South America’s food ingredients market is open for business

The South American continent is home to a population of 430 million and offers vast opportunities for food ingredient suppliers. The region’s increasingly affluent and informed consumers are driving demand for natural and healthy food products, and South American governments are also implementing forward-thinking policymaking that supports this demand.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional World Health Organization office for the Americas, has worked to promote the consumption of unprocessed and minimally processed foods as well as freshly prepared dishes. The Brazilian Dietary Guidelines have also been recognised as the first food-based dietary guidelines that take social, cultural, economic and other aspects of sustainability into account, which is expected to help further drive the demand for natural ingredients in South America’s largest market.

South America is very much open for business, with Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru all being members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Customs Organisation (WCO).

Have a look at this quick overview of the relevant customs and import authorities in these four key markets:

  • Brazil is the world’s sixth most populous country and an obvious entry point into the South American food market. The Brazilian Department of Trade and Investment Promotion of the Ministry of External Relations offers information on how to conduct business and invest in the country. Brazil is also a full member of Mercosur, the Southern Common Market.
  • Argentina’s Customs General Directorate, part of the AFIP (Federal Administration of Public Revenue), is responsible for the import/export process. More information can be found on their website.
  • Colombia has experienced significant economic development in recent year,  and numerous trade and investment opportunities have emerged as a result. The Colombian Confederation of Chambers of Commerce (Confecámaras) represents 57 sector entities.
  • Peru is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and offers significant growth potential. The Peru Ministerio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo (Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism) is actively encouraging foreign investment and trade, while the ADEX (Association of Exporters) provides useful business services to large, medium and small companies. The SUNAT (Superintendencia Nacional de Administracion) is responsible for Peru’s customs. Peru is also an associate member of Mercosur.

Getting your strategy right

To successfully penetrate South America, food ingredient suppliers must be aware of some key import issues. Eugenia Muinelo, Regulatory Affairs Manager at EAS Strategies, highlights some of the most important issues to be considered.

First and foremost, businesses should assess if their ingredient will be accepted and permitted in the country.

“Every company wants to see their product flow freely through customs. But it is quite common to see products held up due to a lack of regulatory compliance.”

“My main recommendation would be to always carry out an initial assessment of the regulatory status of the product prior to import. While we are seeing increased harmonisation of rules within the region, we are still far from what you would see in Europe. This means that businesses need to look carefully at each product category in each country.”

Entering the market

Eugenia Muinelo continues:

“Another aspect to consider is that in many food categories, products must be registered. This means that entering the market can take more time than expected, but it also means that once this is done you have a higher level of legal certainty for marketing. When it comes to innovative and new ingredients, not all South American countries have a defined process for novel ingredients/foods; Brazil is currently the only country with a specific regulation. Other countries have more informal procedures that need to be carefully considered and managed. Once again, this needs to be reviewed carefully so that plans about product launches and timing can be managed effectively.”

Uneven harmonisation

Two trade blocs can be found in South America: the Mercosur trade bloc (composed of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay), and the recently formed Pacific Alliance (composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru). According to Muinelo:

“In the case of Mercosur, several pieces of regulations have been harmonised covering labelling and additives, while the Pacific Alliance is working to develop harmonised rules on foods and beverages. Most South American countries have, I am glad to report, also developed more flexible health claim regulations than those found in the EU, allowing for claims to be made on many ingredients that could be more challenging in Europe.”

“Based on our experience of working with many companies across the region, it is often easier to enter the ‘smaller’ markets in the region rather than the ‘major’ ones. It is often a good idea to gain the experience of engaging with the regulatory processes in the smaller ones prior in a Latin American plan”.

EAS Strategies provides regulatory intelligence, impact assessments and strategic advice. It also guides businesses through compliance checks, new ingredient applications and notification procedures, among other services.

Ready to export your ingredients to South America? Explore your opportunities at Fi South America now!