Tuesday, 14 December 2021 15:01

Polish companies experience strong growth despite the virus

EM6 21 PL Fish CongressThe Polish fish processing sector seems highly resistant to the COVID pandemic

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 6 2021

The 7th edition of the Polish Fish Congress took place on 29 and 30 September 2021. The event is the largest annual meeting of the fish industry in Poland. This year it was attended by 247 delegates and 23 speakers.

The Polish Fish Congress was the first major industry meeting since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, so it is not surprising that the impact of the pandemic on the market and the fishery and aquaculture production and processing sectors was discussed at length.

Record high sales and improved net profitability characterise 2020

The presented statistical and economic data showed that despite the unfavourable global macroeconomic situation in 2020, the Polish fish processing industry achieved record high sales results and better economic indicators than in the previous year, including better net profitability. According to Krzysztof Hryszko from the Institute of Agricultural and Food Economics, in 2020 there was an increase in the production volume of Polish fish processing by 4.7% to 616 thousand. tonnes. The value of sold production was EUR3.11 billion (an increase of 13.7%). The positive news also extended to Polish aquaculture where production exceeded, for the first time in history, 50,000 tonnes with a value of over EUR127 million. Paweł Wyrzykowski from BNP Paribas Food&Agro pointed out that the share of exports in the revenues of Polish fish processing plants exceeds 60%. Polish exports of fishery and aquaculture products in 2020 reached 591 thousand tonnes and was 8% higher than the year before. At the same time, however, he pointed out that the strategy of Polish processing plants is based on low prices and margins: the average price of new fish products introduced to the market in Poland is the lowest among the studied EU markets, and the EBTIDA margin in 2013-2020 was only about 5%, which is much lower than, for example, in fruit and vegetable processing or the production of ready meals.

Industry needs to face up to numerous challenges

The host of the meeting, Tomasz Kulikowski, editor-in-chief of the Fish Industry Magazine, said that although the impact of the pandemic on the fish sector currently dominates the public discourse, some challenges that the fish industry faced before the pandemic have not been addressed. These include demographic challenges, a growing interest in vegetarianism, expectations of convenience food, as well as problems on the raw material market. Przemysław Cieślik, representing the Contimax fish processing industry, sees flexitarian trends (reduced meat consumption) not only as a threat, but also as an opportunity for the fish industry. However, to take advantage of market opportunities, in his opinion, one must be active and have a vision of how to fit into important market trends such as e-commerce and convenience.

Gonzalo Campos from SealedAir, a packaging company, said that safety had become an obsession and a new type of wellness movement. The fear of infection and increased health awareness drive demand for new ways of protecting food products. Polish fishermen’s organisations emphasised the need for better communication of sustainability issues. During the congress, the MSC certificate for flatfish catches was presented for the first time. Currently, it is the only standard to which Polish fishing organizations in the Baltic Sea are certified. The event also saw fishermen from a sustainable tuna fishery, the Fishing Industry Association of Papua New Guinea represented by Marcelo Hidalgo, showing an interest in the Polish fish processing sector.

Lack of labour fuels interest in technology

Delegates to the Fish Congress showed great interest in modern technological solutions, especially those that reduce the labour intensity of processing and allow for more efficient use of raw materials, e.g., by better management of by-products. This is due to the challenges on the domestic labour market (a significant increase in wages of production workers in recent years, low supply of workers) and to the assumed savings in the face of constantly rising prices of most raw materials. Therefore, it is not surprising that fish processing is interested in the latest production technologies not only for products for the food market, but also to produce fish meals and oils. And scientists like Prof. Mariusz Szymczak from the West Pomeranian University of Szczecin study innovative solutions to recover protein from low-value raw materials or by-products.

Fish processors, including the president of the Polish Association of Fish Processors Malgorzata Pawliszak, pointed out that despite the seemingly good situation indicated by the statistical data, there are many post-covid challenges ahead for the Polish (and more broadly, the European) fish processing sector. The most important of them are: logistical problems in relation to Asia, including a lack of containers, months-long delivery delays, and very high freight prices. In Poland, there were also significant increases in the prices of vegetable oil, electricity, gas, cardboard boxes, PP and PET packaging, all of which are likely to translate into an increase in the prices of fish products in the near future but will also lead to lower margins for processors.