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SOME SLOVAK COMPANIES AND BRANDS ARE THRIVING

Still going strong after all these years

SLOVAKIA, since becoming part of the world market, has been flooded with global brands and products originating from every corner of the world. In spite of this there remains an impressive array of local brands, labels and products which still attract Slovak customers and whose popularity has not faded. This is especially visible in the food sector, in which local brands continue to claim the loyalty of consumers. But this would not be possible without the money and effort invested by their producers. The story of each of these products is interesting and represents part of the wider picture that makes up Slovakia.

SLOVAKIA, since becoming part of the world market, has been flooded with global brands and products originating from every corner of the world. In spite of this there remains an impressive array of local brands, labels and products which still attract Slovak customers and whose popularity has not faded. This is especially visible in the food sector, in which local brands continue to claim the loyalty of consumers. But this would not be possible without the money and effort invested by their producers. The story of each of these products is interesting and represents part of the wider picture that makes up Slovakia.



A 30-percent-plus share of the tea and coffee market



Poprad-based company Baliarne Obchodu enjoys the position as the biggest local supplier of coffee and tea to the Slovak market. Its history dates back to 1955 and it is one of a few food firms in Slovakia which have remained in Slovak hands.

The traditional products of Baliarne Obchodu are Popradská káva (Poprad coffee) and Pigi čaj (Pigi tea). The latter, which has been immortalised in the lyrics of a Slovak song, is something of a legend in the industry: the company has been supplying it for more than 40 years. It was the first tea in bags to appear on Slovak store shelves. The name Pigi is actually a ‘Slovakised’ abbreviation of P.G., the English initials for Pekoe Golden. According to Ján Zeman, the marketing manager of the company, Slovaks fill more than 55,000 cups each year with this popular black tea.

But the company is not only about Pigi čaj and Popradská káva, which dates back to the 1990s, as the company has extended its product portfolio with Mistral teas. In total, Baliarne Obchodu sells about 500 tons, or 12.5 million packages, of tea each year, including the Pigi brand.

“Pigi is one of the food legends,” Viliam Matušek, the marketing director at Baliarne Obchodu, told The Slovak Spectator. “It is something like Horalka [traditional wafers]; something that we have not spoiled but rather enhanced.”

According to Matušek, Baliarne Obchodu is one of two or three old food producing companies which have remained in Slovak hands and, instead of disappearing or being taken over, have developed dynamically. He believes that it is because of the ability and skills of the company’s management that during this period of globalisation a local company has retained such a strong position and that people still have a product from a Slovak company whose quality successfully competes with foreign brands.

With regards to it sales, Baliarne Obchodu has maintained market shares exceeding 30 percent for both commodities, coffee and tea, according to Matušek.

Matušek sees further growth potential in Slovakia. The company has grown significantly over the last two or three years. It changed its assortment and became more involved in development, something that has already been positively mirrored in the company’s results. Its goal is to keep its dominant position in the coffee as well as the tea segment, and is planning to increase its market shares further.

In foreign markets Matušek sees a chance to succeed with its Mistral tea label. Under this brand the company offers a ranking of mixtures which cannot be found on the markets of neighbouring countries. With regards to the future, the company want to stick to its core business, coffee and tea, but it has a number of new ideas and has prepared many new products.

“2010 was interesting, because we re-designed almost 100 products and introduced about 17 novelties,” said Matušek. “But 2011 will be even more vibrant.”



Bubbles from Sereď



The production of sparkling wine by the original French method spread beyond the borders of France only in the 19th century. The first such factory in Europe was founded in Bratislava in 1825. Later the company moved to Sereď, where it is still located today. Its current name is Hubert J.E. and it belongs to the Henkel group.

The company sees the long history of Hubert J.E. as one of the reasons behind the long-standing popularity of its sparkling wines. On the other hand, the consistently high quality of its products, which is one of the company’s key priorities, is another factor to which it ascribes its success.

Peter Krúpa, executive director of Hubert J.E and director for controlling, did not specify the current market share of Hubert J.E., while describing its position as “significantly dominant and stabilised”. With regards to growth he sees particular potential for Slovakia to gradually catch up with western and southern Europe in the culture of drinking sparkling wine.



“In these countries sekt is drunk at various occasions over the whole year,” Krúpa told The Slovak Spectator. “In Slovakia the habit of drinking sekt in the context of Christmas and New Year’s Eve still prevails.“

Hubert J.E., whose sister companies from the Henkel group are present in neighbouring countries, focuses on the Slovak market, even though it exports its products to the Czech Republic and some other countries. But for the company, exports are more of a pleasing extra, according to Krúpa.

The company is not limited to the production of sparkling wines.

“After the acquisition of Vitis Pezinok in 2008 we considerably broadened the extent of the labels offered,” said Krúpa. “We offer in our portfolio, apart from traditional sekts, also quality still wines under the Vitis label, and the branded distillate Karpatské Brandy Špeciál. We see our potential especially in uncompromising quality, in the complexity of our portfolio and in the communication of our branded products.”



More than 500 years of making beer



The brewery in Vyhne, a small town in the mining region around Banská Štiavnica, was established in 1473, 20 years before Columbus discovered America. Beer has been brewed here to this day, or for almost 540 years. Over the years it has changed hands – as well as its name – many times and is now called Pivovar Steiger. The name Steiger represents an affinity to the region as the function of the steiger, which in German meant the master of mining, used to be one of the most important functions in the mine.

The history behind the local production of beer is also one of the reasons which Jaroslav Vysloužil, the current director-general of the brewery, sees for maintaining the beer-brewing tradition in Vyhne. According to him, some places have their ‘genius loci’, i.e. spirit of a place, and the Štiavnické Vrchy mountains which are home to Banská Štiavnica are studded with such places.

“500 years is an unimaginable period of time for one generation and this tradition and the passing of it from one generation to another is, according to me, the reason that has propped up the brewery even during times which were not very favourable for this craft,” Vysloužil told the Spectator.

For the time being Pivovar Steiger is among the small and medium-sized breweries of Slovakia. According to Vysloužil, historically the market share of the brewery used to be around 5 percent and, after some fluctuation during the last decade, the situation has stabilised. During the last three years the market share of Pivovar Steiger has even increased. And with regards to the huge changes through which the Slovak beer market is currently going, “keeping the present share we can basically perceive as a success”, said Vysloužil.

Exporting is not a core business for the brewery, even though each exported hectolitre of beer pleases the brewery.

“Nowadays we are exporting about 4 percent of our production and we expect exports to grow,” said Vysloužil, adding that especially its dark beer, for which customers have been found in such beer powers as the Czech Republic and Germany, has proved successful.

With regards to its future plans, the brewery has announced a halt to its recent investment of more than €4 million over the last four years.

“We are now waiting for the final shape of the tax policy in Slovakia,” said Vysloužil, referring to recent efforts by the Slovak government to increase the excise tax on beer.


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