Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | February 28, 2008

Poland: supermarket group drives up organic turnover

The Polish retail chain Spolem operates 20 stores in Warsaw called Sezam, the majority of which have an attractive organic product range. In 2005, organics were introduced in just three stores, but by now you find them in a dozen or so Sezam outlets, with the number of organic products varying according to the size and location of the stores. The Spolem cooperative ( was founded 135 years ago.

“In 2007 we included an organic range in another four of our stores,” says Boguslaw Edmund Pienkowski. He is the manager of the biggest Sezam store that has 3000 m² of retail space and is located in Marszalkowska Street near the Palace of Culture. Food, including organic products, is on the ground floor; on the two upper floors you find household and electrical goods and other things for the home. This Sezam store employs 105 people.

Mr Pienkowski also points out that some of their stores only have 30-70 m² of shopping area. A small outlet might have just half a metre of shelf space for organics, while the equivalent in one of the two department stores can be as long as 15 metres.

“Sezam stores now stock 500-800 organic lines, depending on their location,” explains Marta Uzarska who is responsible for publicity. Organics are no longer marginal – they now account for a respectable 2 % of turnover, and the trend is upwards. You see bright green signs on the shelves drawing attention to products from organic agriculture, and sometimes flyers with product information are provided for customers (see photo). In 2007 more organic departments were integrated into four stores, and last year the sale of organics rose by 30 %.

The range is varied and includes all product groups – fresh products like fruit and vegetables, milk products, bread and bakery goods, soy products and sausage products are clearly identified with green signs. A large green sign with Produkty Rolnictwa Ekologicznego hangs above the dry goods shelf.

There is currently a supply bottleneck in the case of meat products. “Customers often ask us when more sausage products are coming in,” says one of the employees. There is only one sort of beer on sale, but in contrast there is a well presented spirits department selling organic wines and liqueur.

At the moment, there is only a basic range of fresh fruit and vegetables, and the same applies to milk products. “We simply don’t yet have enough certified organic goods in Poland, even though we would like to extend our stock to meet customer demand,” says Mrs Uzarska.

“We are now thinking of combining organics with the marketing of regional goods, since we are dealing here with a similar clientele,” says Jolanta Jadrzejewska, Marketing Manager at Spolem. By paying special attention to environmentally friendly and local products, Sezam would make itself clearly different from its mainly international competitors in the retail food trade.

As well as at the point of sale, the company engages its customers via an in-house monthly magazine. The origin and benefits of organic products are constant themes in this publication.

How is the organic idea being spread from the Warsaw Spolem stores to other regions of  Poland? They have worked out a standard organic shelf design for the other stores in their cooperative.  There is a total of 274 cooperatives with 4000 stores in the Cooperative Association. “But it is not simply a question of other cooperatives taking over the Sezam model. Each one must decide for itself,” says Mrs Uzarska. According to her information, 64 stores now list organic products, and they stock on average 200 different items.

“We provide information for consumers to get them more interested in organics, and we also distribute leaflets. And each of our stores that sells organic foods has at least one organic advisor chosen by us from the employees,” explains Marta Uzarska, Head of the Department dealing with customer advice and PR at the Spolem consumer cooperative. At the store in Marszalkowska Street as many as eight of the 55 employees in the food department have attended a course on organics. These two-to-three-day courses are made available twice a year by the  Spolem Cooperative, and 20 employees take part in each course.

The Sezam stores in Warsaw have in total 800 members, who each made a payment of 500 Zloty (140 euros). Members then receive a customer card that gives them a 5 % discount on goods, except for alcohol and cigarettes. Membership also gives access to cultural events and travel opportunities. Work groups come together to discuss a range of topics, and regular meetings take place with the Board, enabling ideas to be passed on to the management.

Conclusion: The Sezam stores under the management of Boguslaw Edmund Pienkowski are excellent at promoting organic agriculture and providing the consumer with a high value organic product range. Through their efforts they have created a unique position for themselves, and competitors in the retail food trade will have great difficulty in catching up with them. Big concerns like Sezam and successful specialist organic shops will make processors realise that they have to invest in converting production totally or partially to organic. The aim is to enhance basic goods produced in Poland itself and to supply a wide range of organic products at affordable prices.



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