The Market for Hams and Cold-meats in France

Sector embutidos en Francia Jamón ibérico byn 217x300

The ITC Team of professionals has a collective experience of over 30 years in export, especially in the French market.

France is one of the largest consumers in the world of cold-meats and hams, with a well established industry and knowledgeable demanding customers. However, it is also a market in which Iberian Ham has a very large potential for growth. As with all mature markets, entry barriers are high and it is essential to offer a well-presented, top quality product to have any chance of reaching the consumer and to makes ones place amongst the myriad offerings from home and abroad.

French distributors are well appreciative of the taste of Spanish ham (noisette- hazel nut) the low salt content and smooth texture, in summary; a well-cured low-fat ham. There is both a very good value for money and a consistency and regularity of quality. French distributors re use to handling ham in wholes or parts, always boned.

The Perception of Spanish Hams and Cold-meats

Spanish produce, and especially Serrano ham,  are becoming ever more popular on the market that is learning to appreciate their quality. However, it is essential to maintain this quality and the perception of it being a premium product. Nevertheless, we once again have to stress the market maturity and the consequent difficulty of displacing a competitor and not filling a gap. You are going to have to work hard to position the product at exactly the right price level, assure an attractive and/or innovative packaging when trying to seduce buyers.

The excellent results obtained by Serrano ham are a high point of this progress, with a 0’7% increase in sales and 0’6% in value in 2013 following on from excellent results in previous years. This is especially notable when talking of Iberian Ham which increased by 17’2% by value and 7’8% in volume.

There is a very noticeable improvement in the perception of the quality of Spanish cold-meat produce and, in particular, of Serrano ham among French distributors and professionals as well as increasing public awareness. The challenge that now has to be faced up to is that of communicating directly with the consumer through advertising campaigns, POS tastings, etc.

Following are a few salient points:

  • Ham made from acorn-fed Iberian pigs.  (This is the only type to be found in gourmet outlets) is, by reason of price and extremely high quality, to be found at the very top of the range of produce and is very different from the Serrano ham made from standard pigs and not acorn-fed.
  • It is absolutely essential to maintain the very clear distinction between Iberian and Serrano hams which are a totally different product and in no way competition as they are aimed at different consumers.
  • Consequently, the strategies to be used by Iberian and Serrano in the market have to be altogether different for reasons of having two distinct markets. Serrano ham should be sold by emphasising its excellent value for money and quality compared with similar products on the market. Whereas, Iberian ham has to promoted amongst the very highest gourmet products comparable to champagne and caviare, for example.
  • The experience of Spanish exporters is that it is a “difficult” market, but promising. A market in which there is much to be learnt.

Market Tendencies

Cold-meat counters are very rapidly becoming if they are not already, to all intents and purposes, a things of the past. The vast majority of ham is sold in pre-packed lots. Both the long queues and short shelf-life of cut meats are some of the reasons that have contributed to their demise. Price control is another reason for the preference for pre-packed packets at the supermarket and simple-to-check pricing.

Consequently, many producers of high quality products have opted for joining the pre-packed train – considered to be practical, modern and safe. The producersare also rather sceptical of  the cut-meat outlets to handle the product correctly. Another factor that goes a long way to explaining the decline of fresh-cut cold-meats is the cost benefit ratio. Hand-cut produce customer by customer is a very labour intensive practise reducing it to the very highest levels.

That is not to say that, at the top of the market, the advice and expertise of the shopkeeper or sales staff is not sought after.

Within the French cold-meat sector there is a natural “structural” tendency to move up-market. One example of this would be the “chorizo” that is moving on from being a cold-meat for the occasional snack or “tapa” to enter into the pages of the French cooking books and into the mainstream of their cuisine.

Of the principal Spanish produce, the following are making great headway on the French market:

  • El Salchichón (similar to salami) is a typical French product and there are many regional varieties.
  • El Chorizo – still considered a slightly exotic product by French consumers, but in the last 5 years this is changing rapidly.
  • There are a number of more local products such as sobrassada from Mallorca, jerky and fuet are still looking for their niche in the market, but have great potential there as they have no local equivalent. However, this will mean a great investment in educating the French consumers.

