Germany - Country Commercial Guide
Selling Factors and Techniques

Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.

Last published date: 2021-11-16

Overview

Success in the German market, as elsewhere around the world, requires long-term commitment to market development and sales backup, especially if U.S. companies are to overcome the geographic handicap with respect to European competitors. Germans at times perceive U.S. suppliers as tending to process a U.S. domestic order before taking care of an export sale or being quick to bypass a local distributor to deal directly with its customer. Some German entrepreneurs with selective experience with U.S. companies are skeptical about their long-term commitment and after-sales support. U.S. firms entering Germany today are generally aware of the factors that make for a successful export relationship and are ready to establish a credible support network. However, U.S. firms should be ready to address any lingering doubts from prospective German clients/partners.

Trade Promotion and Advertising

Trade Fairs

Few countries in the world can match Germany when it comes to leading international trade fairs. Such a reputation should be no surprise given that the trade fair concept was born in Germany during the Middle Ages. Today, Germany hosts a major world-class trade event in virtually every industry sector, attracting buyers from around the world. Trade fairs thrive in Germany because they are true business events where contracts are negotiated, and deals are consummated. U.S. exhibitors at German fairs should be prepared to take full advantage of the business opportunities presented at these events. While U.S. exhibitors and visitors can conclude transactions, all attendees can use major German trade fairs to conduct market research, see what their worldwide competition is doing, and test pricing strategies. Finally, German fairs attract buyers from throughout the world, allowing U.S. exhibitors to conduct business here with buyers from across Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, as well as with other U.S. companies.

German trade fairs, in general, attract impressive numbers of visitors and exhibitors. This reality confirms the conviction that there is no other venue where an American company can get so much product exposure for its marketing dollar. Trade fairs also provide a U.S. company interested in entering Germany with the opportunity to research its market and the potential of its product properly before making a business decision.

Many German Trade Fairs have been cancelled or postponed in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID pandemic.  While trade fair organizers are determined to return to business as usual or hybrid concepts as soon as they can, continued cancelations are possible and U.S. firms interested in exhibiting or attending shows in Germany should monitor trade show websites closely for any updates.

Advertising

In addition to exhibiting at major German trade fairs, advertising plays a central role in most companies’ broad-based marketing programs. Regulation of advertising in Germany is a mix between basic rules and voluntary guidelines developed by the major industry associations. The “Law Against Unfair Competition” established legal rules at the beginning of the 20th  Century. Although it has been modified over time, this law continues to be valid today. The law allows suits to be brought if advertising “violates accepted mores.”

Many advertising practices that are common in the United States, such as offering premiums, are not allowed in Germany. Any planned advertising campaigns should be discussed with a potential business partner or an advertising agency in Germany.

General EU Legislation

Laws against misleading advertisements differ widely from Mmember Sstate to Mmember Sstate within the EU. To respond to this issue in the internal market, the Commission adopted a directive, in force since October 1986, to establish minimum and objective criteria regarding truth in advertising. The directive was amended in October 1997 to include comparative advertising.  Under the directive, misleading advertising is defined as any “advertising which in any way, including its presentation, deceives or is likely to deceive the persons to whom it is addressed or whom it reaches and which, by reason of its deceptive nature, is likely to affect their economic behavior or which for those reasons, injures or is likely to injure a competitor.”  Member States can authorize even more extensive protection under their national laws.

Comparative advertising, subject to certain conditions, is defined as “advertising which explicitly or by implication identifies a competitor or goods or services of a competitor.” Member States can, and in some cases have, restricted misleading or comparative advertising.

The EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS) lays down legislation on broadcasting activities allowed within the EU.  Since 2009, the rules allowing for U.S.-style product placement on television with exceptions.  The AVMS was revised recently to extend the scope of the directive to video-sharing platforms and social media. Iin some circumstances Children’s programming is subject to a code of conduct that includes a limit on junk food advertising to children, but organizations subject to the AVMS Directive are encouraged to do more to protect children.  Following the adoption of the 1999 Council Directive on the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees, product specifications, as laid down in advertising, are considered as legally binding on the seller.

