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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 30, 2010
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Growing Taste for Polish Food
December 30, 2010   
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Consumers abroad are increasingly developing a taste for Polish food, not only because it is usually cheaper but also because of its high quality and original flavor.

At home, Poles do not need convincing. A survey by the Millward Brown SMG/KRC polling center indicates that 81 percent of Polish consumers prefer Polish food to imported food. The former has an increasing number of fans outside Poland, with supermarkets in Germany, the Netherlands and Britain setting up special sections with Polish foodstuffs, including Polish bread, meat and cold cuts, cottage cheese, sweets and alcohol. Polish marinades and pickles have proved quite a hit in the West—in England, Polish pickled cucumbers and traditional vegetable salads in jars are selling like hot cakes. Polish regional products are the best selling type of “ethnic food” second only to Chinese food which, due its low price, remains in top place. Exports of Polish specialties are a highly profitable business, provided the food is of high quality.

Exports of Polish food to European markets soared when Poland joined the EU in 2004. Trade with other EU member states took off when customs barriers were removed and Poland was included in the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, the main export market for Polish food. In 2004, the EU accounted for 70 percent of Polish food exports and in 2009, the figure exceeded 80 percent. Before 2004, Poland mainly exported pork, beef, offal and poultry, while at present, the main agricultural and food products sold on the EU market include confectionery, meat and meat products and fruit preserves.

Exports of Polish dairy products took off after 2004 as well. The most notable increase occurred in liquid milk and cream which, prior to EU enlargement, were not exported to the EU. But since 2005 they have accounted for 15 percent of exporters’ revenues. Sales of cheese, powdered milk, yogurt, butter and ice-cream are also growing rapidly. Polish dairy products are primarily exported to Germany, followed by the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Italy.

Poultry meat has become a much sought-after export product, with chicken breasts being particularly popular with EU importers. The sharpest increase in poultry exports, 50 percent, occurred right after Poland joined the EU. Accession enabled Polish companies to offer cheaper meat to their customers abroad, which consolidated Poland’s position in that segment of the market. Most Polish poultry goes to Germany.

Polish exporters are somewhat less successful when it comes to beef and pork. Exports of these did increase in 2004-2008, but at the same time, imports of beef and pork grew even faster, leading to a trade deficit in the meat sector. The main buyers of Polish pork are new EU member states such as the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Romania, while imports of meat to Poland mostly come from Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

Poland survived crisis intact
At the beginning of 2009, most analysts expected the global financial crisis to weaken demand for Polish meat, cheese and fruit on markets abroad, and that exports of Polish food would plummet. Predictably, economists expected that some food processing plants would go bankrupt, because food companies failing to ship a part of their production output abroad would have to sell the food in Poland. Such increased supply would cause prices to drop and that, in turn, would mean considerable losses for some companies. Unable to cope with the losses, such companies would have to declare bankruptcy. Indirectly, that could hit the entire Polish economy, as food accounts for over 10 percent of Polish exports. Thankfully, none of that happened in the end.

Admittedly, total sales of Polish agricultural and food products abroad declined in 2009 for the first time since Poland entered the EU, but at 2.2 percent, the decline was much below what analysts had predicted still in the latter half of 2009. Some analysts expected the decline to reach 8-10 percent, but the exports were saved by the depreciating Polish currency. The crisis also had a smaller effect on transaction prices than expected.

Polish exporters were mostly affected by the economic slowdown in the EU, the largest importer of Polish food. Sales of Polish food to Germany, which accounts for 20 percent of all agricultural and food products exported from Poland, shrank by over 10 percent. Businesses hit by the economic downturn the most included dairy factories. After record sales in 2008, Polish exports of dairy products in 2009 dropped to the lowest level since Poland’s EU accession and fell 25 percent. Exports of beef, pork and poultry declined in 2009 as well.

2010 has been much better for food exporters. The dairy sector can boast of particularly good results, as over a third of Polish dairy production has gone to export. Milk and dairy products have been selling very well both in the West and East. Insiders are estimating that thanks to this upward trend, exports in 2010 will total 1.1 billion euros, which is the best result in over two years.

