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U.S. Confection Sunflower a Hit in Germany and Spain

Wednesday, January 1, 1997
filed under: Utilization/Trade

When the discussion turns to sunflower success stories of the ’90s, the growth of the European market for U.S. confection sunflower would have to rank in the top tier of tales.

The saga is particularly impressive in Germany and Spain — two very different markets in terms of their product preferences and consumption habits, but simultaneously similar in their expanding embrace of U.S. confection sunflower over the past several years.

Exports of U.S. sunflower kernel to Germany, for example, grew from less than 2,000 metric tons in 1984 to more than 26,000 tons in 1995. The market value of U.S. sunflower kernel in Germany currently exceeds $27.5 million and represents an 80-percent market share. The German market now accounts for nearly one-fifth of total U.S. confection sunflower production.

A major reason behind the development of the German market has been an aggressive promotion program conducted by the National Sunflower Association (NSA) in conjunction with USDA. This program — funded in part by U.S. confection processors — has touted the health, good taste and versatility of U.S. sunflower kernel. As a result, German consumer awareness of the benefits of sunflower rose from 44 percent in 1988 to 73 percent as of 1996.

According to Connie Hofland, NSA’s marketing director, the primary use of sunflower kernel in Germany is as an ingredient in breads. “Awareness levels of sunflower kernel bread is very high in Germany: 90 percent,” she reports. “NSA has worked to increase this awareness and, correspondingly, sales of sunflower kernel bread. For instance, sales of sunflower kernel increased 20 percent during a 1995 point-of-purchase promotion in German bakeries.

“NSA has also generated trade inquiries and new product uses of sunflower kernel via trade shows, direct mail, trade advertisements and press activities,” Hofland notes. “The trade promotion resulted in the introduction of five new sunflower kernel products last year.”

Although the United States is the dominant supplier of sunflower kernel to Germany, other suppliers do exist and would like to capture more of that market. China, Argentina and Hungary are the major competitors at present. “A continued strong U.S. presence in the German marketplace and strengthened demand for the quality product that the U.S. supplier can best deliver is crucial in 1997,” Hofland emphasizes.

NSA communications and advertisements to the German trade include and promote the “USA Confection Sunflower” logo (see the accompanying sample logo). “Processors with this logo on their wholesale bags have agreed to a set of product quality standards,” Hofland explains. “The logo has gained a favorable reputation among the buyers and is a meaningful point of difference versus product from China, Hungary or Argentina.”

Encouraging sunflower kernel use in packaged food products is another part of the strategy to strengthen the U.S. position relative to other suppliers. “Packaged food products — especially major brands — demand high quality and dependability. In order for a major company to commit to an ingredient, confidence in suppliers is crucial. The U.S. industry is better prepared for this challenge than alternative suppliers,” Hofland asserts.

Since 1989, NSA has contributed nearly one million dollars in support of USDA marketing promotion programs in Germany. That commitment continues during the current marketing year, with emphasis on both the food industry and general consumer sectors. Sending press releases (including recipes and photos) to German media, direct mail pieces to food industry professionals and a newsletter to bakeries and others are some facets of this year’s German promotions. NSA also is sponsoring a professional baking championship, carrying out trade publication advertising, conducting in-bakery promotions and hosting receptions for key personnel in the German baking industry.

The story in Spain is equally impressive. In 1987 the value of U.S. confection sunflower exports to that nation totaled less than $2.3 million. By 1995 it had grown to more than $15.6 million, with an estimated value of almost $17.7 million in 1996 and a goal of $19.6 million for 1997. At more than 24,000 metric tons, U.S. products account for more than 60 percent of the 35,-40,000-ton market in that European country.

Unlike Germany, where the “kernel is king,” Spanish consumers traditionally have preferred in-shell sunflower seeds. Young people are particularly fond of in-shells, with the U.S. product’s growing popularity largely due to its high quality and consistency in size. While the largest in-shell seeds historically have been supplied by Israel (which has a 30-percent share of the Spanish confection sunflower market), the kernel inside the shell is not correspondingly as big. Newer generations of U.S. hybrids now provide a longer seed shell — and also have a nicely sized, plump kernel on the inside. This larger kernel, coupled with size consistency, is viewed favorably by Spanish consumers.

Sunflower kernel — called “pipas pelada” in Spain — is not as familiar to Spanish consumers as the in-shell seeds. NSA promotion programs have increased that awareness, however, and consumption of sun kernel as a food ingredient is on the rise. During 1995 and 1996, for example, nine new products containing sunflower kernel were introduced into the Spanish market.

“While Spain’s food manufacturers are beginning to increase use of sunflower kernel as a food ingredient, there does remain a gap of knowledge regarding how to utilize it — and a lack of awareness of the product benefits of sunflower kernel,” Hofland remarks. “Industry interviews also reveal a gap of knowledge of how to roast sunflower kernel and protect the product from oxygen to prolong shelf stability.”

The National Sunflower Association is aggressively addressing these and other Spanish market issues on several fronts. This year’s trade promotional campaign for example, includes advertisements on both in-shell and kernel, press releases and contacts with the media, and bakery and pastry exhibitions. On the consumer side, advertisements aimed at young adults tout the benefits of U.S. in-shell and kernel. There’s also a consumer promotion and sampling program targeting university students, coupled with the distribution of a sunflower bookmark to communicate the latest general facts, nutritional data and health information.
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