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Importing Saffron Into the U.S.

Importing Saffron Into the U.S.
The U.S. imports the popular spice saffron from many locations around the world. Depending on where it’s grown, saffron adds a unique taste to the U.S. palate. However, there is required documentation required for importing. We outline the process for shippers.
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USA Customs Clearance
November 25, 2019
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Last Modified: December 29, 2021

The world’s most expensive spice, called “red gold” by some parts of the world, is saffron. Importing saffron is one of the few ways the United States gets a hold of the spice. It is grown sparingly in some parts of the country like California and Vermont but does best in dry, arid environments. A huge crop in the middle east, saffron is known for its unique taste and is the star in dishes like paella, risotto alla milanese, and a number of popular seafood dishes. It’s also known for its medicinal properties and its use dates back hundreds of years. In fact, ancient Romans were said to use saffron to perfume their baths. 

When importing saffron into the U.S., importers must file prior notice with the FDA and CBP. This prior notice can be completed through the CBP’s Automated Broker Interface (ABI) or the FDA’s Prior Notice System Interface (PNSI). There are additional regulations that may apply that a licensed customs broker can assist with.

Saffron is Strictly Monitored by Customs Agents

Get help from our importing experts to ensure that your saffron is compliant with all import regulations.

Our article below provides you with the essential information you need to successfully and legally import saffron into the U.S.

Regulations and Requirements

Regulations and Requirements

As a spice that is in high demand, there are many regulations and requirements regarding saffron. These requirements can be very intensive in some cases. In fact, one difficulty the market faces is the inundation of fake saffron. The high cost and high demand of saffron makes it a target for less than savory companies trying to make a quick buck. The reason for this is that saffron is not only in high demand, it is also very difficult to harvest. Because of the chance of counterfeit saffron, the FDA is strict in ensuring that consumers are receiving a quality and safe product. 

The FDA defines saffron as the dried stigma of the Crocus Sativus L., which is a perennial plant of the iris family. Often cheap producers of the spice will try and sell tasteless yellow stamens along with the red stigmas. This dilutes the spice’s taste but adds weight to the finished product allowing them to charge higher prices for a less than quality product. In order to combat this, buyers should know the difference between true saffron and filler saffron. 

Additionally, when importing saffron to the United States there are certain actions required by the FDA. First, importers need to register processing and storage facilities in their country of origin and in the United States with the government agency. Any location in which the saffron is being shipped must be registered. The following information is required when registering a facility:

  • Name, address, and telephone number of the foreign facility
  • Name, address, and telephone number of the facilities owner
  • Trade names
  • Name, address, and telephone number of the U.S. agent
  • Activity carried out at the facility (storage, labeling, packing, etc.) 
  • Food product category 

The second requirement by the FDA is that there must be prior notice of the imported good. According to the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, or Bioterrorism Act, the FDA must take steps to protect the citizens from a threatened or actual terrorist attack on the U.S. food supply. This act dictates that the FDA to be given prior notice all food that will be imported into the U.S. They work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) to collect advance notice of import shipments. This allows them to target import inspections more effectively. 

Additionally, in 2011 the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was signed which shifted focus from response to prevention. Now importers filing prior notice must also include any country in which the food product has been denied entry. There are two ways to submit prior notice of imported goods. First, you can do it through the CBP’s Automated Broker Interface of the Automated Commercial Environment or through the FDA’s Prior Notice System Interface (PNSI). Both systems are online and easy to access. Below are examples of information required when submitting prior notice: 

  • Name and address of both shipper and importer 
  • Identity of product, quantity, and lot number
  • Country of production and shipment 
  • Shipment information such as carrier, arrival time, and more. 

Finally, when importing saffron or selling it in any capacity in the United States, the product must be properly labeled. Labeling requirements for spices including saffron are described in CFR 101.22. The name, quality classification, and net weight of the product must be shown on the packaging. The name, address, and telephone number of the importer must be shown as well as the lot number to identify source. Moreover, since saffron is such an applicable spice its’ usage must be stated. For example, if saffron is being used as a coloring agent it must be properly labeled as such on the product. 

Overall, these regulations and requirements are meant to keep the saffron market safe and support growth. The goal is to keep imposters out and ensure quality saffron is available to consumers. 

Go ahead and buy a customs bond today

and get your freight on the way around the globe.

