The agrifood sector has performed well during the recovery

The agrifood sector has continued to perform well since the most critical months of the pandemic. Primary sector production remains at a high level, the food industry is recovering from the slump experienced in 2020 and demand indicators suggest food consumption patterns are gradually getting back to normal, both in and outside the home. Agrifood exports are also booming, a lever of growth that will continue to be vital for the sector’s future.

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The progress made with vaccinations and the lifting of restrictions have set the stage for the food chain to gradually get back to normal

In the past year and a half, the agrifood sector’s performance has been affected by the impact of the pandemic on the different links in the chain. After the sector rapidly adjusted to the changes in food demand during the toughest moments of COVID-19, the progress made by the vaccination campaign and lifting of restrictions since the end of the third state of emergency on 9 May 2021 have helped the food consumption patterns of Spanish households to gradually get back to normal, with the consequent normalisation of activity in the agrifood sector in general.

Starting with the primary sector, national accounting data show that its gross value added (GVA) barely fell in H1 2021 compared with the average for 2020 (–0.4%), despite posting very strong growth (5.3%) in 2020, a situation which is counter-cyclical in relation to the GDP of the economy as a whole (–10.8%). Compared with 2019’s figures, the increase is still considerable (+4.9%) and its contribution to the economy as a whole is still slightly larger than before the pandemic (3.0% of GVA in H1 2021 compared with 3.5% in 2020 and 2.9% in 2019).

The primary sector’s GVA remains at a high level

after recording exceptional growth during the most critical quarters of the pandemic.

Trends in the agrifood industry have been much more cyclical, although the extent of the drop in Q2 2020 and the intensity of the subsequent recovery differ between its two branches (food and beverages). In 2020, the decrease in the turnover of processed food was much more moderate than that of beverage manufacturing (–2.0% compared with –16.2%), due to the latter’s greater dependence on the hospitality channel (hotels, restaurants and cafés), which have been particularly hard hit by the crisis. Nevertheless, it recovered notably in H1 2021 and had regained its pre-crisis levels by June, as can be seen in the following chart.

VAB del sector primario

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Cifra de negocios de la industria

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Beverage manufacturing grew strongly in H1 2021

reaching its pre-crisis level in terms of turnover. However, the recovery is still incomplete in the labour market.

Labour market trends in the agrifood industry are also looking good: the number of effective registered workers (i.e. excluding furloughed workers) exceeded the pre-crisis level in July. In fact, the food branch employed 2.1% more workers in August than in February 2020 (+1.1% compared with August 2019). In beverage manufacturing, however, the number of effective workers in August was still 2.6% below the figure for February 2019 (–6.7% compared with August 2019). Likewise, the percentage of registered workers that had been furloughed barely accounted for 0.9% of the total in the food industry in July 2021 (around 3,500 workers), while in beverage manufacturing this percentage rises to 1.8% (around 850 workers).

What are the trends in expenditure on food and restaurants?

In 2020, the pandemic radically altered the food consumption patterns of Spanish families. Firstly, there was a substantial rise in food and beverage consumption at home in terms of its share of the shopping basket (up 3 pp to 17.9%).1 Secondly, spending outside the home (in restaurants and cafés) fell by an exceptional 40%. As a result, the relative weight of expenditure on hospitality accounted for just 23% of all food expenditure (compared with 35% in 2019).

To analyse the trend for these expenditure items in 2021 so far, we have used internal data from CaixaBank POS card payments, which allows us to differentiate between Spanish cards and those issued abroad in order to estimate the impact of international tourism on the hospitality channel.

  • 1. Data from the 2020 Household Budget Survey (Encuesta de Presupuestos Familiares) of the National Statistics Institute.
In 2021, Spanish spending in supermarkets has remained high

while expenditure in restaurants has surpassed its 2019 levels. Nevertheless, the slump in foreign demand continues to affect products for the hospitality channel.

Spending via Spanish cards in supermarkets and large food stores increased by a significant 34% in 2020, as shown in the following chart. So far this upward trend has continued in 2021 (+40% between January and August 2021 compared with the same period in 2019), indicating that the health situation has yet to get back to normal, a context that continues to support the purchase of food for home consumption.2 On the other hand, there has been a strong recovery in spending via Spanish cards in restaurants in 2021 (up by 26% in the cumulative figure for January to August compared with the same period in 2019), especially during the two summer months (46% compared with July and August 2019). This is the result of the lifting of restrictions, the boom in domestic tourism to the detriment of international travel and the release of some of the pent-up demand and savings accumulated by households over the months of the most severe restrictions.3

However, foreign card spending in restaurants has been hit hard and its recovery is still incomplete. Nevertheless, notable improvement could be seen in this area in the summer (–9% compared with July and August 2019, versus –60% in H1 2021 compared with the same period in 2019). The advanced state of vaccination in most of the main countries for tourists visiting Spain allows us to be optimistic about international tourism’s prospects for recovery in the coming quarters so that, in 2022, the tourism industry could regain a level of activity similar to that of 2016 (15% lower than in 2019).

