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lunes, 22 de febrero de 2016

Who's Who in Poland

Who's Who in Poland

Monday, 8. February 2016 - 9:45
Biedronka discount store, Poland
Biedronka discount store, Poland

 Wojciech Bońkowski

Poland remains a relatively small wine market: 175m L were imported in 2013. But it excites exporters because of its consistent 5% to 10% growth per year and the opportunities it offers. Poland is already a major destination for countries like Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia, but also Portugal and Germany, while Australia and New Zealand are growing in double digits. But who really are the influencers of this complex market?
Multiple grocers
The Polish wine market has undergone a revolution in the last five years, with the rise of hard discounters such as Kaufland, Lidl, and Biedronka. Owned by Portugal’s Jerónimo Martins, Biedronka is the country’s second largest business with 2,600 shops and a turnover of €8.5bn ($9.5bn). Its wine market share has soared from 0% in 2010 to more than 30% today. Its strategy — a narrow range from Portugal, Spain, Italy and France rotating every month, priced at €2.50 to €7.50 — has proved immensely popular with shoppers, not least because the wines deliver quality at the most popular price point, €4.00 per bottle (of which €1.00+ is tax). Lately, Biedronka’s growth has slowed, and its wine range has lost its novelty, but it remains Poland’s strongest wine retailer. The buying department is a notoriously tough negotiator but maintains a low profile — Biedronka being very discreet about people who work there.
Lidl has 550 shops, and an accordingly smaller wine market share than Biedronka, but has been better at marketing, including hiring celebrity chefs Pascal Brodnicki and Karol Okrasa in an unprecedented food & wine campaign. It has also been bolder in its wine buying — including a now-famous episode with the 2010 Château Talbot at €50.00, that was subsequently heavily discounted — but tends to be overly France- (and Bordeaux-) reliant.
Biedronka and Lidl’s ascent has largely happened at the expense of supermarket chains that used to dominate the market. According to KPMG, discounters now have 46% of the market while hyper- and supermarkets, 35%. Carrefour, Auchan, Leclerc, and Tesco are losing market share, partly because the shop format is not working anymore, and partly because their wine strategy is hopelessly unmodern: no focus, no communication, no competitive advantage. It is hard to see that trend reversing. Smaller, more deli-like chains such as the Polish-owned Alma, on the other hand, are growing, notably because they move toward 100% own imports (Tesco Poland has less than 50%), meaning a more individual range and higher margins.
Multiple specialists
The rise of the discounters has killed not only supermarket chains but also those who supply them. Large national distributors such as Ambra (with its now-defunct fine wine arm called Centrum Wina) and CEDC/PWW were at the forefront of the wine revolution in the 1990s, but are now struggling. They have lost the entry-level game to aggressive competition from discounters, and are losing much of the on-trade because of obsolete tactics, such as exclusivity contracts, often with incentives in cash/goods. Selling everything from bag-in-box to global brand icons, they lack focus and suffer from high overheads. Even Ambra’s incisive CEO Robert Ogór, once the market’s éminence grise, appears in search of a coherent strategy: his latest idea is to focus on cider, Poland’s hottest alcoholic drink at the moment. Can large distributors reinvent themselves? The jury is out but the clock is ticking.
The implosion of the high-street chains at mid-range has opened a window of opportunity for independent specialists. This is a highly competitive market with an estimated 700+ players, many underperforming because of poor business skills. But the best ones are finding that with the proper dedication and strategy, the sky is the limit. Poland’s leading retailer has consistently been Robert Mielżyński, a Canada-born Pole who repatriated in the 1990s and initially benefitted from the deep contacts of his father, Peter, Canada’s leading wine importer. But Robert has also patiently built a staggering VIP clientele that today buys €4m worth of wine from just three retail outlets, as he does almost no distribution. Mielżyński’s wine depot-cum-bistro format has been widely copied (including abroad, as in Verona’s Signorvino) but never matched. His secret: he is on the premises every day, shaking hands with every customer.

