Boring statistics today. Do you know the Wine Business International? Largely unknown to the wine lover, this bimonthly magazine enjoys a steady following within the wine trade. It is considered a trustworthy source of information on market trends, interviews with industry leaders and analyses of the wine market in different countries. I think all of its articles are available online for free, which is another advantage.
Well, in the last edition of the WBI, there’s an overview of the Polish market written by Jarosław Adamowski (see online version here). And, I’m sorry to say, it is just an appalling piece of work. Full of factual errors, it essentially provides readers with false information.
The author makes the fundamental error of using unreliable data collated from several contradictory sources. Hilariously, he writes in one sentence, “Between December 2011 and November 2012, Polish clients purchased about 111.9m litres of wine,” and in the next, “The average Pole consumes about 7.2 L of wine per year”. Given that the population of Poland in 2011 was exactly 38,538,447, the latter figure would put the consumption at over 277m litres. Well?? A bit later in the text, the author states, “87.8m L of still wine were imported by Poland in 2011”. So the reader is left to wonder whether Poland actually produces the balance?
The answer lies in the somewhat geeky but vitally important structure of wine consumption in Poland. According to IWSR data, over 232m litres were consumed in 2012, but not all of it was proper “wine”. There was 98.5m L “still light wine” (which is the imported grape wine we all drink and which is of exclusive interest to WBI readers) but as much as 84m L of “other wine”, i.e. industrial fruit wine made in Poland that is on the decline but still makes up a large proportion of the market. There was also 14m L of “aperitif wine” (=vermouth) and 35m L of “sparkling wine”, of which only 15% was proper imported sparkling wine, and 85% industrial fizzy alcoholic drink made in Poland from imported grape musts. Any article on the Polish wine market that fails to distinguish between these categories is good for the trash.
According to another interesting statistic that I obtained from the IWSR, the per capita consumption in Poland in 2011 was indeed 7.2 L for “wine” as a whole but only 2.89 L for “still light wine”. That’s a major difference that should have been clarified in the article. You can quote either figure, but don’t mix them up: when the WBI says, “The average Pole consumes about 7.2 L of wine per year, which leaves them far behind neighbours in Germany (25.9 L), and also Romania (13.3L), or even Lithuania at 12.6L”, it does exactly that, because the figure for Germany and Romania refers to “still light wine” while that for Lithuania and Poland is total “wine”.
In a nutshell, you can’t build an article on data quoted freely from Ambra S.A., Biedronka (who are two wine distributors), Nielsen, Euromonitor, IWSR, and the Central Statistical Office of Poland (GUS) without addressing the fundamental differences in their methodology. GUS makes no distinction between imported wine and local fruit wine. Nielsen, whose Polish market report is notoriously unreliable, base their estimates on data they obtain from supermarkets, ignoring the traditional off-trade (50K smaller grocery and liquor stores) as well as 100% of the on-trade, i.e. more than 50% of the wine market in Poland. In my experience, the only truly reliable report for Poland is made by the IWSR, which is cross-checked between import and export statistics for the entire market. But surely Mr. Adamowski should have known that?
Mr. Adamowski is even unable to quote the current excise rate correctly, citing 158 PLN per 1,000 litres where in fact it is per hectolitre (100 litres). Admittedly, that makes a difference. And he has very vague ideas about the reality of the Polish market. Quoting Dobrewina.pl, La Passion du Vin and Vinifera as the “largest wine store chains in Poland” is naïve in the extreme, and outdated: Vinifera currently lists 5 shops on their website instead of 19, to quote just one example. There are also a number of inaccuracies in the references to Polish vineyards and wine producers. When Mr. Adamowski writes “In May 2011, the parliament passed a bill that allows Polish grape growers to produce and sell up to 10,000 litres of wine per year without any additional administrative formalities” clearly he hasn’t even bothered to perform a Google search, from which he could learn that Polish vintners need to send some 30 declarations and certificates to the authorities each year.
Even the most generic information in this article is quoted without proper comment. The article quotes Euromonitor International in saying “Polish wine sales expected to rise by as much as 8.3% in 2013 … 2014 will bring a further 8.9% increase”. Well, that’s frankly overoptimistic given that 2012 registered something closer to +4%, and 2013 is announced as the toughest year on record for the Polish economy (some forecasts even mentioning negative growth). You’d expect the author of such an article to offer commentary rather than just quote whatever people offer him.
Authors vary in competence but in the end, are just humans, and can make mistakes or misinterpret data. It happens to me too. However, in good old times – by which I mean the 20th century – magazines had editors who were paid to double-check their contributors on facts and figures. They were educated in good old-fashioned schools thereby learning such complicated terms as “hectolitre”. I dread to think the Wine Business International is now firmly in the 21st century.