End 'Cold War': export to eastern Europe

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Europe European union

Demand is strong for British branded goods in Tesco's Warsaw store
Demand is strong for British branded goods in Tesco's Warsaw store
UK food firms need to shatter their misconceptions about central and eastern Europe because it holds "highly-sophisticated" retail outfits to partner with to exploit extensive export opportunities.

UK firms have retained a Cold- War era perception of the region, which has hindered their ability to tap into a lucrative growing market, said Ian Hutchins, international corporate affairs director at Tesco.

Hutchins said the shifting retail landscape had been accompanied by a surge in savvy shoppers keen to taste British produce.

'Significant opportunities'

Speaking at an event to promote export opportunities to the region organised by UK Trade & Investment and the Food and Drink Federation, Hutchins said: "Brands are very important to these consumers, possibly more so than in the UK. There are significant opportunities."

But to tap into them, food firms have to quickly come up to speed with what life is like in the region.

"There has been a genuine consumer revolution that has gone fairly unnoticed,"​ Hutchins added.

Food retail in the likes of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic is now akin to the UK in terms of stores' design and choice, while consumers are increasingly affluent, highly educated and willing to spend, the event heard.

"It isn't just Tesco that is operating in the region, it is almost a who's who of world retail,"​ said Hutchins, adding that it had come on leaps and bounds from the "rough and tough business of the mid-1990s".

Tesco operates in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary and Hutchins said there were ample opportunities for UK manufacturers to work with the business in those countries.

'Growing shift'

These were being bolstered by a growing shift towards convenience and online retailing.

"We are seeing growing demand for chilled goods, bakery products and desserts because younger people are less concerned about cooking from scratch.

"I'd encourage anyone already working with Tesco in the UK to go to your main contact here and​ [express an interest]."

Trade experts said demand for dairy products was growing across the area while savoury snacks and health foods were particularly in demand in Slovenia. Austria was ripe for premium niche products.

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