More than one in every four Polish households now has a microwave and the trend is only going to get bigger, increasing demand for ready meals that come in convenient, microwave safe plastic trays and cartons, according to market analysts Euromonitor.
The use of trays in food packaging rose by 25 per cent between 1998 and 2002 and is expected to increase by another 24 per cent by 2007, largely driven by the popularity of ready meals but also helped along by increasing use of trays as a protective packaging for cakes and biscuits.
Trays have also become more popular in the cold cuts meat sector, seen as providing a good alternative to vacuum-packed cold cuts.
There is still a long way to go, however, with trays making up a mere 1.3 per cent of the Polish packaging market. Only Polish food producer Pudliszki, owned by the Heinz group, currently produces ready meals in microwave-safe plastic trays in Poland, with sales mainly limited to the more affluent and mobile work-forces of larger cities.
But Euromonitor states in its Polish packaging report that the introduction of this packaging is important and that "the Polish ready meals sector is one of the fastest growing food sectors in the country".
Leading this growth is the continual change in consumer lifestyles as more and more people, especially in single households and those where both partners work, try to save time in their day by switching to convenience food.
The report highlights Pudliszki's introduction last year of four different microwaveable full-course meals called Meals from the Four Corners of the World, which were "reasonably priced and accepted rather well by the market".
Ready meals generally are helping to push the growth of flexible and thin wall plastic packaging in Poland, named by the report as the main growth trends within the Polish market.
Much of this stems from the 1990s when economic reforms in Poland after the break-up of the Soviet Union gave Poles increased purchasing power, and led to companies launching new, dried ready meals aimed at a fast-living, mobile workforce.
As a result, thin-wall plastic containers have become popular as a light and convenient package for dried meals based around foods such as noodles and pasta, enabling consumers to make a quick meal at home or in the office by simply boiling water. Use of these containers rose by 140 per cent between 1998 and 2002 and is forecast to increase further up to 2007.
It remains to be seen how far and how fast microwaveable plastic trays can grow in the Polish ready meals sector, their growth inextricably linked to the commodity purchasing power of ordinary Poles, but development so far has been promising according to Euromonitor.