- Characteristics of the Polish wine consumer
- How trade was affected by Covid19
- Wines Polish consumers look for on the shelves
For many outsiders, Poland is more likely to be thought of as a market for vodka and beer rather than wine. Its wine consumption is far lower than its neighbors, the Germans and Swiss, who drink almost 10 times as much per head. This makes sense, given that white spirits account for 30 percent of alcoholic purchases, with a total value of PLN13.3bn ($3.24bn), while beer represents a further 50 percent, and a value of PLN18bn ($4.39bn).
Growing wine consumption
However, wine is an interesting sector, because Poland is one of the few European markets in which consumption has been growing consistently for 30 years - a trend that continued during the pandemic.
According to PARPA, the State Agency for the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems, Poles consumed 9.78 liters per head of pure alcohol in 2019, breaking the 2013 record of 9.67 liters. This is a hike in spirit consumption of over 10 percent from the previous year – from 3.3 liters to 3.7. Wine consumption rose modestly from 6.0 to 6.2 liters of wine, while beer fell to 97.1 liters from 100.5 liters.
Changes in sales and imports
Sales in Poland grew by approximately 8.5 percent between 2019 and 2020. This trend continued in 2021, says Aleksandra Boryś of CEDC International, one of the largest distributors. The total wine market grew by approximately 7.5 percent in hypermarkets and supermarkets, discounters, convenience stores and gas stations.
Strikingly, sales of premium and super premium wines increased by 15 percent and 13 percent respectively, and showed the fastest growth over this period. This process of premiumization is also seen in spirits.
In the first three quarters of 2020 the value of imported wines increased by 4.3% year-on-year. In 2019, it was PLN959m ($234m); In 2021, it broke through the billion zlotys ($240m) barrier before the end of the year. Volume growth, however, has been smaller. In 2019, import volumes were 96.4m liters; in 2020 that figure rose by just by 3m liters.
The average retail price of wine in Poland is around PLN24.5 ($5,91). Non-EU imports are subject to the Common External Tariff regime. EU duties are charged by Customs on the CIF (cost, insurance and freight) value of the product imported. Excise duty rates are now €0.40 per liter, up from a previous level of €0.37. VAT is 23 percent.
The typical Polish wine consumer
Who is a typical Polish wine drinker? Robert Ogór, CEO of the Ambra Group, a leading producer, importer and distributor of wines in Central and Eastern Europe, believes that the average profile does not differ significantly from the typical Northern-Europe consumer. They are probably open-minded city-dwellers with a higher-than-average income. They will be frequent travellers and statistically are slightly more likely to be women (53%) than men (about 47%).
In Poland, wine is bought in hyper and supermarkets, discount stores, convenience stores and gas stations to drink at home. That distinguishes Poland from wine-producing countries, where a significant amount of wine is purchased in restaurants and wine bars. During the lockdowns when Polish consumers were forced to remain at home, this category also increased in volume. Some people looking for quality wines turned to professional wine stores. Ogór explains that in the case of Centrum Wina (34 locations throughout Poland) the situation was stable: Wine club ‘Kocham Wino’ (I love wine), which boasts around 230,000 members across the country, regularly shopped for wine, often making up for not being able to dine and drink outside their homes.
Favorite wine styles
What about the taste preferences of Poles? Red wines remain the most popular style, but Boryś says that, over the last year, sales of whites have grown much faster (over 15 percent year-on-year, with medium-dry wines increasing by over 11 percent). In retail outlets, sweet, medium-sweet and medium-dry wines account for about 70% of the total sales volume.
Dry wines have a market share of approximately 25-30%. The most popular choices in this category include varietals such as Primitivo, Shiraz and Malbec. These represent an attractive taste profile for the consumer: fruity, round, juicy with moderate acidity and tannin. When it comes to white wines, consumers look for wines made from well-known grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Interestingly, in Poland, in 2021 despite the limitations related to the pandemic, sales of sparkling wines increased by 15.3 percent in quantity and 17.5 percent in value compared to 2020. As elsewhere, Poles have fallen in love with Prosecco which currently accounts for around 40 percent of all expenditure on sparkling wines.
Restaurants and hotels have been hit harder than any other industry during the pandemic which had a generally negative impact on the level of wine sales for the total HoReCa sector. The experience taught restaurateurs that well-trained staff and an interesting wines and spirits offer that matches the restaurant's profile and menu are a springboard to rebound after difficult times during the pandemic.
Currently, restaurateurs are trying to adapt their wine offers to a diverse range of guests who use different options (tasting menus, culinary workshops, banquets and special events) – says Lechosław Olszewski, co-owner of the SPOT restaurant in Poznań. SPOT’s, for example, focuses on small, European producers, often highlighting natural wines made from indigenous varieties. Some Poles reach for funky natural wines from regions like Tenerife or Moravia, while others look for wines with a recognizable brand from a region or appellation with a reputation for good value for money such as Rioja or Alto Adige.
Tasting menus often include wines associated with high quality such as Burgundy and Bordeaux, which may be complemented by less well known wines, including orange, zero-SO2 wines or pet nats. Hosts of bigger parties focus on budget options - usually the entry-level wines of producers that Olszewski imports himself such as Clemens Busch from Germany, Sanzon from Hungary or Hartmann Donà from the Alto Adige in Italy. Increasingly, however, he says, at celebratory family events such as wedding dinners or birthdays, guests are looking at quality rather than price.
The social role of wine has changed in Poland. It is no longer an exclusive, expensive, incomprehensible product for special occasions. Younger consumers now look for it, and more importers propose subscription offers and other options including online selection, though online purchasing is not allowed.
Another phenomenon is the growing appearance of Polish wines on the market. Annual production is around 14,171.65 hl from around 560 hectares of vineyards. In 2009 there were just 36 ha). Compared to wines from leading wine countries, the domestically-produced wines have a relatively high starting price of approx. €10-15.
The Polish wine market is characterized by growing diversity and openness towards new styles producers, importers and regions, ranging from Portugal and Moldova to Georgia and Greece.
Unlike countries with long and stable wine-consuming tradition, Poland is a developing and insatiable market with many aspiring consumers and few procedural barriers. According to Euromonitor International data for ‘Rzeczpospolita’, the sale of wines grew in 2021 by 5.5 percent in volume and 6.8 percent in value, which shows that Poles are trading up. The total expenditure, both in stores and restaurants is set to to exceed PLN 6bn, including excise duty ($1.46bn) for the first time. Wine is still a smaller part of the Polish scene than spirits or beer, but it is growing healthily.