The EU adopted Directive 2005/29/EC concerning fair business practices in a further attempt to tighten consumer protection rules. These rules outlaw several aggressive or deceptive marketing practices such as pyramid schemes, “liquidation sales” when a shop is not closing down, and artificially high prices as the basis for discounts in addition to other potentially misleading advertising practices.  Certain rules on advertising to children are also set out.

Key Links:

Audiovisual Media Services Directive 

Misleading Advertising

Unfair Commercial Practices Directive

Medicines

The advertising of medicinal products for human use is regulated by Council Directive 2001/83/EC, as amended by Directive 2004/27/EC.  The advertising of medicinal products is forbidden if market authorization has not yet been granted or if the product in question is a prescription drug.  Mentioning therapeutic indications where self-medication is not suitable is not permitted, nor is the distribution of free samples to the general public. The text of the advertisement should be compatible with the characteristics listed on the product label and should encourage rational use of the product. The advertising of medicinal products destined for professionals should contain essential characteristics of the product as well as its classification. Inducements to prescribe or supply a medicinal product are prohibited, and the supply of free samples is restricted.

Nutrition & and Health Claims

On July 1, 2007, a regulation on nutrition and health claims entered into force. Regulation 1924/2006 sets EU-wide conditions for the use of nutrition claims such as “low fat” or “high in vitamin C” and health claims such as “helps lower cholesterol.”  The regulation applies to any food or drink product produced for human consumption that is marketed in the EU.  Only foods that fit a certain nutrient profile (below certain salt, sugar and/or fat levels) can carry claims.  Nutrition and health claims are only allowed on food labels if they are included in one of the EU’s positive lists.  Food products carrying claims must comply with the provisions of nutritional labeling Directive 90/496/EC and its amended version Directive 1169/2011.

In December 2012, a list of approved functional health claims went into effect.  The list includes generic claims for substances other than botanicals which will be evaluated at a later date.  Disease risk reduction claims and claims referring to the health and development of children require an authorization on a case-by-case basis, following the submission of a scientific dossier to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).  Health claims based on new scientific data will have to be submitted to EFSA for evaluation, but a more simplified authorization procedure has been established.

The development of nutrient profiles, originally scheduled for January 2009, has been delayed. The original proposal has been withdrawn. In October 2015, the European Commission released a new roadmap on the potential development of nutrient profiles and botanicals. To obtain stakeholders’ inputs, two consultations and an external study were launched in mid-2017. The European Commission is now assessing the opportunity to proceed with a proposal and then potentially draft it. Nutrition claims, in place since 2006, can fail one criterion, i.e. if only one nutrient (salt, sugar, or fat) exceeds the limit of the profile, a claim can still be made, provided the high level of that particular nutrient is clearly marked on the label.  For example, a yogurt can make a low-fat claim even if it has high sugar content but only if the label clearly states, “high sugar content.”  A European Union Register of nutrition claims has been established and is updated regularly. Health claims cannot fail any criteria.

Detailed information on the EU’s Nutrition and Health Claims policy can be found on the USEU/FAS website and in the USDA Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards EU 28 2017.

Key Link: EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims

Food Information to Consumers

In 2015, the EU adopted a new regulation on novel foods (2015/2283) amending the provision of food information to consumers (1169/2011).  Novel foods and food ingredients must not present a danger for the consumer or mislead him the consumer and should not differ from the ingredients that they are intended to replace to such an extent that normal consumption would represent a nutritional disadvantage for the consumer. It is important to mention that the European Commission may decide, on its own initiative or upon a request by a Member State, by means of implementing acts (a sort of decree), whether or not a particular food falls within the definition of novel food. More information can be found on the Commision’’s website. Most provisions of this new Novel Foods Regulation became applicable on January 1, 2018.  The Common Organization of the Markets establishes the specific information that must accompany fishery and aquaculture products sold to consumers and mass caterers. These requirements compliment the general  EU rules on the provision of food information to consumers and contribute to more transparency on the market as they enable consumers to make informed choices on the products they buy.  The new rules have become applicable since December 13, 2014.  The Commission has published a pocket guide to the EU’s new fish and aquaculture consumer labels.

Detailed information on the EU’s new food labeling rules can be found on the USEU/FAS website at EU Labelling Requirements and in the USDA Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards EU 28 2017.

