In January 2022 Katarzyna Placek has become the new sales director of our company! She will be responsible for the development of our Meatless Sales Department in Poland and abroad - including England, Sweden, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania. We managed to catch her for a while amidst her busy schedule of meetings and ask her a few questions!
What have you learned from many years in the international food industry?
K.P.: I have been selling food products in Poland and abroad for over 22 years. My experience includes cooperation with international retail chains and FMCG distributors on every continent, including the world's largest players such as Walmart, Costco, ALDI, LIDL, Carrefour, Geant, Auchan, Metro AG, LOTTE and many others.
The most important thing is to realize that each of the foreign markets has its own requirements and is slightly different - the customers have different taste expectations, prefer different textures and organoleptic characteristics, packaging needs and recommendations. The distribution of a given assortment is different, and there may also be additional requirements for quality certification - especially in markets outside the European Union.
The key issue is also the appropriate selection of local business partners who will represent us in each market. As Bezmięsny / Plenty Reasons, we are looking for partners with whom we can develop and grow together over the long term. We must like and respect each other's work. In this way, wonderful interpersonal bonds are created, often going beyond purely business relationships.
My job is to introduce brands from Polish producers to foreign markets - it requires a lot of effort and preparation before the acquisition process begins. Very often, the owners of domestic brands are convinced that it is enough to send a Polish catalogue to a foreign distributor or commercial network and the partner will guess the rest - because the company is a significant player in our home market.
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There is no awareness of the fact that virtually none of the Polish food brands are known and recognizable even regionally in Europe, let alone on a global scale – there is no Polish Coca-Cola or Milka. You have to work hard, be creative and listen carefully to the needs of each distributor and feedback from the markets - from end customers - i.e. the users of our products. They end up voting with their wallets for or against a given product when shopping. Staying relevant requires ongoing, close contact with customers and a lot of flexibility in adapting to market requirements on the part of the organization.
I am very pleased that the above-mentioned challenges and potential problems were practically non-existent in the case of Bezmięsny. When preparing our strategy for entering foreign markets with the Management Board at the end of 2020, from the very beginning we decided that we were building an international brand with product to export - this is how Plenty Reasons was born. We also chose a specific selection of products which, in our opinion, had the best chance of finding its place in various European markets: best-selling sliced plant-based cold meats, plant-based kabanos sausages and bacon. The popularity of our vegan black pudding on foreign markets turned out to be a surprise - it is currently the best-selling product in the UK and Slovenia. In Sweden, our plant-based kabanos sausages reign supreme.
Which challenge is the highest priority for you to tackle now you’ve joined Plenty Reasons?
K.P.: This year, the activities of the sales department focus on refreshing our selection of products and introducing our limited-edition grilled meats range, and seasonal offers for Easter and Christmas, to all the key partners we work with, so that our customers can enjoy the widest possible selection of meatless meats. Agnieszka and Sylwia, who are responsible for key customers in the company, are just finalizing negotiations and annual talks, and are preparing promotional campaigns that will support the sale of limited-edition plant-based products from Bezmięsny.
We are currently finalizing our selection of products for the hospitality industry, which may soon completely change the availability of vegan options in popular cuisine.
With regard to foreign markets, we are expanding our presence in the specialized store sector and in e-commerce in the UK, Sweden, Hungary and Slovenia, and we are developing relationships with partners in the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania. Soon we will send our first deliveries to Ukraine, and meanwhile we are also carrying out our first acquisitions on the German-speaking markets, which are very competitive and demanding in terms of the range of products offered and their quality. Given that the Plenty Reasons brand has been operating on the market for less than a year, these are spectacular results, which represent the work of experienced export managers - Agnieszka, Joanna and Kasia.
What surprised you the most about Igor and Rafał's project so far?
K.P.: Bezmięsny is relatively young (this year the company will turn 6 years old) and yet it is a great organization - that is thanks to Igor and Rafał.
We have a wonderful team, whose members are committed to the mission and clearly enjoy what they do. We inspire and learn from each other; the office is full of ideas and the atmosphere is very creative and productive. This helps us feel secure at work, because each of us is aware that, if necessary, we will all band together and help each other.
Of course, there are problems, hard days and sometimes even serious challenges, but then we mobilize as a group to solve the problem, and then together we analyse what needs to be done and how to modify our internal procedures so that the issue does not repeat itself anymore.
