Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to understand the elements of country image that influence gatekeepers of the European food distribution sector when making industrial purchasing decisions regarding imported food products. Design/methodology/approach ‐ In-depth interviews were conducted with key informants of seventeen food distribution companies and industry organisations in five European countries to determine the factors that they consider important when deciding from which countries to source food products. Findings ‐ Confidence and trust in production systems, the integrity of regulatory systems, and the reliability of suppliers appear to be the major determinants of product-country image as viewed by gatekeepers of the food distribution channel. Practical implications ‐ These specific factors relating to confidence, trust, integrity and reputation appear to over-ride more general perceptions of country image based on scenic or environmental considerations. Originality/value ‐ Provides useful information for public policy makers and companies in food exporting countries.