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Dreher Breweries: 165 years of history and stable growth

The history of Dreher Breweries dates back to 1854 when local brewer Peter Schmidt produced his first beer in Kőbánya. Antal Dreher, dubbed the ‘King of Beer’, bought Schmidt’s brewery eight years later and turned it into an iconic establishment.

Antal Dreher was a revolutionary figure in the history of beer. In 1841, he unveiled a new style of beer that combined the crispness of lager with the paler hues of the English ale, called ‘Lagerbier’, an endeavor that caught the attention of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I. The beer required a steady, cool temperature for maturation and storage; this gave it the name lager, which in German means storehouse or warehouse. In 1862 Dreher purchased the Kőbánya Brewery Company and by the turn of the 19th century, he was the 5th richest person in Hungary, according to Forbes. The company survived the ravages of two world wars, the nationalization drive of the Communist era and acquired rights to the name Dreher in 1997 to become Dreher Breweries.

Kaizen and kando
The 2017 change of ownership (acquisition by Japan’s Asahi Group Holdings) and management brought a new philosophy to Dreher Breweries. Along with the new strategy and the philosophy of ’From Dreher to Dreher’, the company is focusing on premiumization, while combining its traditions with modernity and innovation. “We continue to produce beer of ever higher quality and we have introduced a new product, the Japanese Asahi Super Dry beer. Although, Japanese colleagues visit us regularly and the parent company monitors processes at Dreher, our cooperation with them focuses on production, while other issues like marketing, sales, or HR are fundamentally handled by the European and local management,” General Manager Gábor Békefi tells Diplomacy&Trade. Kaizen, the Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices and personal efficiency, is at the core of operations in Kőbánya, and management seeks to raise the quality of production and other business areas, the executive says. “Kando, the feeling of deep satisfaction that we get as brewers from exceeding consumer expectations by providing the highest quality, is also very much characteristic of Asahi.”

Slower but stable growth
The General Manager points out that the beer industry’s growth in Hungary has slowed to a one-digit rate in 2019 compared to 2018. “However, we still see dynamic growth of over 20% in the sales of premium beers and Hungarian consumers are very much open to innovative ideas and products. The market is stable but one should bear in mind that we had a very rainy in May 2019, which had a negative impact on sales while the three summer months were not much better, sometimes worse than in 2018, which is important because the bulk of beer sales is concentrated in the warm months of the year.” The Asahi Group is dedicated to strengthening its position on the Hungarian market. According to Gábor Békefi, this means that Dreher should increase production and improve quality to be able to show growth in the premium and medium-priced category. “We are doing well in those categories. For instance, we have successfully renewed the ‘Dreher Gold’ brand, and sales now show double-digit growth.”

Responsible consumption
Dreher Breweries was the first company in the Hungarian beer industry to publish a sustainability report in 2010. The General Manager notes that one of the most important aspects in this respect is responsible alcohol consumption. “This is where we believe we can do a lot. Responsible beer consumption is part of a sustainable lifestyle and plays an increasingly important role in our society. Promoting this notion is based on many factors, ranging from communication to adjusting our portfolio by including more alcoholfree products and involving young people in responsible consumption programs.” Another area of focus is improving energy efficiency and Dreher Breweries have a several investment projects that serve this purpose. “In terms of waste management, we are doing well on the Hungarian market: a large portion of our products comes in returnable bottles or in cans that can be collected and reused indefinitely. Since one of the main ingredients of beer is water, we strive for responsible water management regarding both our natural and social environment.” On the social level, the management is aware that further measures are needed to improve employees’ work-life balance. “For instance, we would like to introduce a ‘home office policy’ this year to make working hours more flexible for some employees. There are several projects underway in the brewery in order to create better conditions for workers,” Gábor Békefi notes.

From posters to gift boxes
Dreher Breweries marked the company’s 165th anniversary last year with a series of celebrations both within and outside the company. “The local government awarded honorary citizenship to Antal Dreher posthumously, which shows the importance of both Antal Dreher and the brewery for the district. Simultaneously, the section of the road in front of the brewery was re-named Antal Dreher Road, making us the only brewery in Hungary to be located on a road named after the founder. All this means that the heritage of Antal Dreher is of great importance, not only for us but for the broader public as well,” Gábor Békefi explains. To celebrate the anniversary, the company erected an in-house exhibition to showcase 165 years of history with photos and other relics, some of which were displayed for the first time. For a weekend, the gates of the brewery were opened to the public, the factory organized a guided tour of the premises and a tasting of beers brewed for this special occasion. “In addition to displaying the key objects of the past 165 years, we tried to connect the past with the present by way of presenting the iconic Dreher product posters of the 1930s. We asked young, fine and applied artists to reinterpret these old posters for our modern age. We received over 300 exciting entries and the winning items are now modern Dreher posters that have been displayed in a manufacturing hall restored to its old glory for this occasion,” he adds. The company prepared a special gift box for the anniversary, containing two cans with the photo of Antal Dreher and the silhouette of the brewery. “The two books that we have recently published are also close to my heart. One of them, depicting the history of Dreher Breweries, is an authentic overview of the past 165 years, while the other one is a collection of 165 anecdotes from the 165 years that bring the whole story closer to the people. A documentary video was also shot in cooperation with the local community and the district municipality about the role of the Brewery in this Kőbánya district and the Hungarian economy,” the General Manager highlights.

Sándor Laczkó

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