Tough economic conditions and the consequent effect on consumer spending has led to an upswing in consumption and sales of sunflower oil, which is holding its own against olive oil, especially now that the price of the latter has increased during the lean times of the last few years. According to recent data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (MAGRAMA) Consumption Panel, in the last year Spanish households spent 14.6% more on average on sunflower oil compared with one year ago.
The same source highlights that olive oil consumption slipped by 4.8%, while sunflower oil consumption rose by 8.6% between November 2012 and October 2013. As a result of this change in habits, sunflower oil is now the third most-popular variety among Spanish consumers. However, olive oil still ranks higher and demand in the European Union is growing. Nevertheless, sunflower oil exports—the bulk of which heads to the European Union (accounting for 68% of the total; specifically Portugal, France and Belgium), South Korea and South Africa—could also increase in the future if production expands in line with MAGRAMA expectations.
10% increase in production
According to the Ministry, sunflower production in 2013/2014 is expected to rise by more than 10% compared with the average of the last five harvests, offsetting the decline in 2012/2013. This figure is impressive considering that sunflowers are the main oleaginous plant (95% of the total) cultivated in Spain, with a planted area of 844,000 hectares. Rapeseed lags notably behind, with 30,400 hectares, and soybean still accounts for a very small portion, with just 700 hectares in all of Spain.
These figures differ greatly with those of the European Union. The area for growing oleaginous plants in the EU is expected to increase by 4% in 2013/2014, albeit with a 2% decline in sunflower plants. Nevertheless, the EU is the world's third-largest producer of sunflowers, after Ukraine and Russia. Of the 28 member states, France is the leading producer, followed by Romania and Spain.
In contrast with the situation in Spain, rapeseed is the most common oleaginous plant grown in the EU, accounting for 60% of the total planted area and 70% of production. Canada and China rank second and third, respectively. It's worth noting that Spain has played a role in the EU's top position: Spaniards brought the sunflower plant to Europe from North America and Mexico in the 16th century.