There are other drivers of Polish food exports. Record exports have been reported by poultry producers, bakers, confectioners and fish processing plants. Although Polish food is of good quality, the main factor contributing to high exports was competitive prices. As a consequence of the expensive euro this year, Polish goods have been some of the cheapest in Europe.

Trade surplus
The competitive prices offered by Polish food producers have been just one reason behind growing exports of Polish food. Another major factor is that the Polish food sector has been systematically adjusting to the demands of consumers in the West. “The Polish agricultural and food sector has made the most of EU funds and subsidies, investing and spending them on the modernization of production,” Marek Sawicki, the minister of agriculture and rural development, said at the Eighth Congress of Polish Exporters, held in Warsaw in November. “That laid the foundations for a modern range of goods of high quality and with competitive prices.” Such changes made it possible to make a radical shift in the trade in food and agricultural products. From a net importer of food back in 2001-2002, several years ago Poland became a net exporter.

Sawicki said that after the third quarter of 2010, exports of agricultural and food products exceeded 10 billion euros and would be near 14 billion at the end of the year, with a trade surplus of 3.5 billion euros. In 2009, food exports totaled 12 billion euros, accounting for 12 percent of all Polish exports. The difference between the value of exports and imports meant a trade surplus of 2.1 billion euros.

Polish food producers owe their international success to the opening of the European market and to the enterprise of farmers and the entire agricultural and food processing industry. “Both before and after joining the EU, Poland absorbed over 100 percent of funds available in areas supervised by the Agriculture Ministry,” said Sawicki. “It should be noted that the funds have been spent on investment in agricultural and food processing and the development of farms.”

Exports helped by retail chains
Major international retail chains have played a big role in increasing the popularity of Polish food. They have been increasingly keen to stock stores in different European countries with Polish products. The trend has also been boosted by Polish expat communities.

In the past five years, the value of Polish food exported via large retail chains grew by zl.200-300 million, or 20 percent, a year. Data from the Polish Trade and Distribution Organization shows that at the end of 2009, such exports were worth a total of zl.1.8 billion and for 2010, the figure is expected to reach zl.3 billion, an increase of 70 percent. The Tesco chain is selling around 400 products from 30 Polish companies in 800 stores across Britain. The Lidl chain, which until recently mainly brought German goods to Poland, is exporting Polish food to seven European countries.

The most successful Polish food products abroad include patés, carrot juice drinks, pickled cucumbers, salty sticks, dried sausage, apples and other fruit, tomatoes, energy drinks and, naturally, vodka. Polish dairy products are a hit in Portugal which imports them via the Jeronimo Martins Dystrybucja company, the owner of the Biedronka chain of discount stores. Portuguese consumers are also fond of pickled cucumbers and vegetable salads in jars.

The demand for Polish food has also been boosted by the millions of Polish people who live abroad and expect Polish food to be available at local supermarkets. They even demand that Polish brand stores open in their neighborhoods.

Interestingly, some Polish products are more popular abroad than they are in Poland. One example is Polish goose meat, which has no competition in Germany, the only large market for goose meat from Poland. Polish consumers have not taken to goose meat so far and while Polish goose farms produce around 20,000 metric tons of goose meat a year, which is around 5 million geese, a mere 700 metric tons remains in Poland, which is a fraction of all poultry consumed domestically. Addressing the problem, the National Poultry Council has launched a campaign to promote goose meat as a delicacy to serve at special family and social events.

Eyeing the East
Experts say that Poland should sell 30-40 percent of its food production abroad every year. It will be difficult to further increase exports to EU member states and so Poland needs to seek new export outlets in countries such as China, Japan and South Korea. A major opportunity would be to revive trade with Russia, which used to be Poland’s main trade partner.

The majority of Polish food exports to Russia is fruit, frozen vegetables and dairy products. “Polish exports to Russia have been on the rise for several years, but the total volume is still not satisfactory,” said Sawicki. In 2009, agricultural and food products exported to Russia were worth over 560 million euros. Exports were worth almost the same, 548 million euros, in just the first nine months of 2010, which was 30 percent more than in the same period of 2009. Food exports in 2009 accounted for around 17 percent of all Polish exports to Russia.

