Buckwheat Manufacturers Are Searching for New Niches

Buckwheat is a relatively undemanding plant, found in wild form in the northern India, where it originated. However, buckwheat (common buckwheat) is widespread in the temperate latitudes, as a moisture-loving culture, resistant to cool temperatures. Thus, the most extensive crop areas belong to China and Russia, which are the major players in the market.

In terms of production, China (700 thousand tonnes in 2014) takes first place, followed by Russia (661.8 thousand tonnes in 2014), together accounting for two-thirds of buckwheat production volume in the world. Other countries, mostly in Europe, follow them with a significant lag. According to the IndexBox estimates, from 2007 to 2014, buckwheat production dynamics were relatively stable only in China, while other leading countries recorded fluctuations. Thus, the most noticeable decline in production was observed in 2010, due to hot weather and drought spread throughout the territory of the CIS countries. Buckwheat production volume in Russia plunged by 40% as compared to the 2009 level, which reflected the global dynamics.

Besides weather conditions, reduction of acreage in favor of more competitive crops is also a limiting factor. Indeed, buckwheat can largely be attributed to a “marginal” crop, and demand for it is limited, which is noticeable when comparing the indicators of production and consumption.

The top 5 countries in terms of harvested area, production, and consumption of buckwheat, presented in the figure below, are the same for all three indicators with approximately equal shares. This means a low intensity of trade between countries: global export volume does not exceed 10% of production volume. This is a quite rare situation, when product consumption is linked to the place of its manufacturing. Japan (31% of global imports in 2014) is the largest buckwheat importing country.

For most countries, buckwheat porridge is a non-traditional food, and it is mostly widespread only in the former Soviet Union, as well as some European countries. In 2014, the highest rates of per capita consumption (among the leaders of buckwheat consumption) were recorded in Lithuania (7.4 kg / person), Russia (4.4 kg / person), Ukraine (3.7 kg / person), and Kazakhstan (3.2 kg / person). In these countries, the buckwheat market is close to saturation. Also, there are prospects for consumption volume expansion, as there are no preconditions for a serious fall with an expected stable domestic consumption.

China is a prospective sales market, with the average per capita buckwheat consumption rate equal to only 0.5 kg / person in 2014. The Chinese market became especially attractive for Russian buckwheat producers after the devaluation of the ruble at the end of 2014, and when it became profitable to export goods abroad, receiving additional benefits. Rice, especially popular in China, is the main competitor of buckwheat. High volumes of its own rice production appear to be a barrier to the development of buckwheat consumption in China, though positive growth rates of buckwheat consumption indicate the existence and growth of demand for the product (average annual growth rate of consumption from 2007 to 2014 amounted to + 2.3%).

The countries where buckwheat is not a traditional culture (such as the U.S., Canada, and South America) can be regarded as sales markets for groats, or for waste from buckwheat processing (bran, husk), to be used as feed for farm animals. Optimization of production and logistics processes can contribute to the expansion of the sales markets.

Currently, the buckwheat market is largely limited by areas of the crop cultivation. China and Russia are the main players in the recent years. In the medium term, volume and geography of buckwheat consumption will not change globally, as the market can be regarded as mostly conservative. However, the market players should look for ways to distribute their products in the world and to expand their presence.