Portugal - 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: 2023-01-06

Overview

In Portugal, modern techniques coexist with traditional practices. Modern sales techniques are generally accepted and are effective, but traditional values continue to be respected. Many businesspeople still consider a personal contact and a handshake to be a kind of informal contract, but they are also accustomed to formal contract procedures.

Direct sales, large “hypermarkets” and shopping malls are common. For consumer goods, the decisive selling factors may be price, quality, brand name or the product’s innovative features. However, the institutional buyer is quality conscious and very sensitive to pricing.  Most tenders consider price first and quality second. These characteristics, as well as its market size, sometimes make Portugal a difficult destination for some American exporters. A good understanding of market needs and the demand for new opportunities should lead to profitable niches for the American exporter.

Trade Promotion and Advertising

As in all Western countries, some of the preferred techniques for reaching Portuguese buyers effectively are advertising and trade promotion events. Portugal offers a reasonably priced market in which to advertise. Advertising media are the same as in the majority of developed Western countries: newspapers, magazines, TV, and Internet advertising are the most popular.

In Portugal there are a number of annual specialized international trade shows. Major venues include the International Fair of Lisbon (FIL - Feira Internacional de Lisboa) and the Exponor trade center near Porto, both of which offer excellent means for finding prospective local partners. In addition, various associations’ commercial bulletins are good avenues for client-directed promotional activities.

The U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon can provide a list of major newspapers and business journals, upon request.

General Legislation

Laws against misleading advertisements differ widely from member state to member state 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 (AMSD) lays down legislation on broadcasting activities allowed within the EU.  Since 2009, the rules allowing for U.S.-style product placement on television and the three-hour/day maximum of advertising has been lifted.  However, a 12-minute/hour maximum remains.  The AMSD is currently under revision. The European Commission is aiming to extend the scope of the Directive to video-sharing platforms which tag and organize the content. The Commission is also aiming to provide more flexibility about the 12-minute/hour maximum restriction. Children’s programming is subject to a code of conduct that includes a limit on junk food advertising to 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, 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.

Resources

Consumer protection policies, strategies and statistics

EU Consumer rights and complains

EU unfair commercial practices directive

EU audiovisual and media services

Medicines

The advertising of medicinal products for human use is regulated by Council Directive 2001/83/EC, as amended by Directive 2004/27/EC.  Generally speaking, 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 particular medicinal product are prohibited and the supply of free samples is restricted.

Nutrition & 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 later.  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 was 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 at USEU/FAS website and in the USDA Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards EU 28 2017

Resources

EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims

Regulation on Food Information to Consumers

Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards Country Report

EU Tobacco Overview 

Food Information to Consumers

On January 1, 2018, the EU’s new framework regulation 2015/2283 on Novel Foods became applicable.  Regulation 2015/2283 repeals regulations 258/97 and 1852/2001.

Under the new regulation, a novel food is defined as food that has not been consumed to a significant degree in the EU before May 15, 1997 AND falls within at least one of the 10 categories listed in Article 3 of the new regulation.  An Information and Guidance Document on “human consumption to a significant degree” is posted on the Commission’s website. For more details, please visit the USEU/FAS Novel Foods website.

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

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, member state laws will govern the use of these substances.

Tobacco

The EU Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU) 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, tracking systems.

Pricing

Pricing is the most common explanation cited for why several U.S. products offered in Portugal are not competitive. Pricing of U.S. products sometimes reflects the dealer price in the United States. This often includes the exporter’s marketing overhead.

The most appropriate method for pricing a product for the Portuguese market is marginal cost pricing. This would be the marginal unit cost of production in the United States, plus Portuguese market-specific costs associated with overseas promotion, labeling and packaging expenses. A profit margin added to the other pricing components should keep the product competitive.

Portuguese importers currently accept the more common terms of international trade (C.I.F, C&F., F.A.S., F.O.B. or Ex point of origin). They prefer to receive C.I.F. quotations or at least F.O.B. quotations including detailed product description, gross and net shipping weight, volume and time of shipment (from where the delivery is made) and delivery. Pro-forma invoices with all the above details are not mandatory but are advisable and desirable.

The value-added tax (VAT) on most products and services is 23% in mainland Portugal, 18% in Azores, and 22% in Madeira.  This tax is charged upon sale.

Sales Service/Customer Support

Business customers demand a high level of support and most wholesalers or distributors offer excellent customer service. The need to replace broken parts very quickly can present a logistics problem for smaller U.S. suppliers who do not warehouse replacement parts in Europe. Thus, we recommend that U.S. companies make sure that their prospective partners have the capacity and the intent to provide some local warehousing.

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 several 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. The first step in the review process of this law was launched at the end of 2016.

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. The legislation is still undergoing review.

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; or
  • 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.

Local Professional Services

Using an attorney is not mandatory for doing business in Portugal. Most transactions may be accomplished without an attorney, including the establishment of small, non-complex businesses. However, attorneys are strongly recommended to solve some types of trade disputes and for the establishment of local offices such as joint venture investments with local entities or as 100% subsidiaries. For complex types of licensing, representation/distribution and franchising, an attorney is also recommended to assure compliance with local laws.

The same professional services that are available in other highly developed market economies are readily available locally in Portugal. The Commercial Service at the U.S. Embassy Lisbon may facilitate the contact with local service providers focusing on EU law, consulting and business development.

Principal Business Associations

The Confederation of Portuguese Business (CIP) is the most representative business confederation in Portugal. It represents about 114,000 companies of all sizes and sectors, through both sectorial and regional associations, as well as all Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Portugal.

The Portuguese Industrial Association (AIP) is headquartered in Lisbon.  Its primary objective is to contribute to the progress of the companies and associations affiliated, in the areas of technical, economic, commercial, social, cultural and associative network.

The Portuguese Business Association (AEP) is a national and multi-sectorial business organization that has its headquarters in Porto.  Its main objective is the defense of the business interests and the representation of its members by providing a wide range of services including business exhibitions and conferences, information and business support, consultancy, missions, promotion for investors and professional training.

Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services

N/A