National statistical institutes or Ministries of Agriculture are responsible for data collection in accordance with EC Regulations. The finalised data sent to Eurostat are as harmonised as possible. Eurostat is responsible for establishing EU aggregates. The statistics collected on agricultural products cover more than 100 individual crop products. Information is collected for the area under cultivation (expressed in 1 000 hectares), the quantity harvested (expressed in 1 000 tonnes) and the yield (expressed in 100 kg per hectare). For some products, data at a national level may be supplemented by regional statistics at NUTS level 1 or level 2.
Statistics on the structure of agricultural holdings (FSS)
A comprehensive Farm structure survey (FSS) is carried out by EU Member States every 10 years (the full scope being the agricultural census) and intermediate sample surveys are carried out twice between these basic surveys. The statistical unit is the agricultural holding; the EU Member States collect information from individual agricultural holdings, covering:
- land use;
- livestock numbers;
- rural development (for example, activities other than agriculture);
- management and farm labour input (including age, sex and relationship to the holder).
Survey data are aggregated to different geographic levels (countries, regions, and for basic surveys also districts) and arranged by size class, area status, legal status of holding, objective zone and farm type. In the FSS organic data has been collected since the 2000 Census.
Economic accounts for agriculture (EAA)
Data on EAA provide an insight into:
- the economic viability of agriculture;
- agriculture’s contribution to each EU Member State’s wealth;
- the structure and composition of agricultural production and inputs;
- the remuneration of factors of production;
- relationships between prices and quantities of both inputs and outputs.
The output of agricultural activity includes output sold (including trade in agricultural goods and services between agricultural units), changes in stocks, output for own final use (own final consumption and own-account gross fixed capital formation), output produced for further processing by agricultural producers, as well as intra-unit consumption of livestock feed products. The output of the agricultural sector is made up of the sum of the output of agricultural products and of the goods and services produced in inseparable non-agricultural secondary activities; animal and crop output are the main product categories of agricultural output. Eurostat also collects annual agricultural prices (in principle net of VAT) to compare agricultural price levels between EU Member States and to study sales channels. Quarterly and annual price indices for agricultural products and the means of agricultural production, on the other hand, are used principally to analyse price developments and their effect on agricultural income. Selling prices are recorded at the first marketing stage (excluding transport). Agricultural price indices are obtained by a base-weighted Laspeyres calculation (2010 = 100), and are expressed in nominal terms or as deflated indices based on the use of an implicit consumer prices (HICP) deflator.
COMEXT database on EU trade
COMEXT is the Eurostat reference database for international trade. It provides access not only to both recent and historical data from the EU Member States but also to statistics of a significant number of third countries. International trade aggregated and detailed statistics disseminated from the Eurostat website are compiled from COMEXT data according to a monthly process. Because COMEXT is updated on a daily basis, data published on the website may differ from data stored in COMEXT in case of recent revisions. EU data are compiled according to community guidelines and may, therefore, differ from national data published by Member States. Statistics on extra-EU trade are calculated as the sum of trade of each of the 28 Member States with countries outside the EU. In other words, the EU is considered as a single trading entity and trade flows are measured into and out of the area, but not within it. The importance of the EU’s internal market is underlined by the fact that the proportion of intra-EU trade in goods is higher than extra-EU trade in goods in most EU Member States with few exceptions. The variation in the proportion of total trade in goods accounted for by intra-EU trade reflects to some degree historical ties and geographical location.
PRODCOM, database on the production of manufactured goods
PRODCOM is the European Union (EU) survey providing statistics on the production of manufactured goods. The Prodcom survey covers the mining, quarrying and manufacturing sectors, in other words, NACE Rev. 2 Sections B and C. Prodcom statistics are based on a list of products called the Prodcom list which consists of more than 3 800 headings, and which is revised every year. In the list, products are detailed at an 8-digit level — only information at this detailed level can be found in the Prodcom database, as production data for different products cannot always be meaningfully aggregated. The purpose of Prodcom statistics is to report, for each product in the Prodcom list, how much production has been sold during the reference period. This means that Prodcom statistics relate to products (not to activities) and are therefore not strictly comparable with activity-based statistics such as structural business statistics. Sometimes the data for some products cannot be reported, for instance if an enterprise cannot report the volume in the required measurement unit. In these cases, either the national statistical office or Eurostat makes estimates so that complete EU totals can be published. In some cases the national statistical authority requests that the data for a particular product be kept confidential. This can happen, for instance, if there is only one producer in the country so that the published data refers directly to that producer. Eurostat is legally bound to respect such confidentiality, but may use the confidential amount in EU totals, as long as it is not revealed by doing so. If this is not possible, the EU total is rounded so that an approximate figure can be given without revealing the confidential data. The rounding base is also shown in order to indicate the range of possible true values of the total.
