Europe has been a pioneer in the development and commercialization of high-pressure products, and today continues to be an important market for the sector. Although there are differences in the adoption of the technology between Western Europe, especially the Mediterranean area, and Eastern Europe. The demands of consumers globally based on healthy, safe, clean label and minimally processed products has made the interest in the technology grow, generating new opportunities in practically every European country. The reduction of meat eating, the increase in the consumption of plant-based foods, the importance of fish consumption in this area and the appearance of the first examples of HPP products in baby food are some of the trends in this sector.
It is estimated that around 28% of the total number of HPP machines installed worldwide are in Europe. This makes Europe the second most important region in terms of the number of machines installed, only behind the United States. The European market takes on special relevance if we bear in mind that the first HPP juice and meat products were developed and marketed in France, by ULTI, and in Spain, by Espuña, respectively. This fact is important not only because they were the first, but also because the meat sector has traditionally been the most relevant in terms of the number of machines sold for the technology, and the juice sector has been the most relevant for the last 5 years or so.
There is no doubt that the main driver of the success of this technology worldwide is given by an evolution in consumer preferences in developed countries towards less processed products, real food and clean labels, as we pointed out in the article on trends in the Middle East. And this is also reflected in Europe, although in different ways from one geographical area to another.
Europe has 50 countries, which means a conglomerate of different cultures and customs, also in terms of food. Therefore, it is difficult to summarize the situation in Europe with regard to technology.
The Mediterranean area is where most machines are installed and where high pressure can be considered a consolidated technology. Spain would be at the top of the list, followed by Italy and France. It makes sense that these are the countries where high pressure machines are most abundant since high pressure makes it possible to obtain minimally processed products, without additives and of high organoleptic quality that meet the characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet, considered the healthiest by experts, with the advantage of not having to invest time in preparation, meeting the demands of modern life.
England is a benchmark for technology, not so much in terms of the number of machines, but in terms of adoption of new HPP product trends. There is a high number of startups in England that access this technology through the different tollers and co packing centers that become visionaries creating new products based on the trends that have emerged especially in the USA, and that serve as inspiration for others not only in England but also in the rest of Europe.
In the Eastern European there is great interest in this technology, especially in Poland. The economic growth of this region and the growing interest of consumers in healthier eating have been the basis for manufacturers to show interest and the number of machines installed is growing every year.
Reduction in meat Consumption and an increase in plant-based products
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the meat sector has traditionally been the most important sector for high pressures. In Europe, in 2016, this sector accounted for 34% of the installed machines, today it only accounts for 14%. These data are a reflection of what is happening in the developed world: the reduction of meat consumption and increase in the consumption of products of vegetable origin, as indicated on the website of the European Commission, where they estimate the growth in consumption of plant based products in Europe at 49% last year.
If we analyze the data of machines sold by sectors in addition to what has been commented regarding the meat sector, it should be noted that a new sector has appeared, sauces and dips, composed of 100% plant-based products, which currently means 4% of the machines and which in 2016 did not even appear. Also important in this regard is the increase in the number of machines in the avocado and guacamole sector which, although not large, tells us that even with the limitation of raw material availability given by the geographical area, it is a sector that is evolving.
It is important to take into account that the ready meals sector has maintained its level in these 5 years, and is more important in Europe than worldwide. Although it is difficult to quantify, we do see a tendency for these prepared dishes to be recipes mostly with products of vegetable origin and without meat.
Nevertheless, the meat sector continues to rely on high pressure to be able to export products such as cured ham. Thanks to the food safety it provides, ensuring the elimination of pathogens, it allows access to other markets, such as the United States, and in this, high-pressure technology is unique.
Fish Consumption is growing moderately, but new consumption trends are emerging in this sector
As several studies point out, including the CBI, fish consumption in Europe has stagnated over the last two years, and has even decreased minimally. But, as this article suggests, it is worth distinguishing between the different countries, with the southern European countries, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and Malta, consuming the most fish by far compared to the rest.
Despite the fact that the consumption of seafood products has not shown a change but it has shown in trend in the products consumed. As is the case with other products, consumers are demanding ready-made products in the fish sector, which require little preparation time. In addition to this generalized demand, in this sector there is a lack of knowledge of the handling of raw materials in new households and the reduction of the time required for their preparation. These are the main reasons for the increase in demand for clean, packaged and ready-to-cook fish, as pointed out in the study mentioned in the previous paragraph. It is precisely in this type of packaged and ready-to-cook products where high pressure has the opportunity to add value by offering fish that are safer due to the reduction of pathogenic and altering microorganisms, including parasites, and by extending their shelf life.
Within this sector, cod, and specifically desalted cod, deserves special mention. This is a reference product when it comes to fish and high pressure. The success of the technology here is due to the fact that it doubles the shelf life of this product by improving the color to whitish tones characteristic of this product. The first company making this product emerged in Italy and there are currently about 5 companies using the technology for this purpose, all of them in Southern Europe.
Baby food: the early adopters of the technology have already arrived
While in the US the number of companies manufacturing HPP baby food continues to grow at an ever-increasing rate, in Europe the first adopters are emerging. Companies such as Yamo, La Nana or Mia and Ben have entered the market with different HPP fruit and vegetable puree options for children over 6 months. The high pressure, non-thermal process allows to maintain the colors, aromas and flavors of the fruits and vegetables they contain, thus offering a premium quality product as an alternative to traditional products.
Although the birth rate in Europe has been in continuous decline for some years, parents are increasingly looking for higher quality products for their children, which are minimally processed and with the characteristics of freshly made products. This is why there is a great opportunity for the success of this category to offer healthy products without the need for time-consuming cooking.
In general terms, Europe maintains the characteristics of the Mediterranean Diet in those countries from which it originates and tends towards it in more distant regions. Abundance of foods of vegetable origin, important consumption of fish and moderate consumption of meat are some of the foundations on which this diet is based and that fit with the tendencies that we have commented in this article. The increase of the working population with the incursion of women into the labor market, eating outside the home, spending less time in the kitchen, makes it difficult to maintain good eating habits. That is why processed products with high pressure are an alternative to maintain a healthy diet adapted to our times.