Poland's packaged goods sector reached a sales volume of roughly 47 billion units in 2002, following a 5-year rise of 7 per cent, with packaged food representing the largest sector in terms of unit sales, according to the latest Euromonitor report.
In fact after Russia, Poland represents the second largest consumer goods packaging market in Eastern Europe, though sales growth lags some way behind less established markets such as Ukraine and Bulgaria.
But what makes Poland such an interesting case is the fact that unlike some other former Eastern Bloc countries, consumption patterns within the country have quickly fallen into line with the rest of Europe's.
This change is tangible. The use of convenience trays in food packaging rose by 25 per cent between 1998 and 2002 and is expected to increase by another 24 per cent by 2007, largely driven by the popularity of ready meals but also helped along by increasing use of trays as a protective packaging for cakes and biscuits.
More than one in every four Polish households now has a microwave, and increasing demand for ready meals that come in convenient, microwave safe plastic trays and cartons is only going to increase, according to an earlier Euromonitor report.
In other words, Western trends towards convenience and on-the-go products has opened up significant opportunities in the packaging sector of this new EU Member State. And as consumers are faced with more choice, packaging will increasingly become the means by which brands differentiate themselves.
Along with preserving food quality, this is the principal role that food packaging plays in western markets saturated by choice. Packaging is the means by which manufacturers add value and avoid commodification, and this is the direction in which the Polish market is heading.
According to the Euromonitor report for example, the consumer goods packaging market in Poland is dominated by flexible packaging, which in 2002 accounted for 48 per cent of total unit volumes. Flexible packaging is found across a wide range of product categories with unit volumes amounting to 22.5 billion units in 2002, and is seen as adding value to a product.
In addition, PET bottles have already achieved healthy share gains in soft drinks, where they put increasing pressure on more traditional pack types. Consumers have a preference for beverage packaging that is lightweight and durable, and PET bottles have become the soft drinks pack type of choice for manufacturers, retailers and end-users alike.
Metal beverage cans and glass bottles have suffered particularly strongly from this trend, says Euromonitor, while liquid cartons have managed to stay abreast of toughening competition in the sector.
Another Polish packaging trend that reflects western consumption patterns is the increasing popularity of metal cans over glass bottles in the beer sector. Convenience again has been the key to this changing consumption pattern. In fact, glass packaging has seen its share eroded by more than 20 per cent over the review period, but remains the leading pack type for beer fro the time being.
The bottom line is that sales growth in consumer goods packaging in Poland is forecast to accelerate. Euromonitor estimates that overall unit volumes are expected to increase by over 10 per cent over up coming years to nearly 52 billion units sold during 2007.
This then presents an opportunity to domestic firms and packaging firms currently operating in saturated markets. Sales in packaged food are set to increase by 14 per cent between 2002 and 2007, and consumers will be looking for goods that offer convenience and an image that fits with their lifestyle.