This article describes the fruit and vegetable sector in the European Union. The overall aim is to offer the readers a statistical overview on a single commodity, vertically linking all the steps from the field to market. The food chain approach is indeed one of the key issues within the EU Commission as for its socio-economic importance and for the extensive legislative EU framework, which is one of the most EU-level harmonised (e.g. General Food law Regulation (EC) No 178/2002). In addition, it is of great relevance also within international organisations such as, among others, OECD.
- Crops products: areas and production (ESMS metadata file — apro_acs_esms)
- Farm structure survey (ESMS metadata file — ef_esms)
- Absolute agricultural prices (ESMS metadata file — apri_ap_esms)
- Economic Accounts for Agriculture (ESMS metadata file — aact_esms)
- Price indices of agricultural products (ESMS metadata file — apri_pi_esms)
- International trade data (ESMS metadata file — ext_esms)
- Prodcom - Statistics on the production of manufactured goods (Publication - Prodcom User Guide)
- Statistics on the production of manufactured goods (ESMS metadata file — prom_esms)
- European Health Interview Survey (EHIS) (ESMS metadata file —hlth_det_esms)
- In this article, as well as in all Eurostat agricultural statistics, the distinction between fruit and vegetables is based on an agronomical and farm management point of view. Thus, the term "vegetables" refers to the horticultural crops: i.e. the species that are annual (or rarely biennial) and subsequently occupy the arable land for usually less than one production season. Conversely, the term "fruit" stands for the group composed of those crops that are perennial: i.e. the crops that are permanent in the field for more than two years and which are usually bushes or trees. This implies that the fresh vegetables group includes brassica (cauliflowers, broccoli, cabbages), leafy and stalked vegetables (such as lettuce, spinach, chicory, endives, asparagus, artichoke), root and bulb species (carrots, radish, onion, shallots and garlic), fresh pulses (peas, beans) and all the herbaceous crops cultivated for their fruits (such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers and gherkins). Following the above-mentioned distinction, melons, watermelons and strawberries are also included in the main aggregate of fresh vegetables. The fruit group includes pome fruits (apples and pears), stone fruits (such as peaches, apricots, plums and cherries), nuts fruits (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios), subtropical and tropical fruits (kiwi, figs, bananas, etc.), berries (such as blueberries, redcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, etc.) with the exclusion of strawberries, as aforementioned. For the main aim of this article, citrus fruits (such as oranges, lemons, tangerines, grapefruit) and table grapes are also included.
- Farm specialisation is defined according to the EU typology of agricultural holdings, based on the standard output of agricultural products
- Horticulture specialisation includes the production of flowers and ornamental plants besides edible vegetables
- See footnote 1
- At the level of the EU, the impact of subsidies on the basic price values of fresh fruit and vegetables production was the equivalent of 0.83 % and 0.25 % respectively.
- Dessert apples, i.e. apples for fresh consumption. Thus, apples for processing are not included.
- The HS nomenclature in use for trade statistics groups strawberries among berries and melon & water melon together with papayas. Both aggregates are then nested in the higher level aggregate "Edible fruit and nuts; peel of citrus fruit or melon".
- Other vegetables, fresh or chilled (excl. potatoes, tomatoes, alliaceous vegetables (onions and garlic), edible brassicas, lettuce "Lactuca sativa" and chicory "Cichorium spp.", carrots, turnips, salad beetroot, salsify, celeriac, radishes and similar edible roots, cucumbers and gherkins, and leguminous vegetables). This means that, among others, the following crops are included: asparagus, artichokes, aubergines, peppers, courgettes, spinach, etc.
- The relatively high share for the Netherlands might, at least in part, be explained by the considerable amount of goods that flow into and out of the EU through Rotterdam, which is the EU’s leading sea port (the so –called Rotterdam-effect, see also International trade statistics - background). The same applies to Belgium, due to Antwerpen sea port.