At the same time, Igor and Rafał have extensive knowledge of the industry and our products, but also they are open minded and listen to others’ opinions. I appreciate them for that - we all learn a lot from each other. Such openness with and respect for each other enables the development of both the organization and individual members of our team.
To see that we already had a very professional, advanced approach to promoting our products on social media, where our target customers spend a lot of time, was a big (and pleasant) surprise for me.
We have great, active profiles on FB and Instagram, and this year we started working on TikTok. We are also able to offer really well-tailored marketing support to our distributors in Poland and abroad - all thanks to Ania and Weronika. They, in cooperation with the Management Board and the sales department, craft our public image and bring Bezmięsny and Plenty Reasons closer to the end customer.
Finally, we offer the best selection of vegetable cold cuts on the market, and we all work together to create them. It's great to be part of the nutritional revolution of plant-based food!
What are, in your opinion, the biggest strengths of Meatless products?
K.P.: The competitive advantages of Meatless's products are their excellent taste, texture and consistency. Our products are characterized by a complex taste; they are not "flat" in taste like other vegetable meat substitutes. They are also characterized by consistency; they are delicious as a cold and hot snack. As one of the few vegetable meat alternatives, our products are suitable for consumption immediately after opening, since they do not require additional cooking – but some of them are simply tastier in a pan.
Our sausages grill and fry fantastically, as is the case with our vegetable bacon, the range of which was extended last month with the introduction of three delicious bacon products.
On the other hand, vegetable sliced meats are a great breakfast alternative to sandwiches, but they are also very good for pizza or casseroles.
The above opinions are not only our corporate marketing message - this information comes directly from our customers, who buy meatless meats and share their insights and opinions with us - and come back to us for more. It also happens occasionally that the idea for another delicious plant-based product from Bezmięsny comes from the customers.
At Bezmięsny, we are in close contact with our customers from the very beginning - it is very important to us that all comments from our consumers reach us and are carefully analysed. Our online store, around which a community of regular customers has been created, and our Facebook group Czułe Bezmięsne Świry (CBŚ), help significantly in this.
At the same time, the quality of our products is confirmed by numerous awards; the most recent example being when last year our salami won 3rd place in the Best Plant Product of the Year.
Over the last few months, we have introduced an incredible 9 new products to the market - all thanks to the creation of Meatless LAB and the commitment of Rafał and our experienced technologist Eugeniusz. Both Rafał and Eugeniusz are constantly working hard to make our products as tasty as possible.
Together, they also create our limited edition Meatless products. It is thanks to them that we can offer such a wide range of seasonal products: vegetable alternatives of such classics as white sausage or pork loin with plum. Look for them on the shelves before Easter. Then we'll enter the barbecue season with some brand new meatless options. In a word - Meatless this year will stay with you all year round, giving anyone who wants to reduce their meat intake the opportunity to try new plant-based options.
Does the fact that the number of vegetable meat alternatives is exploding in Poland make it more difficult to convince chain buyers to list new products?
K.P.: It is true that the number of plant-based alternatives is growing very dynamically in Poland. My personal observations show that innovations and novelties in this area appear much faster than in mature, traditional industries such as dairy products, cold cuts or sweets. This trend can be observed around the world - not only in our country.
In the latest report of the European organization Smart Protein Project from 2021, surveys showed that as many as 37% of respondents in the EU describe themselves as flexitarians, vegetarians or vegans. In Poland, this percentage was 30%, which is almost 1/3 of the population. Forecasts predict that the market of plant substitutes for meat and dairy products will grow annually with double-digit dynamics. The 2020 Arizton report provides for the most advanced markets in Europe (UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy) a CAGR for the development of plant-based meat alternatives at + 17.56% y / y (2019 as the base year).
In Poland, intelligence agencies have not conducted such detailed research yet, but the growing trend is visible - it is clearly evidenced by the plant-based alternatives that line the shelves and refrigerators in our stores.
Our domestic market of vegetable meat alternatives has been developing very dynamically in the last 2 years. In 2020 also large players from the meat processing industry entered the game, supplementing their selection of traditional meat products.
Competition in the meat alternatives market is increasing, therefore innovation, flexibility and being close to end-customers are required for success. As these three values are inscribed in the DNA of our Meatless brand, we do not feel much pressure from the competition. Our products are known and appreciated among consumers due to their quality, delicious taste and realistic texture. We also know how important it is to offer innovative new products and expand the range of products so that each consumer can find something suitable in our range - be it vegetable salami, alternative bacon or vegetable Silesian sausage. We have something Meatless for everyone!