In other languages
  • English
Create a book

From farm to fork - food chain statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from March 2011. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.
The food safety project has been phased out and data will not be updated.

This article presents the latest statistics available on the food chain from producer to consumer, 'from farm to fork', for the European Union (EU).

Figure 1: Structure of the food chain, selected indicators, EU-27, 2008 (%)
Source: Eurostat (ef_ov_kvftesu) (ef_so_lfaa) (aact_eaa01) (sbs_na_ind_r2) (sbs_na_dt_r2) (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
Table 1: Number of enterprises and local units (1000)
Source: Eurostat (ef_ov_kvftesu) (sbs_na_ind_r2) (sbs_na_dt_r2) (sbs_na_1a_se_r2) (sbs_r_nuts06_r2)
Table 2: Regular farm labour force and number of persons employed, 2007, 2008, 2009 (1000) Source: Eurostat (ef_so_lfaa) (sbs_na_ind_r2) (sbs_na_dt_r2) (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
Table 3: Number of holdings and regular farm labour force, EU-27, 2007 (1000) Source: Eurostat (ef_ov_kvftesu) (ef_ov_lfft)
Figure 2: Agricultural gross output at basic prices, EU-27, 2008 Source: Eurostat (aact_eaa01)
Figure 3: Crop production, EU-27, million tonnes, 1999-2009 Source: Eurostat
Table 4: Agricultural output- main agricultural and food products generated, 2009 (1000 tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (apro_mk_pobta)
Table 5: Structure of food and beverages manufacturing, by activity, EU-27, 2008
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_ind_r2)
Figure 4: Value added at factor cost of food and beverages manufacturing, EU-27, 2008 (%)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_ind_r2)
Table 6: Self sufficiency in the main agricultural products, 2009 (1) (%)
Source: Eurostat
Table 7: Value of extra-EU-27 trade, 2010 (EUR million)
Source: Eurostat
Figure 5: Origin of extra-EU-27 imports of food, live animals and beverages, EU-27, 2010 (% of total)
Source: Eurostat
Table 8: Structure of food, beverages and tobacco wholesaling, by activity, EU-27, 2008
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_dt_r2)
Figure 6: Value added at factor cost of food, beverages and tobacco wholesaling, EU-27, 2008 (%)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_dt_r2)
Table 9: Transport of agricultural, fishing, food, beverage and tobacco products, EU-27, 2009
Source: Eurostat (rail_go_grpgood) (road_go_na_tgtt) (road_go_cta_gtt) (road_go_ia_lgtt)
Figure 7: Annual road freight transport by distance, EU2-7, 2009 (1)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_dctg)
Table 10: Structure of food, beverages and tobacco retailing, by activity, EU-27, 2008
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_dt_r2)
Table 11: Structure of food and beverages services, by activity, EU-27, 2008
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
Figure 8: Value added at factor cost of food, beverages and tobacco retailing, EU-27, 2008 (%)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_dt_r2)
Figure 9: Value added at factor cost of food and beverages services, EU-27, 2008 (%)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
Figure 10: Development of household final consumption expenditure, volumes, EU-27 (1995=100)
Source: Eurostat (nama_cO3_k)
Figure 11: Mean household final consumption expenditure on food and beverages, 2009 (1) (% of total)
Source: Eurostat (nama_cO3_c)
Figure 12: Development of harmonised indices of consumer prices, EU-27 (2000=100)
Source: Eurostat (prc_hicp_aind)

The food chain usually starts on a farm, within the agricultural sector. While some goods are already processed on the farm, most food is processed or transformed subsequently within the manufacturing sector, before being distributed through wholesaling and transport activities. Consumers purchase the majority of the food they eat and the beverages they drink from a range of retail outlets (supermarkets, specialist food retailers, markets and stalls), but food and drinks can also be purchased from food service providers (restaurants, take-away outlets, cafés or bars).

