- The most important importers, distributors, retailers, journalists, publications, restaurants, sommeliers, wine bars and events
Most Important Importers and Distributors
Poland heavily relies on imports, and a growing number of people and companies have been moving into this sector. The latest data according to Gazeta Wyborcza, show that, in 2019, even before the pandemic, there were almost four times more importers than 20 years ago, with over 700 importers today.There are many independent micro-importers on the market specializing in importing wines from specific countries such as Georgia or Hungary or categories such as organic or natural wines.
One of the biggest and most successful players is the AMBRA Group, which has a majority shareholding in a large import/distribution business called TIM S.A. and a fine wine division called Centrum Wina. Ambra's revenues in the second quarter of the fiscal year 2021/22 amounted to PLN 305.5 million, and the net profit was n.a. PLN 34.7 million, according to the semi-annual report. As the Group reported, revenues from the sale of wines on the Polish market increased by 17.4%, thus more than four times exceeding the growth of the wine market, which in this period amounted to 4.1%.
Another big player is CEDC, one of the country’s largest vodka producers and alcohol distributors. In the beginning of 2022, it was sold by its Russian owners to Maspex, a leading Polish juice and soft drink producer for $980.70 million. CEDC's portfolio includes popular brands such as Casillero Del Diablo and Frontera, as well as Gallo’s Carlo Rossi, Barefoot and Louis M. Martini.
Another example of a large importer in the Polish market is the JNT GROUP, which was launched in 1976 by the Jantoń family and offers products to retail chains, wholesalers and HoReCa. Other key players are AN.KA wines (importer, distributor since 1994) and Partner Center.
Independent importers are also an important element of the market puzzle. Winkolekcja is a large distributor focusing largely on the on-trade, that has grown organically over a decade. It offers over 1,000 products from around the world – including top Bordeaux and a number of iconic wines. Another independent importer, Vininova, is growing quickly. Its portfolio includes around 800 labels from 18 countries. They are also developing a chain of retail stores under the same name.
Finally, the Eurocash Cash & Carry wholesale chain and in particular with its project Faktoria Win focuses on servicing small and medium-sized grocery and operates in broader wholesale distribution of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG).
Most Important Retailers: the Rise of Discounters
According to Euromonitor International data for Poland, in 2021, wine sales increased by 5.5 percent in quantity and 6.8 percent in value. NielsenIQ data show that it has grown almost twice as fast (+8%) in terms of volume this year than a year ago.
Hypermarkets, discounters, supermarkets and small and medium-sized grocery stores are where most wine is sold. According to the EnoExpo Wine Market in Poland 2020 report, approximately 60% of the retail market is shared by supermarkets and discounters - they have positive impact on wine consumption, especially in rural areas, small cities.
Only 7-8% of sales take place in specialist wine stores. The remaining 22-23% includes grocery stores and the HoReCa sector (hotels and restaurants). NielsenIQ stipulates that the premium shelf grew by over 20%. Premiumization results from the increase in knowledge about wine and, consequently, from the growing requirements as to its quality.
Jeronimo Martins Polska S.A., the owner of Biedronka - the largest retail chain in Poland - has 3,154 stores located in over 1,100 towns. The chain has been in the Polish market for 25 years. Its wine offer changes cyclically and benefits from support by celebrities (like chef and TV host Robert Makłowicz) and sommeliers (Tomasz Kolecki who assists Biedronka in the selection of wines). Biedronka has almost 30 % share of the Polish wine market, says Marek Szach, a merchant responsible for the wine offer.
The German discounter, Lidl, is also an important player with 760 stores and the developing project Winnica Lidla (winnicalidla.pl).
Hypermarkets are also looking for creative communication solutions to popularize wine. For example, Auchan - Poland’s fifth-largest retailer with more then 100 shops across the country - focuses on attractive forms of sales and consumer-education, using sommeliers to advise and help customers choose wine, for example.
Finally, there is Poland’s largest chain of small stores – Żabka, which is recognizable from its green frog logo. With 23 years in the Polish market, the company has strengthened its position as a leader in the modern convenience segment with 7,726 locations throughout the country. This makes it currently the biggest chain in Central and Eastern Europe.
The e-commerce sector has recently been developing dynamically undoubtedly as a result of restrictions in physical retail due to the pandemic. According to Euromonitor Alcoholic Drinks Passport 2021, online alcohol sales in the first year of the pandemic increased quantitatively by approximately 33%, and total alcohol sales (in all channels) decreased by 6%.
The legal status of selling in this way is far from clear, however. According to Article 13 of the 1982 Sobriety Act, the ownership of any kind of alcohol has to be transferred in a physical environment. Clearly, this law was passed long before the invention of the internet, and a change of the legal framework is long overdue. Retailers are, however, finding ways to circumvent these rules without losing their license.