Robert Mielzynski, Poland's leading retailer

Robert Mielzynski, Poland's leading retailer

Other success stories include Guillaume and Joanna Deliancourt of DELiWINA, a French–Polish couple with experience at London’s Hallgarten, who moved to Poland in 2010. They have amassed a portfolio of riches including Pol Roger, Albert Mann, François Villard, and Tenuta San Leonardo. Unlike Mielżyński, DELiWINA chose to focus on the on-trade, which rendered them immune to the retail race to the bottom. Good taste and some shrewd buying adding to the equation, they achieved listings in all the major restaurants and now even custom import for third parties.
Winkolekcja is a large distributor with a turnover of €5m, of which 95% is on-trade. It has grown organically over a decade, but gained momentum after hiring Piotr Kamecki, Centrum Wina’s former CEO, who brought with him a platinum list of suppliers such as Gaja, Vega Sicilia and Musar, as well as an efficient network of sommelier and restaurant manager contacts. It also helps that he is president of the Polish Sommelier Association. His behind-the-scenes influence is perhaps unmatched in Poland.
Other on-trade specialists include Vini e Affini, Poland’s leading Italian wine importer; The Fine Food Group Polska, which atypically started with South Africa but now imports everything from Prosecco and Rueda to Eben Sadie; and Vive le Vin, the one-man operation of Artur Zarzycki, a former sommelier who specialises in New World boutique wineries. There are many, many others — it is clearly small independents who shape the Polish market.
Online retailers
When it comes to the Internet, Poland lags behind Western markets: an estimated 1% of wine sales happen online. To make things worse, this channel is deemed illegal by some officials, resulting in administrative hassle for Internet wine shops. Nonetheless, a few are successful, including Winezja, Wina.pl, and Marek Kondrat, a famous actor-turned-wine merchant who, with a state-of-the-art website and a chain of retail franchises, has become an important player in the €10.00-shelf-price category.  
Restaurants are the one sales channel discounters cannot cannibalise. This chunk of the market can be described as nascent (4% of total sales volume) but buoyant. At the moment, Poland has only one Michelin star and perhaps 30 fine dining locales. Few restaurants can afford a proper sommelier and fewer yet have the clientele to justify it, but young professionals such as Paweł Demianiuk, Piotr Woyde at Brasserie Warszawska, or Paweł Białęcki at Atelier Amaro have created good medium-sized lists and match them with flair with Poland’s innovative modern cooking. New trends are also embraced: Kamil Wojtasiak at Warsaw’s Butchery & Wine started serving Barolo and Gravner’s orange Ribolla by the glass two years ago; now he has upped his game with a Coravin, offering Bruno Giacosa’s 2011 Barbaresco at €25.00 a pour. Yet tellingly, the best opportunities for Polish sommeliers lie a Ryanair flight away in the UK: Piotr Pietras has become Polish Sommelier Champion in 2015 after a year at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze, and Adam Pawłowski the nation’s first Master Sommelier, without ever having worked on the floor in Poland.
Anti-alcohol law limits the way wine can be mentioned in the general media. The only printed magazine, WINO, has a niche following amongst the trade and hardened aficionados, and prints less than 5,000 copies bi-monthly. Its authors, editor-in-chief Tomasz Prange-Barczyński, Ewa Wieleżyńska, Andrzej Daszkiewicz, and veteran Polish wine writer Marek Bieńczyk, remain Poland’s most authoritative tasters, but most wine talk (and sales leads) nowadays happens online, (including on my own Winicjatywa.pl (link is external) website, the most widely read of about 30 active wine blogs) — but none that has conquered a broader public yet. In that context, those who manage to get published in the general press have inadvertently created a new wine-reading public. This includes Robert Szulc, an amateur blogger who also reviews supermarket wines for Poland’s largest daily tabloid, Fakt (300,000 copies), and Robert Mazurek, a popular political columnist with a passion for wine, a column in the weekly wSieci, and Poland’s top wine-related Twitter account with more than 3,700 followers.
Poland also has a small but booming wine industry, with over 700 ha of vineyards. Erratic climate and prohibitive red tape present major obstacles, but the growth, both in quantity and quality, has been impressive. Leading projects such as Dom Bliskowice, near tourist hub Kazimierz; Srebrna Góra in a historical monastery in Kracow; and Winnica Turnau, a famous singer’s estate next to the Baltic city of Szczecin, are long-term, well-managed operations with a proactive approach to the urban market. Ranging from off-dry hybrid-based whites to structured oaky Pinot Noirs, their wines are expensive but popular, and set an example for many other producers.
Wine foe
The single person who has most to say about alcohol in Poland appears to be Krzysztof Brzózka, director of PARPA, the alcohol “problem prevention” state agency. Although not particularly riddled by alcohol-related issues by European standards, the country already has restrictive legislation, including a Byzantine excise and imports red tape regime, but Mr. Brzózka desires (encouraged by the WHO) to further reduce the availability of alcohol. A right-wing majority expected to emerge from October elections might lend an ear to that. A Polish Wine Trade Association has even been established to counter the moves, so expect long-term legislative arm-wrestling to follow.   

Orígin information:  Meininger's

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