The most popular Polish products with Russian consumers include fruit, most notably apples, followed by fresh, processed and frozen vegetables, dairy products, meat and meat products, chocolate products, pastry and flowers. The sharpest increase has recently occurred in exports of meat, dairy products and chocolate.

Trade between Poland and Russia is considerably influenced by politics and every time tensions arise in bilateral relations, restrictions appear on imports of Polish products to Russia. The most notable example was the embargo on imports of meat and plant products which Russia imposed in 2005. For several years, Russia has been curbing imports of food by creating different obstacles in trade such as duty rates, import quotas, charges and special certificates entitling producers to export goods to Russia. These stem from the fact that Russia wants to be self-sufficient when it comes to food production.

“It is hard to predict how exports of food to Russia will develop, as that depends on how efficient the Russians are in carrying through with the food self-sufficiency strategy,” Andrzej Arendarski, the president of the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), told the Polish Press Agency (PAP). “The development of trade is also influenced by the affluence of the Russian public. If the overall economic situation in Russia improves, the market will become larger. Trade is growing, but given the potential of the Russian market, it is still very low.”

According to Arendarski, an increase in exports of unprocessed agricultural products is unlikely. Better sales can be achieved if Polish companies join forces with companies in Russia to, for example, use partly-finished goods from Poland to launch production in Russia.

Poland has been also trying to introduce its food to Asian markets and the Polish Day at the international Expo fair in Shanghai served this purpose. The Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development signed a protocol with China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine on supervision and veterinarian requirements regarding Polish pork exports to China. The protocol is a major step toward enabling exports of Polish pork and pork products to the Chinese market.

The agriculture minister has also undertaken efforts to create the right conditions for Poland to start exporting food to Singapore and Vietnam. He is also focusing on Arab markets, which have shown interest in Polish dairy products.

In the drive to increase food exports, Polish producers benefit from superb natural resources, state-of-the-art processing plants and proven recipes. The new funding available for promotion will help increase exports to more markets. The funding will create opportunities to launch new, bigger advertising campaigns and, consequently, increase foreign consumers’ taste for Polish food.

Roasted Goose

1 young goose (2.5-3 kg)
0.5 kg of tart apples
salt, pepper, marjoram

Clean the goose, then rinse and dry it.
Season the goose with salt, pepper and marjoram on the outside and inside. Set aside for two hours. Peel the apples, cut into small wedges, stuff the goose with them and stitch it up.
Put the goose into a roasting tin, roast at 220 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes and then at 180 degrees Celsius for around 1.5 hours. Baste the goose with the melted fat and a bit of water from time to time while it is roasting. If you like spicy dishes, put two spoonfuls of good mustard into the roasting tin and baste the goose in the juices while it is roasting.
Serve with baked potatoes.

Pikeperch or carp, Polish-style
1 kg pikeperch or carp
soup vegetables
2 onions
1 lemon
salt, pepper, 2 grains allspice
2 tbsp butter
3 eggs

Put soup vegetables, sliced onion, sliced lemon, salt, pepper and allspice in 1 liter of water and cook 40 minutes. Remove vegetables and put the cleaned fish in the stock, simmer 20 minutes. Hard-boil eggs, chop. Brown butter. Remove fish from stock and place on platter, sprinkle with the browned butter and generously with the chopped eggs. Serve with boiled potatoes.

Pierogi with buckwheat groats and wild mushrooms
5-6 dried forest mushrooms (bay bolete is fine)
1 onion
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
2 cups cooked buckwheat groats
salt, pepper
2 cups flour
1 egg
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
1 onion

Soak mushrooms overnight, then cook in the same water (2 hours). Rinse and chop finely. Put cooked groats in a bowl, add chopped mushrooms, breadcrumbs and 2 tbsp of the mushroom stock, set aside. Dice onion and fry in oil until golden, add to groats, season with salt and pepper, combine well. Knead dough from the flour, egg and oil, adding warm water as needed. The dough should be soft and well kneaded. Roll out, not too thinly, and cut out circles with a cookie cutter or glass. Place filling (about 1 tsp) in the middle, fold the dough over forming a semi-circle, press edges firmly together. Cook in boiling salted water. Top with diced onion cooked in butter and serve.