Cost to Import Saffron

Cost to Import Saffron

As the world’s most expensive spice you may think saffron is costly to import, however, importing this product costs no more than importing any other food product. The CBP will still monitor the import process and there will still be FDA regulations and requirements that must be met. As an importer you will need to follow the rules of Informed Compliance, which just means the CBP clearly states its rules and the importer exercises reasonable care to meet them. 

Additionally, the importer will need to make sure they have all the entry documents necessary before arriving. For example, they will need an entry manifest, proof of right to make entry, commercial invoice, packing list, and a certificate of origin. Also, the Importer Security Filing must be completed for products arriving by ship. It is also important to remember that certain goods are subject to taxes. These are based on the type, value, and country of origin of the product. There may also be fees for processing and harbor maintenance. 

The high cost of saffron isn’t necessarily due to the import process. It has more to do with the production of the spice. Ultimately, this means the labor costs involved in producing saffron are very high. To get a better picture, you would need to pick 170,000 flowers to create one pound of saffron. This is just another reason for its high price. 

Importing Saffron From Iran

In a report on the global organic saffron market Iran held the top two spots on a list of leading major players. The companies of Mehr Saffron and Rowhani Saffron Co. are just two members of the huge saffron industry in Iran. The spice known as red gold is easy to grow in the country and does well in dry arid environments. In the first five months of 2019, Iran exported about 74 tons of saffron valued at $78 million. 

The country’s success comes from its ability to grow the plant and hire laborers at a rate where they can still charge competitively for their spice. During peak years, Iran is able to produce 120 to 200 tons of saffron per year. Although times of drought and winters that have a lot of freezes will adversely affect this number. Additionally, many of Iran’s field and factory workers in the saffron industry are women. 

While trade relations between the United States and Iran are at a standstill as of November 2019, customers are still consuming Iranian saffron. Iran is one of the main producers and exporters of saffron in the industry. The Middle Eastern country produces 94% of the world’s total saffron. This means some countries purchase it from Iran only to repackage and resell it to other countries. The country that does this the most is Spain. You may think you’re eating Spanish saffron that you just bought at the grocery store, but in reality it’s most likely Iranian saffron. 

It's important to note that the above practice of relabeling Iranian saffron and importing it into the U.S. is illegal and will lead to your saffron being confiscated by CBP. This is in addition to imports of saffron from Iran not being allowed entry into the U.S. as well.

USA Customs Clearance, powered by AFC International, does not import saffron that originates from Iran. If your saffron has a country of origin from a non-restricted country, we can handle your import and provide the assistance you need.

Transportation Options

Transportation Options

When importing saffron there are several transportation options available. Those include transportation by sea, transportation by air, and then transportation by rail or road upon arrival to the country. It is important to know the different options available so you can choose the best one for your business and needs. 

When transporting saffron by ocean there are several requirements necessary. First, you must ensure that you have completed the Importer Security Filing at least 24 hours before the shipment is loaded onto the vessel. This can be completed online and requires several pieces of information such as the seller name, buyer name, country of origin, and more. Also, you should consider costs when choosing your transportation method. Shipping by ocean is almost always cheaper than shipping by air. 

However, there are several advantages to shipping by air that you may want to consider. For example, if you have a tight timeline that you’re working with, choosing air freight may be the better decision as it is faster than ocean transportation. Additionally, airlines are usually on top of their schedules so even when there is bad weather they will be more reliable than sea vessels. 

Finally, your goods have arrived to the United States and you need to decide to move them to their final destination either by rail or by truck. The biggest advantage to rail freight is that it can carry more than trucks. However, trucks have reliable schedules, allow for GPS tracking of shipments, and have access to any location. 

Protecting Your Shipment

When transporting saffron it is extremely important to protect your shipment. The spice is expensive and hard to produce so losing a shipment of saffron can have serious negative consequences. There are two ways to protect your shipment. The first is to ensure optimal transportation conditions and the second is to consider insurance. 

One of the best methods for ensuring optimal transportation conditions is to properly package the product. Saffron is light sensitive and hygroscopic so it must be packaged carefully. It is usually packed in cans which are then packed into boxes. Saffron should also be protected from large temperature changes during transportation as that could also damage the spice. 

After properly packing your saffron there is one more way to protect your shipment. Purchasing cargo insurance will not only give you peace of mind, but will also protect your company in the event of a loss. This type of insurance generally costs one percent of the insured value, although it may vary a little depending on the type of goods and method of transport. The decision to buy insurance should be considered as it will protect you from both damaged and lost goods.

