The word 'hops' covers the following three groups of products:
- hop cones, fresh or dried,
- hops in the form of powder or pellets,
- hop extracts.
Some 2,600 farms in the European Union grow hops, covering 26,500 ha – 60% of the total surface area used for hop-growing worldwide.
Hops are grown in 14 EU countries. Some 17,000 hectares are used for hop cultivation in Germany, accounting for 60% of the EU's hop-growing acreage and about one third of the surface area devoted to hop cultivation worldwide. The other main EU producers are the Czechia, Poland and Slovenia.
All over the world, but particularly in Europe, acreage is dwindling, one reason being the increasing yield of alpha acid and its decreasing use in beer. Alpha acid is the component of hops that gives beer its bitter taste and other flavours.
The EU produces about 50,000 tonnes of hops annually. Its alpha acid output regularly exceeds 5,000 tonnes.
Annual hop production worldwide varies between 80,000 and 100,000 tonnes, corresponding to between 8,000 and 10,000 tonnes of alpha acid. Demand for alpha acid is estimated at about 8,000 tonnes, on the basis that an average of 4.1g are needed per hectolitre of beer. Hop content varies depending on the type of beer concerned, particularly how bitter it is, and the variety of hop used. As a result of technological progress and consumers' growing preference for less bitter beers, hop content is falling year by year (it still stood at 6.3g alpha per hectolitre in 1995).
Although world beer production is on the rise, demand for alpha acid is not increasing much. Since supply currently exceeds demand, average prices on the hop contract market and the free market have been fairly low since 2009.
The EU – and particularly Germany – is one of the hubs of the global market in hops. As regards external trade, the EU has traditionally been a net exporter. Over the last few years, the surplus has amounted to some 20,000 tonnes of cone equivalents. The main buyer is Russia, followed by the United States and Japan.
All but one of the EU hop-growing countries belong to the international hop growers' convention, which seeks to promote the sharing of information, both among producers and between producers and the other parties in the sector (traders and brewers).
The common organisation of the market EU regulation 1308/2013 sets out the main legal provisions covering the hops sector: certification, producer groups and imports.
Various committees, composed of government representatives and chaired by a European Commission representative, meet regularly to ensure that the Commission's responsibility for adopting implementing acts is exercised under the control of EU countries.
The committee for common organisation of agricultural markets discuss areas such as the evolution of market prices, production and trade in the EU and non-EU countries.