Main statistical findings

From farm to fork – a statistical journey along the EU's food chain

In 2008 just over 48 million persons were employed within the EU-27’s food chain; they worked in close to 17 million different holdings/enterprises – the majority of which (81.8 %) were agricultural holdings (Figure 1), often small in size. Together, all of the holdings/enterprises within the EU-27’s food chain generated EUR 751 008 million of added value; the figures for value added equate to output minus intermediate consumption. The distribution of value added was quite different to that for enterprises/holdings, insofar as the relative importance of non-agricultural activities was considerably higher. For example, although food and beverages manufacturing enterprises accounted for just 1.6 % of the total number of holdings/enterprises in the EU-27’s food chain in 2008, their contribution to the value added was much higher, at 26.0 %.

Structural differences across Member States 

Particularly high numbers of agricultural holdings in eastern Europe

There was a considerable disparity between Member States as regards their respective structures within the food chain from agriculture through to retailing and food services (Table 1).

The highest number of agricultural holdings was found in the eastern Member States – in particular, Romania and Poland – which were characterised by land fragmentation and subsistence holdings (rather than commercial farms). In contrast, the number of food and beverage manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing and service providing enterprises and local units peaked in the southern Member States – in particular, in Italy and Spain. For example, in Spain there was, on average, one local unit (single restaurant, bar or café) providing food and beverage services for each 157 inhabitants.

Agricultural and food and beverage manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing and service providing enterprises tended, on average, to be much larger, with higher market concentration in Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as some northern countries – such as Finland and the Baltic Member States.

Workforce size

Largest food and beverage retail workforce and food services workforce in the United Kingdom

The subsistence nature of farming in easter Europe is apparent, as more than 5 million persons were employed in the agricultural labour force in Poland and almost 6.5 million in Romania in 2008; these two countries accounted for 43.2 % of the EU-27’s workforce of 26.7 million persons (Table 2).

Germany had the largest workforce for food and beverage manufacturing (845 400 persons, 17.9 % of the EU-27 total). Spain had the largest number of persons employed in food and beverage wholesaling (350 600, 17.5 %) and specialised food and beverage retailing (254 700, 18.0 %); the latter accounted for more than one third (37.9 %) of those employed in Spanish food and beverage retailing (no other Member State reported a share above 30 %). There were 1.28 million persons employed in the United Kingdom within food and beverage retailing (17.3 % of the EU-27 total); this likely reflected a high propensity for supermarkets to engage part-time staff. A similar pattern was observed for food and beverage services, as the United Kingdom recorded the largest workforce in the EU (1.58 million, 21.6 %).

Agricultural holdings

'EU-27 food chain:'almost 14 million agricultural holdings Primary agricultural output includes, among others, products such as crops, animals ready for slaughter, or milk. These move down the food chain as agricultural output is processed/transformed into products ready for consumption. Processing can be relatively simple, such as grading or preserving, tinning and freezing, or may involve more elaborate transformations, such as the production of ready-to-eat meals.

The EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) was initially set-up in order to encourage an expansion in the volume of food being produced. The focus of the CAP has changed and there have been a number of policy reforms to redress problems associated with the over-supply of agricultural products, while considering the implications of intensive farming practices on the environment and food safety. The new CAP approach provides incentives for farmers to produce food in hygienic conditions, maintaining high standards of animal welfare, using environmentally-friendly production methods, while promoting a sustainable rural economy.

There were almost 14 million agricultural holdings across the EU-27 in 2007, with a regular farm labour force of more than 26 million persons.

Just over half of the EU-27’s agricultural holdings in 2007 were specialised in producing crops (Table 3), while livestock farming was the next largest category (almost one third of all holdings). Crops also accounted for just over half of the EU-27’s farm labour force.

Primary products of the food chain are split between crop products (such as cereals and vegetables), animals (cattle, pigs) and animal products (milk) – the relative importance of these was quite evenly distributed when measured in terms of gross output (Figure 2).

