Friday, 9 February 2018

Polish beer cans - new stuff has come to light

Back in Ealing, enjoying the sunshine and earliest intimations of spring while walking around Pitshanger Park, up towards St Mary's church, Perivale, along the footpaths that cross Ealing golf club and back to my father's house. I notice something new (and I've lived here since 1970) - rats. Rats along the riverbank, rats on the golf course footpath, rats in the park. Great big, plump rats - the size of squirrels - much bigger than pet rats one can buy. "Did you realise this gaff's overrun with rodents?" Bit of a shock - at first sight, I thought it was indeed a grey squirrel with a a bad case of ogonopsypsypoza - but no man, this was more like a large grey rat. Will the council react? Or has the natural ecosystem of the banks of the River Brent been altered for good? I repeat - I've been coming here for 47 and a bit years and I've never - not once - seen a rat. Today - five sightings. (Having said that, my father says he has seen rats around here, many times.)

This is but a preamble. Litter, food remains - rats being feral, are attracted to the stuff. While walking the golf course footpaths, I came across many discarded beer cans. Nothing unusual, there have always been a great many here. Last summer there was a big tidy-up courtesy of the golf club, on whose property the cans tend to be tossed. But they are returning. And to my eye, what grates the most is the ubiquitous presence of Lech, Tyskie, Żywiec and Warka cans - Polish brands representing about two-thirds of all the beer cans strewn around this picturesque walk.

Before you accuse me of slandering the Polish nation, let me share with you a few observations.

Last December, I was in West Ealing, and walking down Melbourne Avenue I saw a group of inebriates, two men and one woman, hammering down the Warka Strong outside the library. Time - around 10:30 am. I assumed they were my fellow countrymen. They were not. I heard guttural accents from Glasgow; I was surprised by their choice of tipple.

A few days later, I was in Lublin, where I was in meetings with two of Poland's largest wholesalers of food to the 800 or so Polski skleps across the UK. Very successful and dynamically growing businesses. But there were two areas of trade that neither would touch - alcohol and tobacco. The owners of both firms told me that smuggling of both into the UK was rife, and that honest businesses (these guys are both way too big to attract the wrong kind of attention from HMRC) avoid cigarettes and beer.

But these commodities make their way into Britain's retail networks - via family-owned convenience stores, where low price works its magic. Brands that were once the exclusive preserve of Pan Heniek and Pan Ziutek, Sebek and Franek, have now made their way into the wider substance-abuse community across Britain.

My assumption - that the only people in the UK who drink tins of Polish beer are Poles - is wrong.

I have heard several times - in Manchester, in Derby, in Edinburgh - that for British teenagers, Polish beer is an attractive choice because it is a) strong, b) sweet and c) cheap. Cheap if it has come into the UK via an illegal route, cheap if excise duty is not paid on it, cheap if it's bought cash-in-hand from a dodgy outlet.

The Polish wholesalers in Lublin said that today many Polski skleps are owned by non-Poles, who bought out the original Polish entrepreneurs who founded the business, based on a supply chain out of Poland and loyal local shoppers. Greek Cypriots, Turks, Kurds, Indians, Pakistanis - there's a wide range of nationalities who today run shops serving the large central and eastern European populations of the UK. Indeed, last summer, I popped into Jay's Superstore off Northfields Avenue, ('Newsagents, Groceries, Off Licence, Polski Sklep') to buy my father some Polish bread, and discovered that it was owned by a Sikh. Full range of Polish products. Now, not being a fan of Lech, Żywiec, Warka or Tyskie (why drink any of these when Poland has become a centre of high-quality craft brewing), I can't say whether these particular brands were being offered by Jay.

[UPDATE 01.03.2018: The explosion in Leicester which killed five people last Sunday happened at a Polski sklep, a Żabka,owned by Aram Kurd. None of the people who died in the blast were Polish.]

My point is this. Polish beer can only compete with local brews if the cost of transporting it a thousand miles is countered by a competitive price at point of sale. This is why excise duty levied on beer makes sense - to prevent the futile transportation of a low-value, high-volume commodity to a country with higher production costs from one with lower production costs. But avoid paying that duty... and the consumer will find you.

The corollary to this is that because you see a discarded Polish beer can in the gutter on a park bench or in a school garden, there is no reason to automatically assume that if was left there by a Polish migrant. So there.

This time two years ago:
Lent, a time to cleanse and reflect

This time four years ago:
It was 50 years ago today... Beatles arrive in New York

This time five years ago:
Adventures in the Screen Trade - the truth about Hollywood

This time six years ago:
The sad end of Andrzej J.

This time eight years ago:
Today's dose of wintery gorgeousness

This time ten years ago:
First intimations of spring

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