Aromatic duck in marjoram
1 duck - 1.5 kg
2 large apples
1 handful of dried apples
2 tbsp butter
salt, pepper, thyme, olive oil, marjoram, 2 tbsp vodka - mix together.

Wash the duck, rub in marinade and set aside for 2 hours. Soak dried apples in half a cup of hot water. Peel fresh apples and cut into quarters. Put duck in a roasting pan, sprinkle with small pieces of butter and dried apples. Roast for one-and-a-half hours at 220 degrees Celsius, basting with the juices forming in the pan. If there is not enough liquid, add a little water. Add fresh apples 20 minutes before the end of the roasting time. Serve with potato dumplings or ribbon pasta. Polish grandmothers used to make the pasta themselves, with flour and eggs only.

Delicious cabbage and peas:
two methods
1.5 kg sauerkraut
500 g yellow split peas
2 large onions
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
salt, pepper, marjoram, allspice
optional: a little bacon and half a sausage

Soak peas overnight, then cook until soft (do not salt during cooking; add salt later). Cook sauerkraut until soft, dice onions and fry in oil and butter until golden. Crush allspice (4 grains), marjoram and pepper with a pestle and mortar. Mix sauerkraut with peas, add seasonings, fried onions, mix well and heat on low heat for half an hour. Prepare in advance, as the more times you re-heat the dish, the better it will be. You will get a different flavor if you add diced bacon and sliced sausage. Fry until golden, add to the sauerkraut and heat.


Roast beef for a family dinner
1.5 kg prime beef (an elongated piece is best)
250 g smoked pork fat or bacon
2 onions
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
1 sour apple, grated
4 grains allspice, 1 bay leaf, 5-6 peppercorns

Cut pork fat into sticks. With a sharp knife, slit holes in the meat and stuff in the pork fat sticks. Mix apple and seasonings, rub into meat, set aside to absorb marinade. Heat oil and butter, brown the meat in it, place in a pot with the fat, add a little water. Add the apple from the marinade and chopped onions. Simmer for one-and-a-half hours. Serve sliced with roast potatoes and a red cabbage salad.

Turkey hen for the whole family
In the old days, when poultry was slaughtered at home, it was hung out in the frost for a few days. Nowadays we buy ready-cleaned poultry, so there’s no need for this.

1 turkey hen, approx. 3 kg
200 g butter
salt, pepper, thyme
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup fresh cream
3 eggs
1 turkey liver
salt, pepper
50 g raisins

1 tbsp chopped almonds
Soak breadcrumbs in cream, cream butter with egg yolks. Finely chop liver. Mix everything together, add salt and pepper to taste, add raisins and beaten egg whites, mix gently. Rub turkey with salt inside and out. Fill with stuffing and sew together with cotton thread. Put turkey in a roasting pan, sprinkle with small pieces of butter and roast about 3 hours, initially at 220 degrees Celsius, then at 180 degrees. Baste regularly with the juices forming in the pan. Bring to the table whole. The carving should be done by the host with special scissors and a sharp knife.

Delicious mushroom borscht
1/2 liter sauerkraut juice
1/4 liter (1 cup) dried-mushroom stock
1/2 liter water
3 tbsp buckwheat groats
1 onion
1 tsp butter
salt, pepper, marjoram

Bring salted water with mushroom stock to the boil, add groats and cook until soft. Add sauerkraut juice, pepper, marjoram. Season to taste. Chop onion and sauté in butter, add to borscht. Serve hot. The soup shouldn’t be too sour, so if the sauerkraut juice is very sour, use less or add more water.

Beetroot Soup
soup vegetables (without cabbage)
1 onion
1 chicken thigh or 0.5 kg of beef
0.5 kg of beetroot
salt, sugar, pepper, 1 laurel leaf

Put the meat, vegetables, pepper, laurel leaf and onion into a pot and pour 1.5 in liters of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the stock is ready. Strain the stock. Wash the beetroot, put into a pot, pour 1.5 liters of water, add some salt and cook until it is tender. Do not cover while cooking. When cooked, peel the beetroot, grate coarsely and put into the vegetable stock. Add some lemon juice or citric acid. Add salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Do not boil again as the soup may lose its attractive color. Serve strained with a hard-boiled egg or beans.

Delicious served with mini-dumplings stuffed with mushrooms.

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