The power of the Polish pound by Maja Abramek of Hot Marketing

maya_croppedHow many Poles are there exactly in the UK? It depends who you ask and who you believe. Officially, according to Home Office statistics from February 2007, there are now 307,000 Poles in Britain. The new Polish ambassador to Britain Barbara Tuge-Erecinska has said there may be as many as 600,000 Poles living in the UK, which is nearly twice the Home Office estimate. If Ms Tuge-Erecinska is correct, Poles are now the third largest minority ethnic group in the UK, after Pakistanis and Indians. If, however, you believe highly-respected Polish publication Polityka, their estimate is that 1 million people have moved to the UK from Poland.

Polish people are arriving to the UK seeking employment, and with it a chance for a new start in a land of increased opportunity, or the funds to kick start businesses or property purchases back home, otherwise beyond their means. However it’s not just industry that is feeling the effect – Poles, armed with higher wages and previously unheard of disposable incomes are rapidly learning to exercise their purchasing power while businesses, though initially slow to react, are now scrambling to peddle their goods to this new, vibrant sector of the British population.

Demographic studies of those that have entered the UK reveal that over three quarters of immigrants fall into the 18-34 age bracket. The popular estimate is that the average age of the Polish immigrant is 28. Following natural migration trends, the large majority of these are single, with fewer responsibilities, resulting in an increased disposable income and a greater tendency to participate in the consumer culture.

Trusted think tank, the Centre for Economics and Business Research calculates that the average Polish migrant worker earns £20,000 per year, of which £6,000–7,000 is disposable income. Chloe Malik Managing Director of Hot Marketing comments: “It’s basically been like adding the consumer demand of Liverpool to the economy in just two years. These people work hard, often 10-hour days, six days a week, so they certainly do have considerable spending power.”

Western Union claims that while 60% of Poles working in the UK do wire transfer money home, many do not and, as is natural for young, responsibility-free singles, most are much keener on experiencing the delights of the consumer heaven that is British life – that means spending those hard earned pennies.

One of the most lucrative and increasingly targeted sectors of the immigrant market is that of banking. After all, once the ticket is bought and the job secured, the obvious question to follow is where to put the cash.

Poles have been identified as a major growth area in the banking industry and the sector’s leaders are amongst the most imaginative of British firms in courting this new income stream. Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds TSB have all been active in catering to arriving Poles, by employing Polish-speaking staff. Barclay’s bank, among the UK’s largest banks, has been among the most pro-active in wooing Poles. “The Polish community in the UK is growing and is a key target audience for us… We’re finding they value expertise on how to bank in the UK which is delivered in their own language. However, opening accounts is just the start of banking life in the UK. In South London free seminars are regularly organised to offer Poles advice on how to obtain a mortgage or set up a business.”

Keen not to be left behind in recognizing this new dynamic aspect of the UK’s population, Lloyds TSB are making their own plans to keep up with competition. “We regard Polish  consumers as a very important target audience, which is industrious and a key mover in the UK economy… As such, we will be developing a number of programmes, which we believe will have appeal and relevance.”

It’s not just banking businesses that are excited by the prospect of a whole new demographic group to market to. The pursuit of the Polish pound is spreading to national shopping chains, which are targeting this new market. It is very interesting to see all major British supermarkets are stocking up on many Polish dishes and delicacies to supply the thousands of Poles who have moved to the UK in the past two years. As a result of Polish demand for imported goods, many towns and cities are coming to appreciate the addition of yet another culinary influence to the bubbling concoction that is multi-ethnic Britain.

Government and big business certainly appreciate the benefits brought by this dynamic new demographic. Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda are all introducing new Polish ranges, keen to tap into the substantial spending power of the UK’s growing Polish communities. Sainsbury’s stores began courting the consumer with 32 Polish foods including preserves, marinated peppers, meatballs and cabbage stew with the promise of more to follow. Tesco’s roll-out range comprised 45 products including borsch, pickled vegetables and sauerkraut, as well as typical delicacy products such as golabki, flaki, fasolka and the Polish take on goulash. Low price specialist Asda, began its push with a host of jarred and tinned products and has even introduced a Polish deli counter in one store offering an enormous variety to the Polish shopper.  Asda is also about to introduce a range of fresh chilled polish sausages, meats, cheeses and fish into around 100 as well as offering a bespoke Polish phonecard in some stores.

Cathryn Ramsden of ASDA comments: “The types of items Polish people miss the most and that are in greatest demand are comfort foods such as soup, pickled cabbage, fruit juices and marshmallows covered in chocolate. We’ve had so much demand for Polish foods that we spoke to the Polish community in a number of Polish focus groups to find out the kinds of things they missed the most from home… But there is also a big demand from huge number of people born in Britain of Polish parents who want foods that will remind them their Polish roots.”

These are three of the largest companies operating in the UK all singling out Polish immigrants as an important market to be targeted. With continuously increasing disposable income, spending power, not to mention population, it’s no wonder these companies are making Poles a priority.

While there are more and more Polish goods and brands on offer in British largest supermarkets, Polish newspapers and food shops are also increasingly apparent following Poland’s entry into the European Union in May 2004.

After reviewing many Polish shops across the UK I have discovered quite unusual patterns in Poles’ shopping habits. Surprisingly traditional Polish dishes such as bigos, flaki, golabki or pierogi are not in the favourite items bought by Poles. Almost all the managers of Polish shops agreed that the two most popular products on which Poles spend their money regularly are Polish bread and meat.

I have interviewed the owner of the Polish shop “U Kondzia” who told me “Polish bread and meat are two of the most popular products I sell in my shop – there are no other items as popular that my customers would put in their shopping baskets before picking up their always favourite meat and bread.”

Also when I asked the owner of the Polish shop in Ealing about the shopping habits of the Polish customers she told me Poles always like to buy dairy products, sweets or  vodka, however none of these items will ever beat the popularity of Polish bread, cakes and meat.

The results of my research make me wonder why is it that as soon as we pick up the shopping basked in our local Polish store both bread and meat appear in it? Could it be because Poles really love the traditional bread and meat so much they cannot resist to cross it off their weekly shopping list or could it be because many supermarkets do not supply those two essential items on a regular basis?

Hot Marketing specializes in reaching ethnic minority audiences in the UK for more info contact Chloe Malik chloe.malik@hotmarketing.co.uk
Tel: 0116 2704800