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Export of Polish food products

The story of the Polish agri-food sector has long ceased to be a story about poor farmers, underfunded farms from the 90s and stagnation. Definitely closer to the truth would be a story about a dynamically developing part of the economy entering new markets and more and more boldly placing its products on the shelves of  stores abroad.

The beginning of this story may date back to August 1989, when the prices of agricultural products in Poland were set free. The next 15 years were marked by the poor situation of agriculture and its low profitability, which was showcased by numerous protests of farmers in the 90s. However, it was also a time when Poland was preparing for accession to the European Union, which forced the structuring of the State’s institutional policy towards the sector. Only the actual accession of Poland to EU structures and unlimited access to the common market initiated the success of Polish exports in the agri-food sector.

Polish food exports were one of the fastest growing, both in Europe and in the world. Since accession to the EU, production in the agri-food sector has grown much faster than domestic demand. Selling abroad has become a natural way to manage the resulting surpluses and from year to year it has become an increasingly important source of revenue for the domestic sector.

What, how and where is sold?

Access to foreign markets is one of the main determinants of the development of the agri-food sector in Poland. The vast majority of Polish exports in this segment go to the EU market. According to data from the Ministry of Finance, in 2022 the geographical structure of Polish agri-food exports was dominated by EU countries, where as much as 74% of  foreign sales went, of which  to Germany (25%) was by far the highest. 

The Polish food sector specializes in fresh and processed products. Polish meat is appreciated abroad  – a total of approx. 1/5 of total exports in 2022. Last year, more than half of the value related to meat exports was for poultry products  and 1/4 on beef products. Since 2014 Poland is the largest poultry producer in the EU.

Poland is also the sixth largest beef producer  in the EU, of which as much as 80% is exported. It is also a significant producer of pork, however, in recent years its production has been undergoing a crisis, due to, among other things, ASF.

The next largest category of goods in Poland’s export structure are  cereal grains and cereal products (approx. 14%), of which, foreign sales reached the value of EUR 6.6 billion,  an increase of over 40% compared to the previous year.

Other significant categories of products exported by Poland are, among other things, dairy products, sugar and confectionery, fish and fish products, mushrooms, vegetables and fruits. Our export specialties in the last category are apples, beets, onions and cabbage.

Unobvious export hits on a global scale

With such a large scale of exports, you can find a few less obvious domestic specializations. The good results of  the sector ‘s foreign sales  are largely accounted for by tobacco and  tobacco products, which accounted for as much as 9% of Polish exports in the sector for 2022 and gained a value of EUR 4 billion. In 2020, Poland achieved the status of the largest exporter of cigarettes in the world, the vast majority of which was intended for the EU market. At the same time, the tobacco industry in Poland is almost entirely dominated by 4 giants with foreign capital.

We are also the world’s largest exporter of mushrooms. Our share was as much as 32% of global exports in 2021. Again, almost all of the foreign sales of these products went to the EU.

Another Polish specialty is dairy products, in particular cheese and cottage cheese. Since 2004, our exports of these products have increased more than fivefold – from EUR 191 million to EUR 1.146 billion.  The Polish dairy sector, which is based on cooperatives, is the fourth largest milk producer in the European Union.

Another export hit is “Polish” smoked salmon, of which our country is the world’s largest seller (over 40% market share). This is interesting because Poland generally neither breeds salmon nor eats salmon in large quantities. Salmon is mainly imported from Norway, processed locally and exported further.

Another, less obvious niche is the production of chocolate. The leaders in this field are foreign entities with their production plants in Poland. According to Eurostat data, in 2022. Poland was the third exporter of chocolate in the European Union, second only to Germany and the Netherlands.

A first excerpt from the article “Polish food sector needs quality, specialization and soft power. On the direction of development of Polish export” by Bartosz Mielniczek published in the report of the Jagiellonian Club “Time for integration. Challenges and opportunities for rural areas and agriculture in Poland” No. 2/2023.

Edited by PAIH

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