It has been markets in western Europe, notably Italy, Germany and the UK, where gluten-free has taken hold but the sector is building in countries further east. In just-food’s series of market spotlights on the next five countries manufacturers should target, John Shepherd looks at Poland.

While gluten-free has taken hold in a number of western Europe markets, manufacturers are looking across the continent for the next opportunity – and Poland appears to hold significant potential.

Retail sales of gluten-free foods in Poland have climbed steadily in recent years. According to data from Euromonitor International, sales of gluten-free foods added up to just over US$22m in 2010 and reached $29.5m last year.

Those figures underline it is early days for the category in Poland but analysts point out the country is home to a growing market for gluten-free foods as awareness of coeliac disease grows, diagnosis rates increase and mainstream consumers become interested in following a diet where they minimise or eliminate the consumption of gluten.

Euromonitor International food and nutrition analyst David Hedin says the potential for gluten-free sales in Poland is building slowly, suggesting the expansion of the sector in the short term could lag that forecast to be seen in the nearby Czech Republic. However, Hedin predicts Poland’s gluten-free market is destined to surpass that of its neighbour further ahead.

“Poland is expected to see less growth in gluten-free than the Czech Republic, but of course Poland is the bigger potential market of the two in the long term,” Hedin said.

Chris Brockman, Mintel’s research manager for food and drink in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, says countries in central and Eastern Europe “are generally a few years behind western Europe” in adopting new trends.

“Gluten-free has only really developed in Poland in the last couple of years and generally they are a bit behind western Europe in terms of new food trends, which means consumers are less exposed to some of the developments in Western Europe,” Brockman notes. “There is also still the popularity of more traditional foods and diets.”

However, Brockman says Poland, together with the Czech Republic (which just-food examines separately) “is now starting to see gluten-free develop strongly”.

Data from Mintel shows 6% of total food and drink launches in Poland over the last 12 months, up to September, have been gluten-free. That is up from 5% over the previous 12-month period. Brockman suggests the popularity of gluten-free could continue to grow in Poland based on the interest among the younger cohort of consumers.

“In the third quarter of 2016, 12% of Polish consumers we surveyed said they were following a gluten-free diet but that number rose to 14% among the youngest demographic of 16 to 24-year-olds,” Brockman says.

According to Brockman, research shows there has been a 53% increase in the number of gluten-free food and drink products launched in Poland in the last two years up to September. The growth has been seen mainly in the snacks, pasta, pizza and prepared meals categories, as well as bakery, he says.

Imported products have already gained a significant foothold in the Polish market, Brockman suggests. “There are some domestic gluten-free brands in Poland, but generally it will be major imported brands of such products that are found in stores, followed by local producers. Gluten-free pasta, for example, is mostly imported from Barilla in Italy.”

Dr Oetker, the Germany-based international food group, launched a range of gluten-free products in selected supermarkets in Poland in September. Dr Oetker said the range includes puddings, jellies, desserts and cakes.

Monika Jaworska, Dr Oetker’s project manager in Poland, says the company had spent “many months” researching how to manufacture and introduce the range in Poland. “This required numerous studies and the adaptation of many areas of the production process,” Jaworska said. “It was a difficult challenge, but we hope that customers will appreciate our efforts.”

Dr Oetker said the new range has been endorsed by Poland’s association for people with coeliac disease and gluten-free diets.

However, Hedin points to one Polish gluten-free brand that is “rather big” domestically – Amarello, Euromonitor’s Hedin says. “Another is Bezgluten, which means ‘without gluten’, and these two are both making inroads into eastern Europe.”

Amarello’s line includes cereals, crispbreads and snack bars. Bezgluten manufactures a wide-range of gluten-free products including bread, biscuits, sweets, snacks and soups. Neither company was available to comment further on their development in the sector. 

Tesco is among the major retailers in Poland that have responded to the increasing demand in the sector and has boosted the shelf space available for gluten-free products. In January, Tesco announced a “significant expansion” of health-focused goods available in-store earlier this year with gluten-free featuring strongly in a line-up of 1,000 new products.

When Tesco announced the move in January, it cited a study by the Polish public opinion research centre (CBOS), which it said indicated 11% of Poles were following gluten-free diets. In addition, Tesco said research by the Polish Society of Allergology showed the number of Poles suffering allergies or intolerances of one sort or another had doubled over the past ten years.

Tesco said the move to expand its range meant there were now around 300 products with no added sugar, lactose and gluten on the shelves of its hypermarkets in Poland, “including nearly 30 types of gluten-free bread and special gluten-free beer”.

A spokesperson for Tesco’s Polish business said the retailer’s aim had been to gather a large number of products and ingredients in one place “to benefit those who, for various reasons, have to, or want to, eliminate certain ingredients from their diets”. Tesco “attaches great importance to helping shoppers easily find the groceries for their diets, without them having to travel many kilometres to speciality stores”, the spokesperson said.

Last year, Biedronka, another of Poland’s leading retailers, announced the launch of an expanded range of own-brand gluten-free products in the country. Biedronka introduced three types of gluten-free pasta – fusilli, spaghetti and penne – alongside the existing range of gluten-free products in its stores, such as rice cakes and sausages, and gluten-free products aimed specifically at children.

The growth of Poland’s gluten-free market is encouraging enterprise too. A domestic start-up – Saluteo, based in Zywiec – was established just over a year ago manufacturing gluten-free products under the brand name Incola. 

A Saluteo spokesperson would not give details of the firm’s performance to date, saying the business is “still developing”, but insists research showed “awareness of our products is growing”. Products from Saluteo include bread, pasta, snacks, flour and sweets. 

The company is also making gluten-free products for sale in Poland and elsewhere by other firms, which the spokesperson declined to identify. Saluteo aims to further expand its business presence into markets beyond Poland and has also developed a range of dairy-free and low-lactose products.