Hungary Newsflash Week 48

Mink fur regulation, COVID-19 and the poultry sector, industrial alliance lobbying, viticulture news and the effects of the pandemic on Christmas candies

Close-up photo of pine branches
©Lumen
As November is ending, the Christmas tree cutting season starts in Zala county. Annually, 2-2.2 million Christmas trees are sold in Hungary. While the country imports varieties like the Nordman fir from Denmark, Hungary also exports trees like potted spruce.

Poultry: COVID-19 might change the sector

While the direct effects of the pandemic are easily identifiable, the COVID-19 crisis might also have a lasting structural impact on Hungarian poultry farming. With the collapse of the HORECA sectors, the farmers of certain livestock animals suffered more than others did. Chicken is sought-after throughout the year, however, the sales of goose meat is more seasonal. Stakeholders in Hungary expect an increase of the market share of duck meat and higher added-value poultry meat products as a result of the crisis.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian foie gras business took a serious hit during the pandemic. The total aggregate number of slaughtered poultry decreased by 2.2% in the first half of the year, but the number of slaughtered geese and ducks dropped by 47.5% and 30.1%, respectively. With the loss of the HORECA sectors, both the demand, and supply, is dropping for foie gras. Hungarian foie gras is mostly produced for export, 85-90% of the product is sold on the international markets, shipped primarily to Hong Kong, South Korea, Belgium, France and Japan.

Fur farming regulation to be introduced

The Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture has decided to introduce preemptive regulative measures against mink farming potentially moving to Hungary. Reporting that stakeholders started reaching out regarding the developments of coronavirus disease outbreaks at several European mink farms this year, Ministerial Commissioner for Animal Protection Péter Osvádi announced a new ministerial decree regulating fur farming in Hungary.

The Ministerial Commissioner commented that he finds it important to make steps against mink fur farming moving into the country. While currently there are no mink, fox, nutria, polecat, or ferret  fur farms in Hungary, the goal is to prevent fur businesses, banned in other member states, from relocating into the country.

NAK lobbies for the broadening of sectoral pandemic measures

The National Chamber of Agriculture (NAK) is lobbying the government for an amendment to the economic relief package in order to include the suppliers of restaurants, announced the alliance in a press statement on Wednesday. Following the stricter pandemic regulations introduced with the 484/2020 (XI. 10.) governmental decree earlier in November, which limited catering services to home deliveries, banning service in restaurants, the government issued a pandemic relief package with the 485/2020 (XI. 10.) decree in aid of the HORECA sectors.

Other industries further up the supply chains are also at risk, and food and beverage-producing SMEs which primarily supply catering companies are especially vulnerable, reads the press statement. Furthermore, NAK comments that various businesses in these sectors rely on the winter holiday season as a peak commercial period making up for a considerable portion of their annual revenue. Other SME food industry businesses, built on supplying primary and high school canteens, are close to bankruptcy, maintains the alliance. For these reasons, NAK is urging the government to broaden the scope of the pandemic economic measures in order to aid businesses in this sector. (We reported on the HORECA relief measures in our previous Newsflash.)

The confectionery industry also expects losses

The Association of Hungarian Confectionery Manufacturers believes that during the coming winter season, the Christmas confectionary trade will decline by 10% to €25-26.3 million, and that this year, the market of sweets and confectionery products will shrink by 5-6% in Hungary. With the upcoming popular holidays – Mikulás (Saint Nicholas Day) and Christmas – the domestic sweets and confectionery industry enters its peak trading season. Before Christmas, Hungarian families spend €5.5-16.62 per household on szaloncukor (parlour candy) alone, which accounts for an annual trade of €20 million. The association also commented that the domestic confectionery industry maintains five thousand jobs in around 250 companies, and that many of these, especially SMEs, have had it eypecially hard this year due to the pandemic.

During the winter holiday season in Hungary, sweets play an important role. On December 6, families celebrate Mikulás (Saint Nicholas Day), a holiday when children receive candy, fruits and sweets, put in their shoes “by Father Mikulás”. One of the traditional sweets is chocolate Advent Calendars, with a treat for children for every day until Christmas. During Christmas, one of the typical Hungarian holiday sweets is szaloncukor (parlour candy), a chocolate treat with fillings varying from jelly, caramel or coconut to punch and exquisite liquor. It is customary to hang these sweets on the Christmas tree as a sort of edible decoration.

Picture of rows of chocolate Santa figures on a shelf
©Thomas Ulrich
Another sector that expects losses this year is the confectionery industry. The annual Hungarian Christmas confectionery trade is worth €25-26.3 million.

Bells jingling in the distance: Christmas tree cutting season starts

The Christmas tree cutting season in Zala county has officially started, the news portal Telex reports. The cutting of pine trees is usually scheduled for the end of November, and in the beginning of December, producers start packaging and delivering the trees to wholesale markets in Budapest where traders buy up the stock and sell it all over the country.

Christmas tree growing requires a specific set of skills as well as considerable amounts of manual labor from planting and nursery care through tending to in plantations to cutting. Zala county, in Western Hungary, is the Christmas tree powerhouse of Hungary, with multiple “pine villages” where the entire population is in the “pine business”. Christmas tree growing started here in the 1960s and ‘70s, during the Socialist era, as a popular side-business for extra income. Annually, around 2 to 2.2 million Christmas trees are sold in Hungary, the most popular trees being spruce, silver fir and Nordmann fir. While the latter is imported from Denmark, Hungary also exports Christmas trees, (primarily, potted spruce) mostly to Italy.

Christmas tree production takes up around 1500-2000 hectares of farmland in Hungary, mostly in Zala but also in Somogy and Vas counties in Western Hungary. Many pine farms operate on 20 to 25-hectare plantations, while hundreds of family SMEs have small holds of 1-2 hectare pine farms. A tree has to be at least five years old to be eligible for cutting. A hectare in a pine plantation in Hungary holds on average 9 thousand trees, out of which roughly 250-300 are cut down and sold every year.

Hungarian wine is going strong

A new market study on the wine drinking habits of Hungarian consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic found that domestic wine consumption somewhat increased during the pandemic months, reports the portal Agrárszektor.

The report also shows that domestic consumers prefer having their evening glass of wine at home and like buying it from web shops. 37.8% of consumers still buy wine in supermarkets, but 34% have already bought wine online. 12% have been consuming more since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Only 6% of consumers drink wine every day, while most, 50.1% have wine once or twice a week. 62.4% prefer white wines, while 59.6% of the consumers drink red wine and 49.8% drink rosé.

Most consumers spend €2.77-5.54 for a bottle of wine and most buy wines under €8.3, but one-fifth of consumers are willing to pay up to €14 for a bottle.

Hungarian champagne winner in world championship

Coming from the iconic Somló historic wine region, the champagne Brut Classic 2016 Magnum by the Kreinbacher Winery has been awarded a gold and two silver medals at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2020, reports the gastro news portal Gusto. While 2020 was undoubtedly a trying year, a record number of participants from thirty nations competed in various categories, out of which, only nineteen countries ended up as medal winners.

The award-winning Brut Classic 2016 was aged for three years in 1.5 liter bottles, a size optimal for champagne aging, which resulted in rich aromas and a character resembling chardonnay and the Hungarian furmint.

The Carassia Winery also brough home medals – their Blanc de Blancs and Classic Brut champagnes were awarded silver medals.

(Read more about Hungary’s viticulture in our wine sector article here.)