A similarly precious food product is olive oil. To learn more about transporting and importing it, check out our article Importing Olive Oil to the U.S.

Importing With a Customs Broker

Importing With a Customs Broker

Customs brokers are licensed with the CBP and know all the rules and regulations in regards to importing, exporting, and shipping goods. They aren’t employees of the CBP but work for freight forwarders, shipping lines, independent businesses, or customs brokerage firms. If you are new to importing, working with a customs broker will save you time and make the entire process easier. Even if you aren’t new to importing a customs broker can free up your time and ensure everything is done correctly and efficiently. 

So what do customs brokers do? They help you navigate changing regulations, collect documents and e-forms, and obtain any license or certification necessary to import your goods. As experts in the field, their job is to smooth the process of importing merchandise so your company succeeds and the U.S. receives quality goods. Most customs brokerage firms also sell customs bonds to importers. Customs bonds can either be single or continuous and are required by CBP for all commercial shipments to ensure taxes and duties are paid. 

Go ahead and buy a customs bond today

and get your freight on the way around the globe.

Importing Saffron to the U.S. With USA Customs Clearance

When you’re ready to import saffron into the U.S., it’s important to work with a highly reputable and trustworthy logistics company. This is where USA Customs Clearance can help you. Our team of knowledgeable and experienced customs brokers can handle all of your importing needs. Through our participation in the CTPAT program, we’re able to clear your shipments quicker. Additionally, our comprehensive logistics and transportation services provide you with valuable resources after importing your goods.

Our services include:

  • Warehousing
  • Fulfillment services- Kitting and Assembly, Pick and Pack, Reverse Logistics, and more
  • FTL Transportation
  • Supply Chain Management
  • White Glove

To learn more or to speak with one of our customs consultants, or give us a call at 855-912-0406.

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13 comments on “Importing Saffron Into the U.S.”

  1. Hello, can I export Herat saffron from Afghanistan to America? And what should I do to get started?

  2. Hi,

    I am a retired teacher who would like to start a small business (home based) of importing and selling Moroccan saffron in small quantities. I would like to know how to legally import the saffron to the USA. I am in the study stage of this project.
    I would like to have your help in learning about importing small quantities.
    Your help would be very much appreciated.

    1. Hi Halima,

      Thank you for reaching out to us and thank you for your service as a teacher! Even in small quantities, saffron is heavily regulated when imported. This is the case with essentially every food product due to regulation by the FDA and other agencies as well. We recommend consulting with a Licensed Customs Broker to obtain all of the information you need to safely import your saffron.

      You can sign up for a consultation with our Licensed Customs Brokers at the link below. They'll go over the complete process of what will be required to import your saffron. You'll also receive a summary of the consultation covering everything that was discussed.

      Customs Consulting Session

    1. Hi Neda,

      At this time unfortunately, there is an active trade sanction in place between the U.S. and Iran. The sanctions have actually been in place since 1980 and remain active today still. If Iran is the country of origin for saffron set to arrive in the U.S. it will not be allowed entry.

  3. Hello, have a good day. I am an Iranian American citizen. I have saffron farm in Iran and I want to build a saffron brand in America. Despite the improvement of policies between the two countries, can I import saffron, which is an agricultural commodity, from Iran?

    1. Hi Mohmmad,

      Unfortunately, it is not possible to import goods of Iranian origin into the U.S. for commercial use or resale. The trade sanctions between the U.S. and Iran remain in place and prohibit this type of import.

  4. How about Saffron that's already in the U.S.? Do I need any FDA license if I just buy it here and repackage and sell it on ebay or amazon?

    1. Hi Kamran,

      Anytime you're selling food products to consumers, you'll need to have documentation showing that your goods are in compliance with FDA standards. As long as you have this documentation, you shouldn't run into any issues selling on sites like Ebay and Amazon.

  5. I am saffron producer from Bulgaria. I would like to start import to the USA and I need to gather all of the information that I need for that process. Where should I start from?

    1. Hi Diyan,

      The most important detail when importing any food product into the U.S. is making sure you're in compliance with the FDA. This will require multiple steps including registering the processing facility with the FDA, filing prior notice for upcoming imports, and more. Our customs experts can explain the basics of importing into the U.S., as well as go over what you'll need. You can reach out to us at (855)912-0406 or schedule a consulting session with our Licensed Customs Brokers We look forward to working with you!

  6. I am considering starting a small import business with a friend with connections in Italy, where they currently package and distribute Saffron. Really just in the research stage of possibly starting this business.

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