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Home > Life Stories > The Ethnic Food Entrepreneur - Poland - 3

The Ethnic Food Entrepreneur - Poland - 3

Mr A comes from Baghdad and left his country after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. First, Mr A went to Romania to study but he could not decide which faculty to choose and he also could not adapt to living there. In 1982 he moved to Poland. At this time he was 22 years old.

The prerequisite for studying in Poland was to participate in a Polish language course in the School of Polish for Foreigners in the University of Lodz. After completing the course he started studying Economics at the Faculty of Economics and Sociology. When he was a student graduation after 4-5 years for both foreigners and Poles was very rare and Mr A finally graduated after 8 years of studying. During the eighties Poland was not a very dynamic country and for many people these years were a “lost” time. Lack of motivation and poor prospects after graduation, especially economic and technical were typical for this time. 

However, at that time advantages could be gained by those able to trade currency (especially American dollars or German marks), as well as selling goods which were imported from abroad, that were not available in Polish stores. However, it was almost impossible to carry on legal business activity at that time. In order to set up a company one had to apply for a lot of licensing documents, as well as to pay bribes to clerks to speed up the decision process. Foreigners were often not issued permits to conduct business. The only exceptions were joint venture companies where the foreign entrepreneur partner usually came from Western Europe or the United States; often companies or individuals with "Polish roots" and Polish-speaking, as knowledge of foreign languages in Poland was very low in the eighties. Everything changed after 1989.

Mr A did not plan to become an entrepreneur after finishing his studies. However even with a good knowledge of Polish he could not find a job that satisfied him. With the economic changes of the nineties and observing the development of Polish culinary habits Mr A saw a chance for himself and finally decided to start his own company.  

In the beginning of the nineties the spices used in Poland were mainly salt, pepper, allspice and bay leaves. However, later the Poles began to adopt dishes from foreign cuisines. This was due to more frequent travel to the Arab countries (such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco) and Turkey. This resulted in growing demand for various types of spices which are very often used in the cuisine of these countries. Moreover, many new restaurants opened in Poland at that time, both European (Italian, French, Spanish, and Greek) and exotic (Indian, Mexican, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan). Over the last ten years, the spice market has developed very rapidly. Nevertheless, Mr A perceives that there is still a place for new suppliers who are filling a niche and can effectively compete with major companies; both Polish and international corporations.

Mr A’s current company was established in 2004. It is engaged in the import of herbs, spices and food concentrates and their wholesale and retail sale. His company did not need high capital investment to start up. Mr A had only 4,000 zlotys (about 1,000 euros) when he established his company and renovated the office, where he is based. His greatest assets were contacts in the Arab countries and the support of brothers and sisters living in Baghdad and a good knowledge of six languages.
Mr A sees chances to develop his company in the still-growing Polish market thanks to the owners of restaurants who continue to introduce new dishes to their menus, requiring more and more herbs and spices, as well as new mixtures. According to Mr A achieving success in this market depends particularly on continuous analysis of the current and evolving culinary tastes of Poles who are now willing to eat not only traditional dishes but also seek novelty and are willing to undertake a culinary experiments.

Mr A’s company is growing very quickly; reflected by achieving higher turnover every year and increasing the number of customers. He conducts the business very carefully, and wisely, with a vision of careful development in the future. He is considering extending its activities as well as employing new staff in the near future. However the main obstacles; identified by him as a barrier, is bureaucracy and a lack of willingness from officials to provide assistance to entrepreneurs leading small businesses. 

Education and Culture Lifelong Learning Programme
© 2011 ELIE Project
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.