INTERVIEW: Polish Food Hits the Spot
January 31, 2013
Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Stanisław Kalemba talks to Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.
Last year, Poland exported a record 16 billion euros worth of agri-food products. What is it that makes Polish food successful on foreign markets?
Poland’s food exports are increasing steadily not only in terms of value, but also in terms of the trade surplus, which now exceeds 3 billion euros. No other sector of the Polish economy can boast such results. But the success of Polish food producers and exporters would not be possible without huge investment in the modernization of farms and processing plants. The strong results in foreign trade in agri-food products are due to a combination of several factors: good ingredients, modern facilities and well-tested recipes.
Polish food is appreciated worldwide for its taste and quality. Polish agriculture is based on relatively small family farms, natural, ecological conditions of production, and with sparing use of pesticides and fertilizers. It is no wonder then that foreigners living and working in Poland are full of praise for Polish food. This is exemplified by the former ambassador of Finland to Warsaw, who, when asked about what comes to mind in connection with Poland, replied that Poland is a country where an egg tastes like an egg and ham tastes like ham.
You’ve mentioned the high quality of Polish food and its good reputation among foreigners. But the truth is that not all countries are interested in buying Polish agri-food products. A few years ago, the Russians stopped importing Polish meat, quoting alleged phytosanitary shortcomings. And recently, a popular chain of discount stores in Denmark considered withdrawing Polish foodstuffs from its range, though in the end no such decision was made. And Danish Agriculture Minister Mette Gjerskov suggested on a social networking site that Polish food supposedly contains a lot of chemicals, and the conditions in which livestock is bred in this country leave much to be desired. How would you comment on these allegations?
Such accusations are unfounded. This was confirmed by Minister Gjerskov, who backpedaled on her statement after we intervened. Poland has the same system of quality control as other EU member countries and Polish producers must adhere to the same standards. In fact, it turns out that the requirements set by our veterinary services are even more stringent than those followed in Western countries. Of course, this was not always the case. Just over a decade ago, Polish agriculture and food processing were considerably behind in technological terms. But thanks to large investment projects, carried out with the use of EU funds, the Polish agri-food sector has made progress in leaps and bounds, skipping several stages of development. And today our dairies and meat processing plants are among the most modern in the European Union.
How important is it for Polish food to be sold abroad under its own brand instead of the distributor’s label?
Of course, it would be best if Polish produce made from Polish ingredients were sold under Polish brands. Then it would be immediately clear that Polish food is popular with foreign consumers. However, in some sectors, such as the dairy industry, it would be difficult to export large batches of goods without the help of big retail chains. And these often prefer to sell products under their own label. And producers accept that in order to maintain high sales volumes.
So what are the chances of promoting Polish food brands on foreign markets?
It is possible to successfully sell Polish products under their own brands; this is exemplified by two Polish vodkas, Chopin and Belvedere, which have been named among the 10 most well-known vodkas in the world. I believe Poland deserves to have its own global grocery brands. That’s why we should choose two to three products and promote them worldwide through a professional advertising campaign.
What are the main Polish export specialties these days?
Meat sales have been playing a major role in Polish foreign trade for years. Poland is the third largest exporter of poultry in the European Union. Other Polish export specialties are apples and apple juice. Recently, Poland became the second largest producer of apples in the world, beating the United States. Poland is also the largest exporter of tobacco on the European market and the second-largest producer of tobacco leaves in the EU. Big tobacco corporations operate on the Polish market that have invested in factories to produce cigarettes. Also developing is the cultivation of tobacco, which involves a total of 14,000 growers. Moreover, Poland is the largest producer of champignon mushrooms in Europe and exports them worldwide.
How does the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development support Polish food exports?
The main task of the Ministry of Agriculture and its agencies is to agree on the conditions under which Polish products can access individual markets. Specifically, the veterinary and phytosanitary conditions must be agreed on. That’s our job, while it’s up to producers and exporters just to what extent they take advantage of these opportunities. Of course, support is also granted through participation in major agri-food trade fairs and exhibitions at home and abroad. Moreover, special promotion funds have been created so that individual sectors can develop appropriate programs and promotional activities at home and abroad.
Furthermore, the ministry has been pursuing its Try Fine Food program for many years. Products covered by the program guarantee consumers consistent quality and consistent flavor.
The expected economic slowdown in most European countries, including Germany, could have an impact on Polish food exports to EU markets. Is Poland looking for any new markets for its food?
We are aware that opportunities for developing exports within the European Union are shrinking. That’s why for quite some time we have been making efforts to promote Polish food in the Far East, China, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Markets closer to Poland such as Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan also have great potential. In all these countries we are looking for opportunities to sell food, which is a crucial Polish export.