Perspectives: selling wine in Poland

Poland is one of Europe’s fastest-growing wine markets, with sales doubling since 2010. At 6L per capita there is still ample room for further growth, too. Wojciech Bońkowski asks the experts for advice on which approaches work best with the different distribution tiers. 

Nicolas Idkowiak, Konrad Korzeniewski, Sławomir Chrzczonowicz, Łukasz Staniewski

Nicolas Idkowiak

wine buyer, Auchan

110 supermarkets and hypermarkets throughout Poland: 750,000 cases per year

When buying for our range, I always look for added value. Producers need to go beyond the “my wines are great” narrative and think proactively where they will sit here in Poland and who will buy them. Quality is an important factor, but so is provenance: do you know exactly where the grapes came from? When there is a cohesive story behind the wine, it is easier to justify the price, including in a supermarket. Awards (from reputable competitions, not “chocolate medals” as I call them), innovative packaging, organic certification, any special character such as Blanc de Noirs: all this gives us tools to market your product. 

The marketplace is flooded by wines from well-known regions such as Tuscany or Rioja but, for example, Aragon Garnacha shows a strong link between grape variety and origin and for me, that is a great start. We do like to work on exclusivity, even if in the short term. For example, Auchan will be the only sales channel for this brand for two months. The other key aspect is logistic efficiency. It might sound abstract to a wine producer but consumers do feel when the pricing shows an unaligned supply chain.

Price points are important, with sub- zł15 ($4.00) the key to volume and zł20 to zł30 the most interesting bracket for quality. We continue to expand in higher price brackets, especially since we introduced sommelier counselling on weekends. Shoppers are becoming more flexible and can often spend an extra zł10 if incentivised. So think actively about your front and labels and how to use them to maximise your message in this dynamic, young, prospective market.

In terms of origins, many Poles come back from holidays in Spain, Italy, Croatia and Greece and seek wines from those countries on the shelves. Consequently we see good sales for Santorini Assyrtiko even though it is a pricey wine. Residual sugar remains popular and there is much work ahead in Poland to explain the concept of dryness, acidity and tannins – many consumers are confused. We used to be more traditional and appellations-oriented, but that is now changing fast towards the Anglo-Saxon model where the grape variety prevails. Nonetheless, we will continue to educate and explain the concept of appellation as I believe it is important. Brands have some relevance in Poland because they are a safe choice, but in the last five years, not a single strong brand was launched. Premium sparkling wines are probably the most dynamic category, with Prosecco leading the trend. Offer me a nicely packaged mid-range sparkling and you will tap into a huge potential market. 
 

 

Konrad Korzeniewski   

category manager, Eurocash

Sales-ready wine module Faktoria Win now offered at 4,700 mini markets and grocery shops: about 800,000 cases per year

Producers are always welcome to approach us with an offer. Send a catalogue and price list with visualisations of your product and we will analyse the potential before asking for samples. 

AC Nielsen lists the average retail price of a bottle of wine in Poland at zł18.30 ($5.00) but our ambition is to grow in the zł20 to zł30 category. There is much variation between the larger cities, where new categories such as sparkling and premium sparkling, including Champagne, are booming, and what we call “Poland B”, the smaller provincial towns where people like their wines sweeter and you need to be more realistic about price. 

The old stereotypes about closure are no longer valid. Consumers even at the lower end have embraced screwcaps, especially for mainstream styles. Where cork remains strong is in restaurants.
We look to create trends or join them. There is definitely a growing interest in local grape varieties and more exotic origins such as Eastern and Southern Europe. Organic wines are a trend, and vegan is becoming increasingly important. We are also seeing an increase in alcohol-free wines, so offering those products within your range is a big plus. We are also foreseeing growth in New World wines, where our offer has traditionally been less strong. Now is the time to think about Poland if you make wine in Chile or Argentina.

Because we have a standardised merchandising solution, the visual impact of the different products really affects sales. We monitor this continually and will proactively work with producers to improve or change the packaging if we are convinced it is necessary. Some producers are less flexible, but thanks to our sales volumes, we usually get our message across. 
 

