Product Profile: Saffron
HS CODE: 091020
• World exports of saffron escalated at a CAGR of 14.55% from 2014-2018 in value terms indicating a massive increase in global demand.
• The Islamic Republic of Iran produces more than 90% of the world’s saffron and accounts for 70% of global exports.
• A number of prestigious re-exporters such as Spain, France and Italy add value to Iranian bulk imports and resell the saffron at a higher price.
• After the Islamic Republic of Iran, India ranks as the second-largest producer of saffron, with the spice cultivated primarily in the Kashmir region. But as a saffron exporter, India is ranked twelfth among global saffron exporters.
Saffron is one of the world’s most distinguished and rare agricultural products cultivated as a source of spice for at least 3,500 years. The name ‘saffron’ is a derivative of the Arabic “zá-faran”, which means ‘be yellow’. Saffron is heavily demanded by consumers due to its application in the food and beverage industry, which is anticipated to be a significant factor driving growth of the global saffron market. In food, saffron is used as a flavouring agent, spice and yellow food coloring, which makes it one of the most preferred spices for consumers.
Apart from that, saffron is also used as a dye, spice, fragrance and for medicinal purposes. One stigma of saffron weighs about 2 mg and on an average each flower has three stigmata, so near about 150,000 flowers must be picked one-by-one in order to produce 1 kg of the spice. Saffron, unsurprisingly, is one of the world’s most expensive spices, and when it intersects with global politics it also lends itself to a fascinating history of underground trade.
The main value of the world’s saffron harvest is captured by re-exporters in countries such as Spain, France and Italy, who have sophisticated, well-established packaging methods and distribution channels. The latter applies as well to the Islamic Republic of Iran, maintains well-established trade networks. For emerging producer nations such as Afghanistan, it remains a challenge to find a niche in the market independent of the existing distribution channels controlled by re-exporters.
Saffron is currently being cultivated in Iran, India, Afghanistan, Spain, Greece Italy, Turkey, France, Switzerland, Israel, Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, UAE, Japan, Iraq and recently Australia (Tasmania). The world’s total production of dried saffron is estimated to be around 325 tonnes a year. Iran produces more than 90% of the world’s total production of saffron. More than 92% of Iranian saffron is cultivated in Khorasan province. In India, saffron is exclusively cultivated in Jammu & Kashmir until now. Some instances of saffron cultivation have been reported recently in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
One of the world’s most expensive spices by weight, saffron is globally sold in grams. Iran is the leading saffron exporter earning revenue of US$ 51million. Spain and India are the major importers of Iranian saffron. India’s saffron consumption is estimated at 20 tonnes a year, half of which is met by leading producers – Iran, Spain and China.
Top exporters of saffron
|Economies||Value in US$ million||Annual growth of exports from 2014-2018 (%)|
|Hong Kong, China||6.20||178|
Source: ITC Trade Map
Top importers of saffron
|Economies||Value in US$ million||Annual growth of imports from 2014-2018 (%)|
|Hong Kong, China||99.17||169|
Source: ITC Trade Map, 2019
World exports of saffron escalated at a CAGR of 14.55% from 2014-2018 in value terms, indicating a massive increase in global demand.
Source: ITC Trade Map
After the Islamic Republic of Iran, India ranks as the second-largest producer of saffron, with the spice cultivated primarily in the Kashmir region. As a saffron exporter, though, India’s performance is less commanding; it is only ranked twelfth among global saffron exporters. With a spice loving population that tops 1 billion, India’s impressive production levels are still insufficient to meet domestic demand. To satisfy this demand, US$ 18.3 million in saffron was imported to India in 2018, making it the world’s fourth-largest importer. This indicates that India predominantly imports for consumption and not for re-exporting, unlike other major saffron exporters. Government of India set up SPEDA (Saffron Production and Export Development Agency) in 2015 to promote production and export-related activities related to saffron.
Kashmir, one of the only four producers of saffron in the world, barely consumes a fraction of what it produces. Most of its output goes to the plains with exports of just about four tonnes. Local brands are largely present in India and there is absence of large international/national brands. There is an opportunity for developing a nationwide brand of saffron. Besides, this is a nation where a burgeoning middle class is now craving for a wide range of products with health benefits, which is a big driver for increase in consumption.