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The Warsaw Voice » Business » September 16, 2009
Special Section - POLAGRA FAIR
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Growing Appetite for Polish Food
September 16, 2009 By Michal Jeziorski   
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After a lean period in the second half of 2008 and the first six months of this year, consumers are regaining their appetite for Polish food.

This year's Polagra-Food International Trade Fair for Food and Catering Products will take place in the western city of Poznañ Sept. 14-17.

Polagra-Food is the largest specialist trade fair for the food and catering industries in Central and Eastern Europe. It features a range of exhibitions dedicated to products such as Food and Drink, Wine and Spirits, Franchising and Store Equipment.

Nearly 450 companies from 30 countries will show their wares on an area of 11,000 square meters during this year's Polagra-Food, which will be held together with the Polagra-Tech International Trade Fair of Food Technologies, the International Food Ingredients Show, the Taropak International Packaging Technology and Logistics Exhibition, and the Gastro-Trendy International Catering Fair.

The food industry is one of the fastest expanding sectors of the Polish economy. It accounts for 24 percent of total industrial sales, some 9 percentage points above the EU15 average of 15 percent. Of all EU countries, the role of the food industry is bigger only in Denmark and Greece, where it accounts for 28 percent and 27 percent of total industrial sales respectively. Gross value added generated by the Polish food industry, including the beverage and tobacco sectors, totals $6 billion, accounting for around 6 percent of GDP. The Polish food market is estimated to be worth more than zl.100 billion, excluding beverages and tobacco.

Poland's agriculture sector is heavily fragmented, with the average farm size at only 7.8 hectares. More than 50 percent of the farms produce food exclusively or mainly for their own needs. These farms apply traditional production methods and use only small amounts of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and industrial feed. Despite that, Poland is a major international producer of agricultural, horticultural and animal products. The country is a leading producer of soft fruit, including strawberries, raspberries and currants, and field vegetables such as onions, cabbage and cauliflowers. It is also a major producer of potatoes and rye.

Traditional produce
In line with EU policies, quality produce is labeled with the Get to Know Good Food (PD¯) quality mark and the government protects regional specialties and foodstuffs produced using traditional methods. A growing number of producers are applying for the Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) status for their products from the European Commission. Thirty Polish products have already obtained this status, while the number of foodstuffs on the Polish List of Traditional Products exceeds 520, including various varieties of cheese, cold cuts, oil, bread, confectionery products, and honey.

Polish preserves and canned products are also popular with foreign consumers. This is particularly visible in Britain where recipes for traditional Polish dishes have started to appear in culinary sections in the press and on the internet. Some supermarket chains have opened special stands for Polish food. One chain has increased its range of Polish foodstuffs from 250 to 500. Polish meatballs in tomato sauce, dehydrated traditional ¿urek soup, jams and biscuits with jelly, and chocolate coatings are the most popular.

Since last year Polish food exports have been helped by a weak zloty. Almost 75 percent of Poland's food exports reach other EU countries. "The export slump has been stopped and there is every indication that half-year and whole-year results will be better than last year," says Marek Sawicki, the agriculture minister.

After several years of negotiations with farmers and food producers, legislators have managed to pass a law on special promotion funds. The effects should become visible next year, they say. Meanwhile, Polish food products are increasingly sought after by consumers across Europe. Now is the right time to step up the promotion of Polish food in other parts of the world, experts say, especially as a growing number of exporters are eyeing markets in Russia and Ukraine and thinking of expanding into the Middle East and Far East.

According to experts, Poland has no other option but to look for new markets. The agriculture ministry estimates that Polish farmers will harvest more than 27 million metric tons of grain this year, the same amount as last year. This may cause problems because producers have failed to sell 3 million tons of grain from last year's harvest. There are also large stocks of grain in other EU countries and elsewhere in the world. This explains why the ministry has asked the European Commission for permission to start intervention grain purchases in September instead of November. Poland also appealed to the Commission to suspend grain imports from third countries to the EU market. The EU's intervention purchases start every year Nov. 1 and last until the end of May. Among the grains purchased for EU stocks are consumer wheat and barley. The price is 101.3 euros per metric ton. Farmers sell their grain to the state if the market price falls below the intervention price.

Similarly, milk production in Poland is growing and may exceed the production quota awarded to Poland by the European Commission by 2.5 percent. In 2006, the milk quota was exceeded by 287 million kilograms and Polish producers had to pay a fine of 89 million euros for overproduction. Poland's milk quota for 2009/2010 is around 9.5 billion kilograms. Poland's Agricultural Market Agency is examining applications for additional milk quotas. The applications have been submitted by 40,000 farmers who have asked that their quotas be increased by a total of 400 million kilograms.

The global financial crisis has had little negative effect Poland's agri-food sector. Sales declines in the sector were nowhere near those in the automotive or construction industries.
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