• QA 089
    What is the role and importance of chicory in the coffee industry?
    The Guide does not make mention of the part chicory plays in international coffee consumption. Can you give some background information on the chicory industry generally? Chicory is an annual crop in this country and I'm thinking of planting some.
    Asked by:
    Grower - South Africa

    Chicory (Cichorium intybus) has a long brown root that exudes a bitter juice when cut, but it contains no caffeine or other stimulant. According to Gordon Wrigley ('Coffee' - ISBN 0-582-46359-9, page 499) the slicing, drying and roasting of chicory roots originated in Holland about 1750 where its use as a replacement of coffee was encouraged by the high import taxes coffee then attracted. Since then chicory has travelled the world and is now found in many countries, including the USA and your own country, South Africa - see www.chicory.sa.

    There is a tendency to refer to chicory only as a lowly substitute for coffee but this is wrong. Over time it has developed its own appeal and continues to be widely used, also today. Regular users consider its flavour attractive whereas the absence of caffeine attracts interest from certain groups with some claiming beneficial effects on the human digestive system as well. In a number of countries, including South Africa, chicory production is an important industry in its own right and it is relatively widely traded internationally.

    Compared to coffee the trade in roasted chicory, including extracts, essences etc. is however very small. Total exports in 2004 were just over 18,000 tonnes with a value of USD 50.7 mln (about $2,800/tonne) - imports were 33,500 tonnes, valued at USD 69.4 mln (about $2,100/tonne). But this compares with total 2004 world imports of green coffee valued at USD 7 billion (re-exports excluded). The top ten exporters for 2004 were Poland, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Chile, Belgium, Italy, the USA, France and China. The top ten importers were Spain, France, Japan, Germany, Belgium, the USA, Russian federation, Peru, Canada and the Netherlands. Source: ITC's P-Maps - see footnote.

    However, total production and consumption are likely to be quite a bit higher since these figures exclude all in-country use of home grown chicory. But we have no data to present on this. Roast and ground chicory is retailed straight for those who drink it 'as is', and for those who prefer to make their own mixtures, for example in the Southern USA. But most is sold as part of established blends, for example as French or Viennese type in the United Kingdom, and in a number of other European countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands etc. It is also used in certain brands of soluble coffee - the manufacture of soluble chicory is however a specialised process, carried out by a few processors only who tend to market it to regular soluble manufacturers for blending. Coffee and chicory blends are also widely available in India and of course South Africa.

    By comparison, the trade in natural chicory (i.e. not roasted) is much larger with 2004 exports of some 135,000 tonnes (value USD 145.8 mlm) and imports of 140,000 tonnes valued at USD 160.2 mln. Some of this is probably sent for processing into soluble, for example in France that is by far the largest single importer and processor. Whilst chicory can be grown almost anywhere, not every producing country avails of the final processing capability.

    The role of chicory as a price-reducing additive for coffee has diminished over time. In recent history it has only been used as a substitute when coffee prices have been extremely high. As we all know this has not been the case for a number of years now nor does the general outlook suggest chicory's fortunes could improve dramatically any time soon on the back of rising coffee prices. Thus we would suggest that chicory's future depends mostly on the industry's ability to appeal to existing and potential users as a product in its own right.

    Footnote: P-maps is also operated by the International Trade Centre - ITC, and is an excellent source of trade information for many products, including also coffee. P-maps use trade data provided by individual countries. Go to www.p-maps.org and register - access is free of charge for enquirers from developing countries.

    Posted 17 April 2006

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