Key Link:  Provision on Food Information

Food Supplements

Directive 2002/46/EC harmonizes the rules on labeling of food supplements and introduces specific rules on vitamins and minerals in food supplements.  Ingredients other than vitamins and minerals are still regulated by Member States.

Regulation 1925/2006, applicable as of July 1, 2007, harmonizes rules on the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods. The regulation lists the vitamins and minerals that may be added to foods.  This list was most recently revised in 2014.  A positive list of substances other than vitamins and minerals has not been established yet, although it is being developed.  Until then, Mmember Sstate laws will govern the use of these substances.

Key Link: Labeling Nutrition Supplements

Tobacco

The EU Tobacco Advertising Directive bans tobacco advertising in printed media, radio, and internet as well as the sponsorship of cross-border events or activities.  Advertising in cinemas and on billboards or merchandising is allowed, though these are banned in many Member States. Tobacco advertising on television has been banned in the EU since the early 1990s and is governed by the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.  A 2016 revision to the legislation includes the requirement for bigger, double-sided health pictorial warnings on cigarette packages and possibility for plain packaging along with health warnings and tracking systems.

Key Link: Tobacco Products 

Pricing

German customers are often very price sensitive. Consequently, price is an important competitive factor, but quality, timely delivery and service remain equally important, especially in B2B relations.

Sales Service/Customer Support

Germany

The German commercial customer expects to be able to pick up the telephone, talk to his or her dealer and have replacement parts or service work immediately available. American exporters should avoid appointing distributors with impossibly large geographic areas, without firm commitments regarding parts inventories or service capabilities, and without agreements on dealer mark-ups.

EU Legislation

Conscious of the discrepancies among Member States in product labeling, language use, legal guarantee and liability, the redress of which inevitably frustrates consumers in cross-border shopping, the EU institutions have launched a number of initiatives aimed at harmonizing national legislation.  Suppliers within and outside the EU should be aware of existing and upcoming legislation affecting sales, service, and customer support.

Product Liability

Under the 1985 Directive on Liability of Defective Products, amended in 1999, the producer is liable for damage caused by a defect in his product. The victim must prove the existence of the defect and a causal link between defect and injury (bodily as well as material).  A reduction of liability of the manufacturer is granted in cases of negligence on the part of the victim.

Key Link: Liability of Defective Products

Product Safety

The 1992 General Product Safety Directive introduced a general safety requirement at the EU level to ensure that manufacturers only place safe products on the market.  It was revised in 2001 to include an obligation on the producer and distributor to notify the Commission in case of a problem with a given product, provisions for its recall, the creation of a European Product Safety Network, and a ban on exports of products to third countries that are not deemed safe in the EU.

Key Link: Product Safety Legislation

Legal Warranties and After-sales Service

Under the 1999 Directive on the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees, professional sellers are required to provide a minimum two-year warranty on all consumer goods sold to consumers (natural persons acting for purposes outside their trade, businesses or professions), as defined by the directive. The remedies available to consumers in case of non-compliance are:

  • Repair of the good(s)
  • Replacement of the good(s)
  • A price reduction
  • Rescission of the sales contract.

Other issues pertaining to consumers’ rights and protection, such as the New Approach Directives, CE marking, quality control and data protection are dealt with in the Trade Regulations section of this report.

Key Link: Sales and Guarantees

Local Professional Services

Business service providers active in Germany can be viewed on the website maintained by the Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Germany.

Major German Business Associations

Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie e.V. (BDI)
(Federation of German Industries)

Deutscher Industrie und Handelskammertag (DIHK)
(Federation of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce)

Bundesverband Grosshandel, Aussenhandel, Dienstleistungen e.V.
(Federation of German Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services)

Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau e.V. (VDMA)
(German Association of Machinery and Plant Manufacturers)

Centralvereinigung Deutscher Wirtschaftsverbaende fuer Handelsvermittlung und Vertrieb (CDH)
(National Association of German Commercial Agencies and Distributors)

For industry-specific business associations, please visit our leading sectors section, which lists key contacts and resources by industry sector.

Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services

We are not aware of any limitations on manufacturing or service sectors that prohibit non-Germans from owning or selling these businesses in Germany.