Sławomir Chrzczonowicz

import director, Winkolekcja

Fine wine importers and distributors (95% to the on-trade): about 60,000 cases per year

When we consider importing new wines, we primarily look at well-known appellations and regions. They are far more important to our clients than brands. Many of our restaurants are located in tourist areas and established appellations are particularly relevant to tourists visiting from Scandinavia and Germany. Italy is very strong at the moment with the three P’s (Primitivo, Prosecco, Pinot Grigio) as well as Chianti. Rioja is still strong, though [it] has started to lose some ground. In terms of style, the average Polish drinker is still looking for high alcohol, lower acid, some residual sugar. Oak is still synonymous with quality for many. 

We prefer to work with partners who offer a broad range of price levels and styles. Especially when starting a relationship, it makes logistics much easier to source more wines from a single partner. This makes négociants and consortia of producers particularly valuable to us. If you are small and/or very specialised, try to team up with a few other wineries that offer complementary products in the most relevant categories, for example, an Amarone producer would best approach us together with a boutique Prosecco, etc. 

One thing that producers often overlook is how we as distributors sell their products to the on-trade. Our first meeting will be with restaurant buyers and they are the gatekeepers. Many vintners believe labels or relative quality within the category are less relevant when selling to restaurants. This is untrue: restaurant buyers will look at labels and they will sometimes taste samples against market benchmarks. So make sure you know who you’re competing against. Ratings are important to document the strength of your brand—ironically it is almost irrelevant who actually gave the rating. 

Another thing many restaurant buyers will take a close look at is your most economical banquet wine. This opens doors to hotels and venues that mostly do functions, which can move a lot of wine. If you do not have anything in that price segment, source it and bundle it with your main offerings. 

The biggest mistake producers make? Never, ever offer us a wine that will be available in supermarkets. If restaurants see your brand in multiples, it is game over. I was recently offered excellent value whites from a strong Central European brand that we thought had enormous potential in our channel. But a week later we saw the same wine, with just a slight tweak to the label, at Auchan. We immediately terminated talks. 

 

Łukasz Staniewski

owner, El Catador

Spanish boutique wine specialist, two retail shops: about 8,000 cases per year

They key aspect we look for is a structured portfolio. We are a small operation and will usually import just one pallet at a time from a single producer. So I am happy to take mid-range and high-end wines but I also need something leaving the winery at $2.00 to $4.00 per bottle. This way I can build the quantity and also introduce a new brand to my customers in a way that is safe to all. People will taste the entry-level before coming back for more ambitious offerings.

Appellations of origins are not really important for us. Yes, we do list Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rueda but our speciality is lesser-known wines from Galicia and Catalonia, and we are now seeing a lot of interest in Canary wines. They might be the quirkiest wines in our catalogue, which is exactly why our customers love them. A story behind the wines and elements of uniqueness are key: whether it’s reviving old vineyards in a remote area or relaunching an almost extinct variety, you will have our ears. 

I love when producers approach me with a full press pack explaining the winery’s background and the critical response to its offering. This is more important than raw numerical ratings: if a journalist I trust waxed poetic about your wines, I will take a look myself. 

Poland is a small market and it takes time for sales to take off. This is also true about relationships. I remember reading about an exciting new project a few years back. I approached the winery about samples, but when we tasted the wines in Poland they failed to thrill. This year I tried the new vintages and I was much more convinced, the quality seemed to have budged from good to really exciting. We placed an order and the wines are really resonating with our audience. 

The packaging is extremely important. We operate two small retail shops and everything is hand-sold. Our customers are a young, vibey audience and they love innovative labels. If the story behind your wines starts with the label, this is exactly what we are looking for. I can think of exceptions, wines that have extremely boring neutral labels and still fly through the door, but attractive packaging is most definitely a plus. Many young Spanish wineries innovate on that front and we try to reflect this exciting New Spain in our offer. 

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