Report Highlights: 

Market demand, consumption and trade in legumes in Bulgaria are increasing. The market is diversifying and demand for higher quality product grows. This opens good opportunities for U.S. exporters to explore the local market where the prospects for growth and development in the near future remain very good.

Local Market and Demand 

Dry beans and lentils are a traditional part of the local cuisine. Bulgarian consumers consider both products nutritional, healthy and a good choice for family dining. Beans and lentils are preferred for at home consumption versus out of home. 

Locally produced dry beans are usually white in color, with variation in size but most consumers appreciate larger size beans. Locally produced lentils are brown and only in recent years consumers have been exposed to green and red lentils. 

In recent years retailers and HRI sector development offered the market a good choice of products of various origin, in new recipes and in new combinations with other foods. Although Bulgarians are rather conservative in their culinary choices, they like trying new variations of familiar products and in new formulations, if not drastically different from traditional products. Thus Pinto beans found a good market niche, along with some new types of lentils. 

Total market size is hard to estimate due to lack of official data. Dry beans consumption is estimated at 36,000 MT - 39,000 MT, based on household consumption at home and excluding out of home demand. Most industry estimates for total market size are 40,000 MT-45,000 MT including all market channels. Estimates for lentils are 22,000 MT for at home consumption, with a total 25,000 MT for the entire market. 

Average per capita consumption of dry beans has been growing steadily. For about 10 years prior to 2010, average per capita consumption was reported to be at 3.9-4.0 kg annually. Since 2010 it has been at 4.9 kg with some decline in 2012 and 2013 to 4.5 kg due to economic struggles. Similarly, per capita consumption of lentils has been at 1.8-1.9 kg before 2010 and climbed to 2.7-2.9 kg since 2010 to date. Unlike dry beans, lentils consumption in 2013 was 7% higher vs 2012. 

Data about household purchases shows that the dry beans market is still price sensitive regarding at-home consumption. Purchased quantities have declined along with sharper growth in prices since 2010. Slower growth in lentils’ prices in 2010-2013 allowed for the building of more stable and higher annual per capita consumption of lentils from 5.2 kg to 5.5 kg in 2013. 

In 2013, Bulgaria received 18 million Euro from the EC to provide food aid in packages with staple food to needy people. Funds were managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Paying Agency through tenders for suppliers as per EC Regulation 1020/2012. Imported foods from non-EU countries were also eligible provided that they meet safety and quality criteria. The program’s funds covered: product cost, transportation cost for the distribution of food packages locally; and local storage and handing cost. Approved suppliers (local producers or importers) had to deliver the products to the Red Cross which prepared food packages and distributed them to end-beneficiaries. Beneficiaries were identified as 332,000 people. In 2013 the program included 11 food items such as dry beans – 2.03 kg/person and lentils – 4.08 kg/person. Total volume distributed under the program was 672 MT of dry beans and 1,354 MT of lentils. The program was executed by 26 approved companies-suppliers. 

Local production and supply 

Local production of legumes has declined sharply from much higher levels in the past to small production volumes over the last 5 years. Farmers grow legumes mainly for improvement of crop rotation practices and have challenges supplying commercial lots and providing consistency in quality and quantity. In addition, local production genetics are outdated. In the period 2009-2013 local dry bean supplies were estimated to meet less than 5 percent of consumption and local lentil supply meets about 5-12 percent of consumption. 

Agricultural Policy 

Bulgaria has no special policies to support legumes crops. It is widely believed that they are excellent crops for crop rotation and for soil fertility, with good market prospects and have the position to be a good source of income for farmers. 

During the last 5 years legumes could not compete with grains and oilseeds crops which enjoyed much higher subsidies (EU single area payment scheme). For the future period 2014-2020, Bulgaria declared to the EC that it will allocate the maximum allowed funds for coupled support (2 percent of total domestic support package) to be provided for subsidies for protein crops. The notification was made by the Cabinet in the last week of July and did not contain any details. Reportedly, this support will be provided to all farmers nationwide and will cover crops such as dry beans, peas and lentils. However, specific amounts, rates per crop or area, and other details such as the full list of eligible crops, should be formulated later this year