Growing Polish community will have retail impact
The Polish community in the UK is both growing and changing fast. This change will involve both brand consultancies and packaging designers as Polish products are translated into the UK market, and as food manufacturers respond to the increasing numbers of the Polish community with home-produced Polish food ranges, writes Satkar Gidda of design agency Sieberthead.
The community for whom these products will be created is a far cry from the hard-up migrant workers of five years ago. Poles are now estimated to have a staggering £4bn disposable income. In fact, one leading economic think tank, the Centre for Economics and Business Research, has recently pointed out that the influx of Poles since May 2004 has been the equivalent of adding the consumer demand of Liverpool to the economy in just two years.
Acknowledging this fact, the UK's biggest supermarkets are rushing to get Polish products onto their shelves. Sainsbury's was one of the first, offering 32 types of Polish food. Now Tesco has started selling borsch, pickled vegetables, salt sticks and sauerkraut in selected stores, and Asda plans a similar range next month.
For the big three, the payback is going to be considerable. Obviously, Polish food will have a ready market amongst Poles themselves, but I predict that the British, who have always had a taste for international cuisine, will soon be eating Polish sausage, borsch, meatballs, pickled vegetables and sauerkraut soup along with their Thai Lemongrass curry. In fact, the increasing availability of these goods in specialist delis and even top stores like Selfridges and Harvey Nichols has seen the market become particularly fashionable in the last 12 months.
The Polish food revolution started with smaller independent suppliers that got Polish goods out from the Deli and into mainstream markets. Meanwhile, Tesco has recently purchased a supermarket chain in Poland to strengthen its foothold in the market, while other major retailers like Sainsbury's are believed to looking into weird and wonderful new flavours in the south of the country. Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda are all introducing new Polish ranges and British consumers may soon find themselves confronted with exotic foods like golabki, flaki, fasolka and "hunting style goulash".
There is clearly an opportunity for both retailers and manufacturers to meet the demand for Polish products and ingredients. And it would seem inevitable that whole new product categories will emerge over the coming years. But, whoever manufactures the dishes in these ranges will have to bear in mind that what is needed by the Polish community is real Polish food not the Heinz or Unilever interpretation.
Lessons have been learned with Indian, Thai and Italian cuisine and ranges are now better than ever with the "ersatz" offering few and far between. Obviously, the temptation to create a half way house that is immediately acceptable to the Western European palate is strong but must be resisted. Also, when it comes to the look of the products on shelf it would be wrong to create a fake "theme park" world for product packaging. Again, authenticity will be respected by both Poles and adventurous Brits alike.
This has been borne out in the huge success of some "challenger" brands like Gitas and Pataks in the Indian sector.
I believe that Polish brands and products will do very well in the UK and I'm not just referring to the wonderful array of quality vodkas that are available. However, having undertaken brand design in Poland for the last 12 years and establishing SiebertHead in Warsaw, we are very aware of the potential minefield that British designers, called upon by retailers or brands to create a look for a new Polish range, might encounter.
Despite being composed of people who are cosmopolitan enough to have journeyed half way across Europe to seek work the Polish community will still have significant cultural and social differences that influences it.
For example, Polish consumers have a very different colour perception to the British. Black for example is not seen as representing a premium image for products as it is in the UK and the US.
The Polish audience is also quite different in its expectations of pack copy. In Poland they want direct, no-frills information about what's inside the pack. For example, a juice pack should feature hyper-realist
photography of fruit rather than an illustration. In Poland for example, Innocent drinks, with their wit and humour and hand drawn, almost cartoonish, illustration of contents would do a belly flop on a grand scale.
Ethnic or "home-made" food, generally held in high regard in the UK, is also not so appreciated by Poles on their home turf, but in the UK the audience may well do an unexpected flip in the way it thinks and actively seek out products that have a really genuine Polish heritage and home-made feel to them.
The British consumer would probably consider the average Polish pack cluttered or unattractive. In Poland consumers like to see all relevant consumer information easily visible on the front of pack (brand, big photo, weight, added-value messages etc). A Polish consumer faced with an English pack would be annoyed that they had to "hunt" for information. It¹s a bit like the trait that newspapers have of saying story continued on page four.
Generally speaking Polish consumers require conservative brand architecture. The brand icon cannot overpower the photo of the product whereas there are plenty packaging designs in the UK where the branding takes half of the front of the pack putting the visual (if any) into the background.
Clearly, brand communication will need to be adjusted to suit UK retailer and consumer requirements, but that said they must be and look like real Polish products and this is a great situation for Polish manufacturers and exporters. Literally a "ready-made" demand for their products.
Satkar Gidda is director of design agency SiebertHead.
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