Food prices respond to changes in stocks that are essentially driven by the weather and its effect on harvests – see the peaks and troughs in wheat production (Figure 3). The quantity of wheat produced in the EU-27 peaked at 151 million tonnes in 2008 – before falling back to 138 million tonnes in 2009, while the production of potatoes fell from a high of 83 million tonnes in 2000 to a low of 57 million tonnes by 2006, before recovering somewhat to 63 million tonnes by 2009.

The production of specific agricultural and food products depends to a large degree upon climatic/geological conditions, the availability of land and water resources, and the level of imports; these factors help determine which type of farming is practised in each Member State (Table 4).

Animal production is generally measured in terms of slaughtered carcass weight. Using this measure, pig meat was by far the largest category of meat production in the EU-27, at 22.0 million tonnes in 2010. This was 2.8 times as high as the production of bovine meat (from cattle) and more than 30 times higher than the production of sheep meat.

Almost one quarter (23.6 %) of the EU-27’s production of cereals in 2009 was attributed to France, while Germany (16.8 %) and Poland (10.1 %) were the only other Member States to record double-digit shares.

Italy and Spain were the leading producers of fresh vegetables in the EU, each accounting for around one fifth of total production; the Netherlands was also specialised in producing fresh vegetables.

The United Kingdom and Germany recorded the highest production of drinking milk, and Germany’s position as a leading producer of dairy products was consolidated as it also recorded, by far, the highest production of cream.

As regards meat production, France and Germany were the largest producers of bovine meat in 2010 (19.3 % and 15.0 % of the EU-27 total), Germany and Spain were the biggest producers of pig meat (24.7 % and 15.4 %), while poultry production was widespread across most of the Member States. In contrast, sheep production was concentrated within the United Kingdom (39.2 % of the EU-27 total) and Spain (17.4 %), while Greece and Ireland were also relatively specialised.

Bakeries dominate manufacturing 

Bakeries account for over half of the food and beverage manufacturing enterprises in the EU

Once crops/livestock or other products have been harvested/reared, they are generally processed, preserved or slaughtered in downstream manufacturing activities.

The manufacture of bakery and farinaceous products accounted for more than half of the food and beverage manufacturing enterprises in the EU-27 in 2008 (157 100); meat processing (which includes the slaughtering of animals) accounted for the next highest number (41 200); there were relatively few enterprises (3 800) engaged in the processing of fish and crustaceans in the EU-27 (Table 5).

There would appear to be a considerable difference in the average size of food and beverage manufacturing enterprises, as the relative importance of the subsectors was quite different in terms of their respective shares of value added (Figure 4). Relatively high shares were recorded for the manufacture of dairy products (9.4 %), meat processing (15.3 %) and beverages (17.4 %).


The EU is self-sufficient in meat, dairy products, cereals and beverages

Aside from its own primary production, the EU imports a range of agricultural products from non-member countries. Indeed, it is the world’s largest importer of food – and a high proportion of imports come from developing countries. Farmers and food producers in non-member countries who wish to export their goods to the EU need to respect the food safety principles that apply for EU farmers and producers; checks are made on imports at European borders as food enters the EU.

Several EU Member States are self-sufficient in a range of food products (Table 6) – for example, meat or cereals; self-sufficiency indicates up to what point domestic production covers the needs or domestic use of each Member State. However, the EU imports a range of products to meet consumer demand – among which vegetables and fruit accounted for 26.5 % of total food and beverage imports in 2010, fish, crustaceans and molluscs (21.9 %) and coffee, tea and cocoa (17.4 %).

EU-27 imports of food and beverages were valued at EUR 78 254 million in 2010, with a trade deficit of EUR 5 095 million (Table 7). The origin of EU-27 imports of food and beverages (Figure 5) was highly diversified (as the top seven trading partners accounted for 43.9 % of total imports). The EU-27’s two main partners for food and beverage imports in 2010 were both from South America: Brazil and Argentina.

