France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain account for 85 percent of total EU imports of dates in volume (Figure 4 and Table 1). The analysis of these markets provides therefore a good estimate of the whole EU market.
The variations in net imports over the last decade (Figure 5) show two distinct phases: during the first half of the 1990s imports tended to be relatively stable. On the other hand, the second half of the 1990s witnessed a moderate albeit steady growth. This rising trend is particularly visible for Spain, Germany, Italy and France. In the United Kingdom imports have not really risen above their average of the early 1990s if the exceptional imports of 1999 are not taken into account.
Imports by the other 10 EU member states account for 15 percent only. However, Figure 6 shows interesting trends. Denmark and Sweden have increased their imports since the mid-1990s. Although these markets are small, they are dynamic and consumers have a high purchasing power. They may offer some opportunities for date exporters. Their main external supplier is Iran, followed by Pakistan, but they also import substantial quantities from other EU countries. They mainly import common dates. Ireland's imports are also growing, although from a very small base. Conversely, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Greece and Finland show no clear trend.
France is the leading market for dates in the EU. Its main suppliers are Tunisia and Algeria, which account for over 85 percent of its date imports. France's gross imports have increased steadily, rising from an annual average of 18 600 tonnes in 1990-92 to 22 400 tonnes in 1998-2000. It is the world's largest importer of deglet nour (18 000 tonnes in 1998). Imports of mejool are growing. France is the only EU country in which consumption of common dates is negligible. France is also one of the main suppliers of the other EU countries through its re-exports (see section 4 below).
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is the second largest EU market for dates and consumes large quantities of common dates. During the Christmas period it imports deglet nour packed in 227g glove boxes. Supermarkets have the biggest share for date distribution, with demands for high quality and low prices that some importers consider unrealistic. Recently introduced, mejool dates are selling well and at high prices. Their sales are increasing rapidly due to their distribution by supermarket chains.
Italy is the third largest EU market for dates together with Germany. Imports of dates have increased from some 5 000 tonnes in the early 1990s to over 6 000 tonnes in recent years. The main variety is deglet nour and over 80 percent of the dates are sourced from Tunisia.
Due to the rise in incomes in eastern Germany, date consumption is on a slow rise. Germany primarily imports common dates. These are packed in 200g-ravier and sold by supermarkets at discount prices. However, consumption of higher quality dates (such as deglet nour) tends to increase.
With imports at 5 300 tonnes in 2000, Spain is the fifth largest date market in Europe. However, it is the country where imports are growing at the highest rate. As in France, Spanish importers favour natural deglet nour in 5-kg bulk over processed2 dates. Common dates are packed in 250g ravier but their consumption is slowly decreasing. There is also a small market for the hayani variety (see section 5.3).
2 dates referred to as processed dates in this study are rehydrated dried dates generally covered with a glucose syrup which makes them shinier and therefore more attractive to the consumer.