Food processing: opportunities for British companies in Latin America

Latin America is a continent of 600 million people, and UKTI estimates that half of them are now middle class consumers. Increased income means an increase in food consumption, but also huge changes in the patters of this consumption. Food is clearly a priority for a large and fast-growing continent. That’s why food processing companies in the UK should not hesitate to explore these markets for export opportunities.

The good news is that Latin America is still highly dependent on imported food processing machinery. In this respect, an article by leading publication El Empaque magazine states that “Latin America imported USD 3.3 billion worth of packaging, package printing & converting machinery, equipment and consumables in 2011, based on the 15 product categories included in this report. Latin American imports have shown consistent 2 percentage digit growth for two consecutive years since 2009”. And this is just one segment. Food processing is a key area for British companies to focus on, particularly given that British penetration of food processing machinery is relatively low compared to that of countries such as Germany and Italy. There is clear demand from Latin American countries, and Britain is not a key player – which means it has plenty of room to grow.

Which countries offer the best opportunities? I would personally think that every country in Latin America offers opportunities, to some degree. Some, like Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, have high levels of production and large populations to feed. However, Mexico is a complex country to deal with and also has a strong US domination – therefore British companies need to balance pros and cons carefully. The same applies to Brazil and Argentina, given their protectionist stanc, which we have discussed elsewhere in this blog. Countries like Chile, Peru and Colombia offer interesting opportunities. For example, the US government states in a study of food processing and packaging in Chile that “The market for food processing equipment and machinery grew from USD 64.5 million in 2010 to approximately USD 72 million in 2011, representing roughly 12%, mainly due to private industry expansion projects. Conservative projections estimate annual growth of about 10% - 12% for the next five years”. Remember that Latin America not only has large, growing and more well-off populations to feed, but the continent is a hugely important food exporter, not just of commodities but of finished food products (think of Chilean wines, for example).

And within food processing, where are the best opportunities? I would suggest that whatever you manufacture or whatever service you offer for the food processing industry, you study the opportunities in Latin America. Dairy, for example, is particularly strong in Colombia and Uruguay, but companies in such diverse areas such as oil & fats, confectionery, bakery, soft drinks, fruit juices and snacks could be in need of your products and services. As an example, a study by Global Impact Consulting for Colombia states that “Bottling and packing machines and equipment, as well as finished materials and recipients, are also products with solid market potential. Medium-term opportunities will be determined by the continued and increasing purchasing local capacity and the escalating demand for food.”

Feeling inspired? What do you do next? First of all, make sure you’re in it for the long run; Latin America takes time and resources. Second, study the markets carefully and choose the ones that suit your own strategy best. Lastly, undertake very thorough partner recruitment. Particularly in this sector, you will be required to travel and meet partners and clients, and attend trade shows. In this respect, let us mention some, although depending on your particular niche, you might find others more appropriate:


  • FISPAL Tecnologia, Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 2014

  • ExpoAlimentaria, Lima, Peru, October 2013

  • Envase/Alimentek, Lima, Peru (TBC, probably June 2014)

  • Feria Alimentacion, Montevideo, Uruguay, October 2013

  • Espacio Food Service, Santiago, Chile (TBC, probably June 2014)


I am convinced that food processing is a key growth sector for British companies in Latin America. The opportunities are there. Let’s make the most of them.


Based in Uruguay but with 13 years in the UK, Gabriela Castro-Fontoura specialises in making it easier for British businesses to do business with Latin America. Since she established Sunny Sky Solutions ( over two years ago, Gabriela has helped many UK companies (from nursery products to electrical engineering, from food and drink to marine engineering) understand and make the most of opportunities in her native Latin America. Her key services include market intelligence and partner recruitment. We invite you to sign up for the free monthly Sunny Sky Solutions newsletter to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in Latin America HERE.


Written on 26th September  2013 by Gabriela Castro - Fontoura, S&H LLP Associate Director at Sunny Sky Solutions (

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