The Polish fruit and vegetable sector anticipates many changes in the coming years. The strengthening of eastern markets (mainly Ukraine and Moldova) may cause the loss of jobs for many Poles making a living from fruit growing and fruit processing.
Without legislative support, Poland may lose its position as the European leader in the production and export of concentrated juice and frozen fruit and vegetables.
Today, the European Union is drinking juices made mostly from Polish apples, but tomorrow, it could go for cheaper options; that is, Ukrainian, Moldovan, and maybe even Chinese apples.
The above scenario is unfortunately not far from reality. Poland is currently the largest producer in Europe, as well as the world's second largest producer of apple juice concentrate (production of up to 300,000 tonnes per year; 90 percent sold to the EU) and the largest (or second largest, depending on the season) exporter of fresh apples on the continent (750 thousand. tonnes in the 2017/18 season, and 1.1 million tonnes in the 2016/17 campaign). However, this strong position is due to the country's ability to maintain competitive prices and supply a good quality product.
Thanks to favorable developments in the processing conditions, shortly after joining the European Union, Poland was able to compete against and overcome Germany, the then leader on the apple and juices market.
Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the country to maintain a competitive price for its juices and fruits. This is partly due to the rapidly growing operating costs of businesses, with up to 50 percent increases in energy prices, higher gas prices (up to 30%) and fuel (around 20% compared to last year), as well as increased labor costs (an increase of 8% from 2017), and many others, such as water costs or administrative costs.
With such burdens, it will not be easy to compete against Ukraine, which has been investing in processing facilities and orchards for a few years, and will soon be flooding Europe with even cheaper fruit. This, in turn, may lead to the collapse of at least half of Polish orchards and processing enterprises.
In Poland, there are about 30 companies and 50 different plants, dealing with the production of concentrated juice, mainly from apples. Over 6.5 thousand people (6,612 employees in 2017, according to PONT Info) have permanent jobs in the production of drinking and concentrated juices.
According to data from the Central Statistical Office, there are about 280,000 plantations in the country, mainly smaller family orchards (more than 100,000). If the country loses the battle with the cheaper fruit from the East, about 50 percent of fruit growers; that is, at least 50,000 people, may be facing the loss of their jobs.
"The employees of companies devoted to the freezing of fruits and vegetables should also be taken into account when elaborating such statistics," says Andrzej Gajowniczek, president of the board of the National Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors. There are about 300 refrigeration plants on the Polish market. Most of them are already severely affected by increases in energy prices, necessary for freezing and storing fruit.
The sector makes a notable contribution to the country in the form of taxes, so its loss would have a severe impact on the country's economy.
Statistics show that Poles now eat about 11.5 kg of apples per year. This amount is twice as high as 15 years ago, but unfortunately, Polish apples are losing ground in consumer preferences with southern fruits. As for fruit juice, Poles drink about 14 liters per person per year, which gives only about 41 ml per person per day. The point is that domestic consumption alone is not enough. The country is heavily dependent on exports.
Julian Pawlak, president of the National Association of Juice Producers, said that a long-term development strategy is needed for the entire industry, not short-term actions that do not solve problems in the long run. "We should strive to create producer groups and sales groups, professionalize the production and expand our sales markets abroad," he said.