How to Sell Food in Europe: a Quickstart Guide for Food Exporters

9 months ago   •   6 min read

By Silverbird Content Team

It’s not easy to be in the food business in your home country, much less selling food products in a foreign country.

In this article, we bring you through how you can start your export business, what you have to comply with, and where you can sell your food in Europe.

So, if you’re interested in selling food in Europe, here’s how you can get started.


This guide at a glance:

  1. Can I export food into Europe?
    Yes. You will be counted as a third country and will have to pass quality checks at EU customs.
  2. Where can I sell food in Europe?
    Working with local distributors can help get your exporting business on track. Take note that different rules apply for perishable and non-perishable food products.
  3. Is it difficult to import food into the EU?
    It is a considerably difficult process, seeing that Europe has numerous countries that follow different requirements.
  4. Will I need different documents when selling in different EU countries?
    Yes. Different countries follow distinct requirements, so always check before you proceed.

Where can you sell and distribute your food in Europe?

As a food importer, who can you sell food to in Europe? In general, non-perishable food products can be sold in supermarkets and stores through a distributor. This means you work with a local distributor to import your foreign products into the country and sell them to the public. However, an important thing to take note is that it may be difficult to import fruits and vegetables due to their perishable nature. If you are a first time importer, you may want to stay clear of the perishable food products.

📍 Tip: Keep in mind that if you wish to sell food in the EU as a business, remember that you will need to register your business. This includes registering for corporate tax and getting a VAT number for your business.

To ensure your product reaches shelves in a proper manner, no matter through traditional channels or online distribution methods, work with food distributors. If you are lacking in experience, look for local qualified distributors who can take care of all import formalities, local food handling and storage.

To get your ball rolling, check out the European Catering Distributors, who aim to build partnerships with international suppliers to sell across Europe. Of course, if you do have contacts in other business sectors, you may ask around for reputable European distributors for a partnership as well.

The Food Safety System in The EU

  1. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
    The EFSA does not carry regulatory or enforcement power. However, it acts as an advisor for all food safety issues, providing risk assessment for companies.
  2. Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)
    Just like a task force, the RASFF alerts Member States, the government and the public whenever there is a food safety hazard, and takes actions to counter them.
  3. Food and Veterinary Office (FVO)
    The FVO are the ones conducting regular inspections on food products being distributed and circulated within the EU, whether locally produced or imported.

What Documents Do I Need to Prepare?

Europe is highly stringent with quality checks and imported food and feed products will have to meet certain quality requirements to pass customs checks. The good news is - you do not have to pay import duties if you wish to sell to different countries in the EU, you will only need to pay once when the product first enters the EU customs.

Some of the basic documents you require are:

  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Import licenses
  • Proof of preferential origin provided there is an existing Trade Agreement

In order to facilitate your exporting process, here is a checklist to follow.

  1. Certificate of Origin
    The Certificate of Origin is a document which is used in trade relations between the EU and third-party countries. It serves the purpose of stating where your goods come from, in accordance with customs and commercial requirements. For more detailed information on export procedures of goods into the EU, Access2Markets provides country-by-country guides for export and import conditions.
  2. Health, safety and technical certificates  
    You may have to show certificates to prove that your product complies with the respective country’s health and hygiene requirements. Different countries within the EU will require specific certification, and therefore is dependent on which country you are importing into. These requirements include documents regarding crop protection agents, genetically modified foods, and whether tests can be carried out by an accredited institution in the EU.

    For food of animal origins being imported into the EU, it will have to come from an EU-authorised establishment. For food of non-animal origin, it will be dependent on the country you are importing to.
  3. Packaging and labelling requirements
    Similarly, different countries require varying packaging and labelling requirements. Depending on the country, these requirements can be mandatory or voluntary. Information such as the product type, ingredients or the ‘use by’ date should be labelled on the food packaging. To find out what exact requirements are needed for your product, do a search using My Trade Assistant. You will be able to see the exact tariffs, taxes and import requirements for your product.

How Big is The Food and Drink Industry in Europe?

You may ask — there are other countries where I can sell food to, why Europe?

For starters, the food sector is the largest manufacturing sector in the European Union (EU), with big players including Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, France and many more countries. In the year 2016, the food and drink sector saw a turnover of €1,109 billion and was the largest food and drink exporter in the world.

For Asian entrepreneurs, there may be a slight advantage if you are exporting Asian food and drink brands into the EU, due to the fact that you are catering to a smaller but more targeted audience such as Asian-amercians and Asian immigrants living in the EU.

Therefore, it does not matter if you’re a food trader looking to expand your business into the EU, or an entrepreneur searching for new opportunities, Europe may just be your road to success.

How Strict is The EU Towards Imported Food Standards?

Of course, as a general rule, food standards must be maintained at all times. Food safety has always been highly regulated in the EU after the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in the mid-1990s, more commonly known as ‘Mad Cow Disease’.

In the EU, legislative and crisis management tasks are split between the central European institutions and its Member States. To put it simply, food importers and operators will need to comply with two layers of regulations.

For example, the rules for selling food in Germany and France may differ, although both countries are under the EU. This is because the general food law covers certain aspects, but the Member States may implement different laws. Thus, the strictness of food standards would vary, depending on the country you plan to sell food in.

How Should You Make Sure Your Product is Compliant?

Firstly, obtain a registration number. This would be your formal registration to kick off your business. It will also act as proof that you have gotten a permit to sell in the EU. Read Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 to find out more about the registration process.

Next, you will go through a series of checks. These include document, identity and physical checks. Therefore, prepare relevant documents on the products you are selling, your identification documents. You should also be prepared for your physical checks on your goods.

Keep in mind that there are certain foods that are considered to be of higher risk to health, and they may or may not be subjected to additional checks. Usually, these foods are deemed to be a risk to public health, animal health or a threat to the environment. If you are unsure whether your food products fall under this category, prepare additional documentation during the checks, and give prior notification before arrival of the products into the particular country.

What is The General Food Law in The EU?

There are two general food law requirements to take note of as well when importing foods into the EU.

Regulation 178/2002/EC

This legislation defines the meanings of safe and unsafe food, where food importers and distributors have the responsibility of ensuring that any food imported into the EU is compliant with the requirements of food law. It also states that if you are importing food from a country that has existing agreements with the EU, the agreed requirements have to be met.
For more detailed information on Regulation 178/2002/EC, refer to this guide.  

Regulation (EC) No 852/2004

Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 ensures that all individuals who are working in the food handling sector must keep a high degree of personal hygiene and cleanliness. It also states that any person suffering from a disease that can be transmitted through food must not handle food products.

For more detailed information on Regulation 178/2002/EC, read on here.

An Easier Way to Run Your Overseas Food Business

After reading our article on how to sell food in Europe, have you ever found it tough to enter the foreign market due to payment and accounting matters?

If you’re looking to make your banking processes streamlined and simple with low forex rates, Silverbird can help. And if you choose to sell to Europe, with Silverbird, you’ll be able to make international transfers at the cost, spee, and ease of local ones.

Start onboarding today.


Author: Silverbird Content Team
Illustration: Kate Faldina

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