Food transport within the EU

The majority of the food, beverage and tobacco goods that are transported within the EU travel less than 150 kilometres

The EU places great importance on the quality of food distributed to consumers. No matter the origin (EU farms or imports from further afield), the same rules are applied. Wholesaling and transporting play a vital role in the food chain, providing logistical services to move food and beverages between producers, processors and retailers.

One of the largest wholesaling activities concerns fruit and vegetables, employing 418 000 persons across the EU-27 in 2008 and generating about one sixth of the total value added within food, beverages and tobacco wholesaling (Table 8).

Agricultural, forestry and fishing products, together with food, beverages and tobacco products accounted for just over a quarter of all the goods transported by road within the EU-27 in 2009 and for 18.1 % of the goods transported by road nationally (Table 9); the majority of these goods were transported less than 150 km (Figure 7).

Changing consumption patterns

In recent decades, European consumers have increasingly turned to eating out

At the end of the food chain, consumers may choose to purchase food and beverages from specialist retailers (butchers, bakers), non-specialised outlets (supermarkets), or market stalls.

There were 7.4 million persons working within the food, beverages and tobacco retailing sector in the EU-27 in 2008 (Table 10). Non-specialised food retailing accounted for almost 80 % of the workforce and a higher share (86.2 %) of turnover.

In contrast, there were more specialised food, beverage and tobacco retail enterprises than there were non-specialised retailers. Among these, the most important activities (in terms of added value) included the sale of meat and meat products, and the sale of bread, cakes and confectionery.

Europeans have increasingly chosen to eat out or buy take-away foods during the last few decades. There were almost 1.5 million enterprises providing food and beverage consumer service activities in the EU-27 in 2008 (Table 11). Just over half were restaurants and 43.2 % were cafés or bars/pubs. The relative importance of restaurants was even greater in terms of their share of value added (58.1 % of the total – Figure 9).

Prices and expenditure 

Restaurant and café prices rose faster than inflation during the last decade

Food prices may be affected by population growth and rising living standards (in emerging economies), which have changed global consumption patterns (meat replacing vegetables), while leading to increased demand for a range of food commodities. Within developed economies, urbanisation and higher living standards have also resulted in changes to consumption patterns, with more processed foods being eaten and people making more frequent trips to catering outlets. Competing uses for food output also influence prices – for example, farm output of crops (corn, sugar cane, rapeseed) may also be used as animal feed or for the production of biofuels. When food for human consumption is substituted by other uses then food prices are likely to rise.

Although the use of restaurants and take-away facilities has increased historically, this development stopped abruptly as the financial and economic crisis resulted in the volume of EU-27 household expenditure on catering services being reduced by 5.4 % between 2008 and 2009 – compared with a 2.4 % reduction for total food and beverages expenditure (Figure 10). Food and beverages accounted for 21.5 % of household expenditure in 2009, ranging from 17.4 % in the Netherlands to 34.1 % in Romania (Figure 11).

EU-27 consumer prices rose, on average, by 2.4 % per year between 2000 and 2010 (Figure 12). Food prices increased at a slightly faster pace (2.9 % per year), with particularly large increases in 2001 and 2008; higher price rises were recorded for restaurants and cafés (3.2 % per year).

Data sources and availability

The statistical domain of the food chain is structured in 4 main areas:

  • food consumption;
  • from production to distribution: organic production, products with distinctive marks, production and sales of foodstuffs, prices and ancillary activities relating to packaging, transport and R & D in relation to food safety projects;
  • inputs to the food chain: intermediate inputs to agriculture (such as feedingstuff, seed or fertilisers), primary production, extra-EU food imports (including information by partner);
  • actors involved in the food chain: the number of local units and enterprises within manufacturing, distribution, transport and service activities, and the number of agricultural holdings.

Data sources

1. Survey on the structure of agricultural holdings (FSS)

Farm structure survey (FSS) data are used to collect information on agricultural holdings in the Member States at different geographic levels (Member States, regions, districts) and over periods, they provide a base for decision making in the common agricultural policy.

