Blog: "Why is it impossible to buy a pork pie in Poland?"
Dean Best | 6 June 2013
In London today (6 June), the UK food industry and the country's government teamed up to encourage those in the sector eyeing export markets to consider central and Eastern Europe, a region that British manufacturers have, it was said, yet to exploit.
There are those in the UK food sector that question the support whether there is enough support from Government in helping to crack markets overseas. In some ways, those questions are valid but it is clear officials are now working hard to help UK food manufacturers break into - or expand their presence in - international markets.
Today's event - hosted by UK industry association The Food and Drink Federation in tandem with government agency UK Trade & Investment - was an example of how industry and government are working together to try to provide advice on how companies can grow overseas.
The event's focus on central and eastern Europe was notable; the BRIC markets have commanded most of the attention of exporters, media and government. UKTI has grouped together nine markets - including Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania - that it believes can provide UK companies with plenty of opportunity to grow their business.
In the words of Jonathan Knott, the UK Ambassador to Hungary and who chaired the event, the countries represent "the emerging Europe" and, he claimed, are "the best undiscovered opportunity for British business".
Some UK food manufacturers are enjoying success in the nine markets, which also include Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia; desserts firm Gu, crisp brand Kettle and baby food group Ella's Kitchen were cited.
Knott, however, emphasised UK companies had yet to build a presence in the region on the level of competitors from the likes of Germany, Italy and France.
That fact was most colourfully brought to life by Michal Dembinski, head of policy at the British Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw.
Dembinski said Polish migration into the UK since Poland entered the EU had given Poles a taste for British products. And with many Poles either going back home or travelling regularly between the two countries, the country represented an opportunity for UK manufacturers.
"They have acquired a taste for British real ale, British cider, for pickled onions," Dembinski said. "And you can't bloody well get it in Poland. It's a little bit frustrating. "Why is it impossible to buy a pork pie in Poland?"
He said some UK brands, like Branston pickle or Marmite, were available in Polish speciality shops but, he claimed, they were "very expensive" and "catering for a tiny minority of products".
Other European countries, he said, had made greater inroads. "Finding a good Cheddar, Stilton in a Polish supermarket is very difficult. The French, the Italians, the Spanish, the Germans have all penetrated this market big time. In my local Auchan for example there are three brands of French roquefort and no Cheddar - why is that?"
Nevertheless, Dembinski conceded serving markets in the region could be difficult. "We were approached by Weetabox a few years ago, who were interested in the market. They realised without local production on the ground, they were not going to achieve volumes. Yes, you can buy Weetabix in Poland. It costs GBP5 for a small box. That's not going to make markets. Looking at the markets of central and eastern Europe you need to think to what extent you can reach those markets using logistics solutions out of the UK - or to what extent you need to start thinking about local production in order to serve it."
There was, though, unanimity among the speakers from the likes of Ambassador Knott and UKTI to Tesco and UK-based distributor Sun Mark that the region offers opportunity for British manufacturers.
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