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Top-25 largest importers of fresh onions and global import trends

For the second season in a row, onions remain one of the most discussed commodity items in the world’s fruit and vegetable business. Therefore, EastFruit team decided to analyze onion imports for the recent five calendar years (from 2018 to 2022 inclusive) to compile its own ranking of the largest importers.

Separately, we will show which countries are increasing onion imports at the fastest pace, so that exporters can understand which potential buyers should pay attention to first.

However, first, here is what the world map looks like, which shows the largest importers by the end of 2022. Let us remember that this is the year of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which had a huge negative impact on the onion trade in the region.

The following graph clearly shows that many onion imports are far from being concentrated. Therefore, the share of the five largest countries-importers in the volume of imports barely reaches 27%. Moreover, almost all of the five largest importers are located in different parts of the world. Only the UAE and Saudi Arabia represent the Middle East region, with a slightly larger share of imports than the United States alone.

There are also significant differences in the types of onions different countries grow and consume. In Europe and Central Asia, the main volumes of both consumption and trade are yellow, or as it is also called “brown” or “golden” onions, and in many countries with warmer climates, preference is given to purple/red or white onions.

The full ranking of the 25 largest importers, with average annual import volumes, is given below:

Importer

000 MT

USA

600,035

Malaysia

507,793

UAE

378,046

UK

351,126

Saudi Arabia

340,359

Netherlands

267,087

Japan

262,465

Sri Lanka

261,988

Germany

257,238

Côte d’Ivoire

246,722

Canada

215,733

Pakistan

186,479

Russia

180,174

Kazakhstan

170,764

Poland

168,446

Brazil

158,932

Senegal

153,227

France

135,258

Indonesia

132,237

Nepal

126,033

Belgium

122,382

Oman

118,373

Kuwait

105,907

Thailand

96,143

Spain

91,888

Qatar

88,946

Note that the first 25 importers from this list are responsible for more than 70% of all global onion imports.

Among the countries in the EastFruit region, the list of largest importers includes Kazakhstan, which took 13th place in the global ranking, and, of course, Russia. Let us remind you that Kazakhstan is the largest net importer of vegetables in our region.

Among the countries of Eastern Europe that are members of the European Union, Poland is among the top-25 largest importers and is right behind Kazakhstan. Romania was not included in this ranking, but its import volumes are almost no different from the countries at positions 23-25. Thus, one should not discount Romania as a potentially interesting market for onions.

It is interesting to note that Poland actively imports onions from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (as well as from Russia). At the same time, Poland is also a major exporter of onions, therefore, most likely, these onions are bought mainly for re-exports.

The ranking also includes six other EU countries that import consistently large volumes of onions. At the same time, the Netherlands is both the world’s largest exporter and the sixth largest importer of fresh onions.

Which countries increased onion imports the fastest?

For this analysis, we took only those countries that imported 45 thousand tons of onions per year or more on average over the past five years. And the results were somewhat unexpected.

 

Let’s start with the fact that the EastFruit region is represented by two countries: Kazakhstan and Ukraine. And what’s more, Kazakhstan is ranked 5th among the fastest growing onion markets in the world!

Ukraine was ranked 11th mainly due to Russia’s occupation of the traditional onion growing region, which led to a sharp increase in imports in 2022. However, already in the 2023/24 season, Ukraine again regained its status as a net onion exporter.

Also noteworthy is the third place of Poland, which is one of the world leaders in onion exports. It is obvious that this country enjoys an advantageous geographical position for the re-exports of onions from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to the EU countries.

Pakistan has become the clear leader, partly due to floods in 2022, which resulted in the loss of the bulk of the onion crop and the need to import it. However, in general, the upward trend in onion imports into this country was observed even earlier.

The USA and Canada are traditionally among the leaders in the ranking – it is expected that the need for imports to these countries will grow. However, for the countries of our region, more interesting are the possibilities of exporting onions to the countries of the Middle East: Oman and the UAE. True, there is a great demand for purple and white onions, although yellow ones are also imported in significant quantities.

As we see, there are no other EU countries, except Poland, among the leaders in terms of growth rates of onion imports. This means that in these countries, if one wants to establish exports, competition is going to be tougher and market entry – more difficult and expensive.

EastFruit

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