Two kinds of farm structure surveys are carried out:

  •  a basic survey (agricultural census) every 10 years,
  •  sample-based intermediate surveys.

2. Economic accounts for agriculture

This source provides information on income and expenditure in the agricultural sector. The data set includes statistics for the value of output (at producer and basic prices), intermediate consumption, subsidies and taxes, consumption of fixed capital, rent and interests, and capital formation. These accounts are a satellite account to the national accounts.

3. Structural business statistics (SBS)

SBS data have been collected within the legal framework provided by Council Regulation 251/2009. The SBS data set relates to annual enterprise statistics and provides information on a range of business-related issues, such as: business demography (births and deaths of enterprises), output-related indicators, such as turnover or value added; input-related indicators, such as labour input, purchases of goods and services, or investment. The data are presented using the NACE Rev. 2 classification. Information may be broken down according to enterprise size class and (at a more aggregated level of detail) according to different regions (as defined by NUTS).

4. Road and rail freight transport statistics

The legal basis for the collection of road freight transport statistics is Council Regulation 1172/1998. The figures are aggregated on the basis of sample surveys. The data are presented using the following units: tonnes, tonne-kilometres, vehicle-kilometres and numbers of journeys.

The legal basis for the collection of rail freight transport statistics is Council Regulation 91/2003.

Goods (for both road and rail) are classified according to the standard goods classification for transport statistics 2007 (NST 2007). The data cover road freight transport by heavy goods vehicles and exclude operations by small goods vehicles.

5. External trade statistics

External trade statistics are an important data source for EU decision-makers, being used extensively for multilateral and bilateral negotiations within the framework of the common commercial policy.

Extra-EU imports relate to goods entering the EU-27 from non-member countries; these statistics are collected directly from traders on the basis of their customs declarations. Extra-EU trade statistics do not record exchanges involving goods in transit, placed in a customs warehouse or given temporary admission.

The data are presented using the Standard international trade classification of the United Nations; currently, the fourth revision of the SITC is applied.

6. Annual national accounts

Household final consumption expenditure may be broken down according to consumption purpose (using the COICOP classification). The final consumption expenditure of households consists of expenditure incurred by residential institutional units on goods or services that are used for the direct satisfaction of the individual needs or wants or the collective needs of members of the community.

7. Price statistics: harmonised indices of consumer prices (HICP)

Harmonised indices of consumer prices (HICPs) are designed for international comparisons of consumer price inflation; they reflect price changes over time and provide the official measure of inflation within the EU and euro area. The coverage of HICPs is defined in terms of ‘household final monetary consumption expenditure’, by reference to the national accounts concepts of ESA95. Expenditures are classified according to the COICOP/HICP (classification of individual consumption by purpose adapted to the needs of HICPs).

Definitions of variables and indicators

Number of enterprises: a count of the number of enterprises active during at least a part of the reference period.

Number of persons employed: the total number of persons who work in the observation unit (inclusive of working proprietors, partners working regularly in the unit and unpaid family workers), as well as persons who work outside the unit who belong to it and are paid by it (for example, sales representatives, delivery personnel, repair and maintenance teams); data relate to head counts. Note that within agricultural statistics the information in relation to persons employed may be provided either as a head count or alternatively as annual work units.


The information presented is drawn from a range of different Eurostat databases. Many of these figures are collected together under the heading of ‘Food: from farm to fork statistics’, which brings together information on food products and the food sector which are considered relevant for food safety purposes. Primary reference data sources are also detailed in 'Data sources and availability'.

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Farm structure (t_ef)
Economic Accounts for Agriculture (t_aact)
Agricultural prices and price indices (t_apri)
Agricultural production (t_apro)

Dedicated section

Other information

  • Regulation 251/2009 of 11 March 2009 implementing and amending Regulation 295/2008 as regards the series of data to be produced for structural business statistics and the adaptations necessary after the revision of the statistical classification of products by activity (CPA)
  • Regulation 1172/1998 of 25 May 1998 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road

See also