How do I import food from the US?
February 20, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

To import food from the US to Europe, where do I start?

While I lived in the US I fell completely in love with, let's say, a particular spread for sandwiches from a major manufacturer. Nothing special, you can get it at every ordinary US supermarket, but back here in the Netherlands it's nowhere to be found. So I got the idea of importing some jars and sell it to other spread-fetishists like myself, maybe through a yet-to-be-made website.

How do I go about contacting and importing a batch of the stuff straight from the manufacturer? Do I have to deal with them as a company rather than a private indivual/customer? How do I get discounts for ordering at the back end and in large quantities? So far I can only find the regular PR channels by which ordinary customers can ask questions and file complaints etc.

Then, if they are willing to ship it to me, are there any laws, rules, taxes I have to consider to have imported foods approved for the Dutch (European) market?


I assume a website like imports its goods (actually, among others, the very same product) in a similar way as I intend to, but they are not eager to share their methods with me.
posted by tvdveer to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming (because of the question and your username) you speak Dutch. If not, my links won't be as useful as they're all in Dutch, but even then they might be a good starting point:

The EVD would be a good start. There, you'll find a link to several booklets, one specifically about import.

Your example is a British website. You've seen its Dutch counterparts, right (both online and brick and mortar stores)? I'm not suggesting they will be more willing to help you, but they might be importing your product already.
posted by Ms. Next at 8:45 AM on February 20, 2011

Remember that you're not importing a product into Europe, you're importing it into a specific European nation.

The VWA seems to have a really decent website specifically dealing in the import of non-animal foodstuffs.
posted by jedrek at 8:57 AM on February 20, 2011

A manufacturer is not going to deal with you unless you can buy wholesale quantities of their product, which would mean many pallets worth. You may have better luck finding an e-commerce site in the US that sells what you're looking for and see if they are able to ship internationally.

Be aware, though, that shipping food internationally raises issues that shipping things like electronics does not: food-borne illnesses, questions of labeling, etc.

So, the first question you need to figure out is: what are the EU regulations pertaining to the shipment of food from the US to an end consumer (I think the Netherlands is part of the EU and that the EU's regulations apply here).

The second question you need to look at is: who will have my business? Again, a manufacturer is not set up to sell to individual people, but rather large intermediaries that can buy large quantities of a product and then distribute that product to local stores.
posted by dfriedman at 8:59 AM on February 20, 2011

That's not exactly true, dfriedman. The EU creates directives and on the basis of those directives specific countries prepare and pass applicable laws. You need to check the laws of the country you're importing to.
posted by jedrek at 9:12 AM on February 20, 2011

The netherlands is most definitely part of the EU (it was one of the original six members) and every EU country has a metric ton of regulations about food import. My feeling is that this is something you need expert help with--unfortunately I have no idea where to suggest you get it. Incidentally, if you don't speak Dutch, try the UK websites--DEFRA would be the place to start. As another EU member, the UK rules should be similar.
posted by Logophiliac at 9:16 AM on February 20, 2011

Remember that you're not importing a product into Europe, you're importing it into a specific European nation.

Thats not really true is it?

The EU, which the Netherlands is part of, has a Common Agricultural Policy. There are no border controls from one country to the other. If one country had different import policies then you could just ship your goods 100 miles over in the next country and easily truck them over, restriction-free.
posted by vacapinta at 9:56 AM on February 20, 2011

Actually, it is accurate. While the laws are generally the same, the minutae is not. To quote a USDA report:

Exporters should be aware that there may also be some variation among Member States in applying EU harmonized legislation; there may be temporary waivers or exemptions and in certain cases there may be room for interpretation of EU harmonized legislation or aspects, which are not regulated in detail at EU level, and may be handled differently in different member states.
posted by jedrek at 10:47 AM on February 20, 2011

Then, if they are willing to ship it to me, are there any laws, rules, taxes I have to consider to have imported foods approved for the Dutch (European) market?

Yes. But I see US foods on shelves often enough that those apparently are not insurmountable, however you should probably contact an expert of some kind. The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce can probably point you to the right direction, as well as providing guidance in other aspects of starting your own business, even if your side business is not big enough to warrant starting a company and all that, but I'm sure that they are able to help either way.

If you decide not to proceed with starting your own food import company, maybe you should get in touch with some US military personnel in the Netherlands and check out if the local commissary carries it and see if they can supply you with some of your favorite spread. I presume it's not sold on since you are asking this question, but maybe you could contact them and see if it would be possible to buy some through them.
posted by Authorized User at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2011

Amazon sells groceries, and usually in multi-packs. You might check them for your personal stash.
posted by JABof72 at 11:48 AM on February 20, 2011

One thing that might be worth bearing in mind (both in terms of JABof72's suggestion and in terms of it signalling a potential problem for your import) is that does not let you ship products of the category "Lebensmittel" (groceries) to the Netherlands. I know because I tried this last week. It doesn't tell you it can't do it until you have the product at checkout and try to pay, either. Third party sellers will sometimes do it, though, so it clearly isn't an absolute ban or anything, but there must be some legal issue that makes Amazon itself steer clear.
posted by lollusc at 2:47 PM on February 20, 2011

Hi all, thanks a lot, you have been more than helpful! Sounds like it is quite the undertaking after all, think I might reconsider it.
posted by tvdveer at 5:39 AM on February 21, 2011

I dunno, dfriedman. My dad ships a lot of food to Japan now, and he started out small.

I don't mean to be a whore, but if you MeMail me, I can give you my dad's email address: maybe you guys can work out something.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2011

« Older Who's number 2?   |   Amy Pond. Mad, impossible Amy Pond. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.