Competition on the French Market

  • Bayonne Ham (Jambon de Bayonne) – This is the most popular in France and was awarded the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in 1998 and is cured for a minimum of 7 months. It is almost always sold sliced and you will very rarely see whole hams as in Spain. The market leaders are the large national groups to be found in the the Grand Adour: Delpeyrat (owner of the trade marks Montagne Noire and Maison Chevalier), Aoste, Salaisons Pyrénéennes, Michel Dupuy, Charcuteria Bordelaise, Grand Adour and the craft producer Montauzer.
  • Ardennes Ham – with PGI.
  • Parma Ham. Which is probably the greatest competitor of Serrano on the French market. Since 2009 it is this ham together with Parma, that have taken first place from those of Bayonne and Savoy. France is Italy’s second customers for Parma ham.

The Import of Cured Ham

Despite a little dip in 2010, there has been a constant increase in the import of cured ham in France. Increasing from € 155 million in 2009 to €196 million in 2013. Italy in undisputed leader with sales of € 85 million; whilst Spain has grown from € 36 million in 2009 to € 55 million iin 2013. This notable growth of almost 50% in just 5 years has meant that Spain has nudged Germany down one place to become the second supplier.

The two best known foreign denominations of cured hams in France are Parma and Serrano. Not taking into account the hams without origin, by the end of 2013, it was third in sales in French supermarkets after Aoste and Bayonne. Serrano is sold at a discount compared to local hams: €22’5/Kg for Serrano and €29 for Aoste and €27 for Bayonne and about the same price as generic Italian ham which retails at €22.

Iberian Ham is going full-steam ahead with very large percentile increases in volume and is consolidating its position as a gourmet product with prices of round €70/Kg. Lastly ham from Teruel has made small inroads into the market at prices of about €60.


There are two very distinct markets: about 15% is represented by the Delis and specialised gourmet outlets; the other s the mass market. However, the supermarkets (85% of the market) are being to expand their “gourmet sections” which keeps them amongst the consumers’ favourites as they can up their game without changing shops. Another outlet that is gaining ground is that of internet sales.

The increasing interest in gourmet products had been detected by the organiser of SIAL (Salon Internationale de l’Agroalimentaire) and led them to organise the specialised gourmet event in 2009: Gourmet Food & Wine Selection. The SIAL and Gourmet event are held on alternating years. The “Club del Gourmet” in Madrid is a much smaller and modest event.

From our own experience and the results of market studies, the way forward for Spanish producers of Iberian Ham is very clear, especially taking into consideration that the majority are small and medium sized producers, is very clear: that of importers of Spanish produce both for consumers and HORECA, and gourmet wholesalers. See “Recommendation” for further details.


We would highly recommend working with wholesalers specialising in the distribution of cold-meats, the vast majority of which are rationalised organisations delivering to gourmet delis and butchers, restaurants and collectives. Some of these are to be found in the large wholesale markets like Rungis on the outskirts of Paris. The larger of these companies do, of course, also supply the large chains and supermarkets without excluding the more traditional outlets. Sales to HIRECA is still fairly limited hen compared to consumer outlet.

The most popular formats Spanish producers of cured ham are asked for are: boned parts or wholes; whole hams on the bone, with “V” cut; or centres.

It is essential to offer value for money for Serrano, in common with other Spanish meat produce, as they have to find their place in the niche for “quality and reasonable prices”. We feel it would be a mistaken policy to apply higher wholesale prices than those in Spain for produce destined to the traditional market as the distributor will work harder for those products with the best advertising and promotional budgets: tastings, publicity, etc.

The following are possible contacts on the French market:

  • Agriberia
  • Agidra
  • Casanovas
  • Comptoir France Europe
  • Guasch et fils
  • Le Delas S.A.
  • Groupe Paste

Fairs of Interest

SIAL– Salon International de l’Agroalimentaire

Salon International de l’Agriculture, 


El mercado de embutidos y jamones en Francia, ICEX, Mayo 2014
El mercado de productos gourmet en Francia, ICEX, Octubre 2014
All used to back up the more than 20 years experience ITC has had in supporting and advising Small and Medium sized companies.