EU plant-based primary food processing produced €66bn of output in 2013. Primary food processors process large amounts of agricultural inputs into standardised ingredients for food, feed, fuel and a range of other bio-based products. In total, primary food processing accounts for about 8% of the production value of the food processing industry. Despite the economic recession in Europe, the primary food processing industry has seen an increase in production value.
Plant-based primary food processing, as defined in this study, includes the manufacturing of vegetable oils, vegetable proteins, grain mill products, starches, sugar, and cocoa. About 4,000 companies are
involved in industrial primary processing of agricultural commodities such as oilseeds, cereals, starch potatoes, sugar beet, and cocoa beans. Most of these are active in the processing of (wheat) flour.
The number of companies has been decreasing as competition leads to consolidation to benefit from scale efficiencies. In the sugar industry, a major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in 2006 has significantly reduced the number of companies in the past decade.
The employment in EU agriculture
EU primary food processors employ over 120,000 people directly. The employment of almost a million in EU agriculture can be indirectly linked to the presence of the primary food processing industry in the EU. On top of that, there is indirect employment in agriculture outside the EU and in other supplying industries and trade.
Major role in securing food availability and safety
The unique position of the primary food processing industry puts it at the centre of a number of major developments that will shape the future of not only the industry itself, but also the future of agriculture and the European bio-economy as whole. As a key link in the supply chain, the primary food industry collects and processes inputs from a huge amount of farmers as efficiently as possible. The industry takes a major role in securing food availability and safety, as well as rural development
and farm incomes. Furthermore, it is a key driving force behind the development of new bio-based industries, increasing sustainability of the European economy as a whole.