  • 2. These figures are also affected by cards replacing cash payments, an issue discussed in detail in the article «The substitution of cash by cards as a means of payment during the pandemic», available at
  • 3. For more details, see the article «Pent-up demand: one of the main drivers of the economic recovery», available at
Evolución del gasto con tarjetas en alimentación y restauración durante la pandemia

Alimentación - tarjetas españolas

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Restauración - tarjetas españolas

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Restauración - tarjetas extranjeras

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El dinamismo de las exportaciones agroalimentarias españolas

España es una gran potencia exportadora de productos agroalimentarios: ocupa la cuarta posición en la UE y la séptima a nivel mundial.4 Durante la pandemia, las exportaciones agroalimentarias han acelerado el paso, creciendo un 4,0% en el conjunto de 2020 y un 10,4% interanual en el 1S 2021. Así, el sector agroalimentario aporta un 19,5% de las exportaciones de bienes de España, 2 puntos más que en 2019. Las importaciones agroalimentarias, en cambio, descendieron en 2020, y a pesar de aumentar en el 1S 2021, el superávit exterior de bienes agroalimentarios alcanzó un récord histórico en junio: un 1,7% del PIB (frente al 1,6% en 2020 y el 1,1% en 2019).

  • 4. Según el ranking por países exportadores de productos alimentarios de la Organización Mundial del Comercio de 2019 (último año disponible).
Las exportaciones agroalimentarias son un motor de crecimiento del sector exterior español

y han generado un superávit exterior del 1,7% del PIB. Durante 2020, las exportaciones de carne de porcino a China han crecido un extraordinario 136%.

Una parte muy significativa del incremento de las exportaciones españolas se debe al extraordinario incremento de las exportaciones de carne de porcino a China (+136% en 2020). Esta partida explica unos 2,9 puntos del crecimiento del 4,0% que experimentaron las exportaciones agroalimentarias totales en 2020, a causa del fuerte aumento de la demanda internacional por la peste porcina africana que afecta a gran parte de la producción china. El resto de las exportaciones agroalimentarias también crecieron, pero de forma más modesta (+1,1% en 2020). En el 1S 2021, el incremento de las exportaciones de porcino a China sigue siendo muy elevado (+60% en el 1S 2021 respecto al mismo periodo de 2020), pero su contribución al crecimiento se ha moderado: 2,1 puntos del avance del 10,4%. Exploramos las razones que explican este repunte en el artículo «El sector porcino español atraviesa su momento más dulce» de este mismo Informe Sectorial

Exportaciones agroalimentarias por grupos de productos 

Exportaciones agroalimentarias por grupos de productos
Fuente: CaixaBank Research, a partir de datos de DataComex.

Además de la carne de porcino, hay otros productos que destacan por su excelente comportamiento tanto en 2020 como en lo que va de 2021, como son las preparaciones alimenticias para animales, algunas frutas y hortalizas (albaricoques, pepinos, coles, etc.) y productos de panadería. Todos estos productos se encuentran en el área verde oscuro del gráfico que se muestra a continuación. Otros productos, como los cítricos y las conservas de pescado, anotaron un notable avance en 2020 (por la mayor demanda de alimentos de fácil conservación) y en 2021 siguen en positivo, aunque su ritmo de crecimiento ha bajado. Por otra parte, las exportaciones de vino,5 aceite de oliva y otras hortalizas (como la lechuga) descendieron en 2020, pero se están recuperando vigorosamente en 2021 (área verde claro). Finalmente, hay un grupo reducido de productos (como el pescado fresco y congelado) cuyas exportaciones descendieron en 2020 y todavía siguen en retroceso, aunque más moderado (productos en el área roja del gráfico). En este último caso, el deterioro de la balanza comercial de pescado fresco y congelado no responde a los efectos de la pandemia, sino a factores estructurales anteriores.

  • 5. Analizamos en detalle el sector vitivinícola en el artículo «El sector del vino español: símbolo de tradición y referente mundial» de este mismo Informe Sectorial.

Exportaciones agroalimentarias

Variación en el 1S 2021 (respecto al 1S 2019)
Exportaciones agroalimentarias
Fuente: CaixaBank Research, a partir de datos de DataComex.

De cara a futuro, las exportaciones seguirán siendo una palanca de crecimiento para el sector. Por ello, es primordial seguir impulsando la sostenibilidad de los procesos productivos de los alimentos, especialmente en el sector primario, para mitigar el impacto medioambiental que esta actividad conlleva, un aspecto que analizamos con más detalle en el artículo «Avanzando hacia la sostenibilidad del sector agroalimentario» en este mismo Informe Sectorial