Companies selling wine online are e.g. Winezja.pl (part of the AMBRA Group), Dobrewino.pl, Domwina.pl, Wina.pl both being pure online outlets. Darwina.pl, winnicalidla.pl are working online but combines its with a self-collect option. Other companies are Dobrewina.pl, Kondrat Wina Wybrane (with online offer and a few stationary stores Poland-wide).
Most Notable Journalists, Wine Writers and Wine Critics
Tomasz Prange-Barczyński and Wojciech Bońkowski are the leading local critics thanks in part to their association with the print magazine Ferment as well as the online wine portal Winicjatywa.pl. Maciej Nowicki and Mariusz Kapczyński also have a powerful voice, especially due to their expertise in Polish wines.
Other important writers are Marek Bieńczyk, an award-winning novelist and essayist, Sławomir Chrzczonowicz wine writer, educator and book author, Robert Mazurek, a popular political commentator and author on wine printed in the daily press and Wojciech Gogoliński, czaswina.pl editor and book author associated with the "Czas Wina" magazine for many years.
Most Important Wine Magazines
Ferment is a print wine magazine that has been published quarterly since 2017, with a strong reputation for journalism specializing in wine and culinary topics. The magazine is available by subscription, in selected wine stores and at industry events. Its publisher is the journalist and wine critic Wojciech Bońkowski, while the editor-in-chief is the experienced journalist, Tomasz Prange-Barczyński who was previously associated with MAGAZYN WINO.
Most Important High-end Restaurants
As elsewhere, the pandemic had a negative effect on Poland’s restaurant landscape. Two restaurants with a Michelin star have disappeared from the map, leaving just one, Bottiglieria 1881, located in Cracow. Its sommelier Michał Drozdowski is responsible for the wine list which has an interesting selection of wines from Central Europe. Cracow has another recommendable restaurant for wine lovers in the shape of Enoteka Pergamin. Sommelier, Magdalena Śleziak’s wine selection covers around 420 wines from the New and Old Worlds. Over 100 wines are available to taste or to drink by the glass.
Dyletanci restaurant in Warsaw claims to have the largest wine list in Poland, with nearly 1,110 different wines. Their selection focuses on the best biodynamic and organic producers, including a range of top Burgundy estates including Armand Rousseau, Marquis d'Angerville and Bonneau du Martray.
Another restaurant with an extensive list of 800 wines is ARCO by Paco Perez, in Gdańsk, on the 33rd floor of the Olivia Star building with a view over the Baltic sea.
Most Notable Sommeliers
Poland has a fast-growing army of highly skilled and enthusiastic sommeliers from whom it is hard to choose individual stars. Apart from Bottiglieria 1881’s Michał Drozdowski and in ARCO by Paco Perez’s Paweł Zduniak, there is Adam Pawłowski who, in 2014, became the first Polish Master Sommelier.
The second Pole to gain that qualification was Piotr Pietras who is also widely respected, as is Magdalena Śleziak, a young female sommelier working in the Enoteka Pergamin.
Lastly, there is Kamil Wojtasiak another talented sommelier who is responsible for the extensive wine list at Butchery & Wine and Koneser Grill in the capital city.
Most Notable Wine Bars
The Polish wine bar scene is blooming. The most interesting bars include Rausz, Bar Rascal and Kontakt wino&bistro in Warsaw; Lustra and Chabry z poligonu in Cracow; and Czarny Kot, Winobramie and SPOT. in Poznań.
It is also worth mentioning two Warsaw wine bars recommended by the Michelin guide, with a cuisine influenced by Poland’s modern cooking: alewino and Kieliszki na Próżnej.
The Hybrid Model
Another hugely important person who transcends the categories of wine bar and wine retailer is Robert Mielżyński, who has been popularizing wine in Poland for over a decade with an innovative concept that combines a retail wine warehouse with a bistro. Customers choose their own bottles from one of the most interesting wine selections in Poland and then either enjoy them with their meal in the bistro, or carry them home. Mielżyński has now added a location in Gdańsk to the ones in Warsaw and Poznań.
Most Important Events
Maciej Nowicki, a journalist associated with Ferment magazine, says the pandemic was quite a challenge. Before Covid-19, (in 2019) the Warsaw Wine Experience, was one of the most important dates on the calendar, with 120 exhibitors and 1050 trade and consumer visitors. During the pandemic (2021) those numbers were cut to 55 and 670 respectively (figures provide by Ewa Rybak, Head of Marketing&Events - Ferment magazine).
Another wine fair, ENO EXPO has been held every November in Cracow for 28 years. In 2021 it had 111 exhibitors who poured for professionals and consumers.
Nowicki emphasized the fact that, as the Polish winemaking scene grows, so does the number of local consumer festivals, many of which are connected with wine contests. These include one for Polish wines like „Polskie Korki” in Poznań's SPOT.; the Lower Silesian Winemakers and Friends series; Zielona Góra Winobranie; Jasło Wine Days and the Young Wine Festival in Sandomierz. Many of these had record attendance figures despite 2021’s pandemic restrictions.