The vegetable processing firm Eisberg Hungary, located in Gyál, just southeast of Budapest, is renowned for great working culture, inclusion and innovation. The company, part of the Swiss Bell Food Group, has been maintaining its market leader position for over three decades. The challenges brought on by the new coronavirus epidemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have affected the company, just like many other firms, but, as Managing Director Zoltán Gazsi tells Diplomacy&Trade, they have not given up propagating healthy lifestyle and producing foodstuff that help achieve that goal.
This May, Eisberg Hungary participated in the International Salad Month for the second year in a row. “30 years ago, there was no serious consumption of ready-to-eat salads in this country. That's when we started to take every opportunity to see how we can incorporate it more and more into our food culture. It's not an easy process because you have to practically change the eating habits of a country. It's not just about salads, it's also about getting people to go for health screening tests, for example,” the Managing Director points out. He adds that there is no traditional culture of salad consumption in this country, but the situation is changing – fortunately in a positive direction. “At Eisberg, we have taken a lot of opportunities over the past three decades to get people to try eating salad, we have 350-380 events annually, including sponsorship and CSR activities, with people tasting our products and most of them finding out from their own experience that salad with a delicious dressing is cool and tasty. In addition, as most Hungarians are wallet-sensitive, we have introduced one-portion salads and despite the enormous inflation, only a small part of the extra cost has been built in the price to encourage food conscious Hungarians continue eating our healthy, convenience salads”, he says.
Good quality food important
With further regards to healthy lifestyle, Zoltán Gazsi notes that those who go to the gym, the athletic urban class, the educated class who are mindful and conscious, they have already been Eisberg customers. The question here is how to get more people on board. “For the average Hungarian housewife, Sunday lunch is usually meat soup, fried meat and French fries. How to get her to add some salad, not just pickles, but fresh produce? Access to good quality food is the result of conscious thought, but in an environment of 50% food inflation, people don't have the money to always choose healthy food at the grocery store. We urge everyone that it is not good quality food that they should spend less money on.”
Eisberg’s packaged fresh salad mixes are entitled to bear the logo of the GREEN BRANDS trademark. It ensures that the certified brand is truly environmentally friendly and sustainable, thus contributing to the protection of the environment, nature and climate, as well as the preservation of valuable natural resources. The company has been committed to these values for many years and the new trademark is an acknowledgment of this effort.
Eisberg wants to set an example by not only showing the outside world how to eat healthier, but also by helping its own employees. As the Managing Director puts it, “just because they work at Eisberg, it doesn't mean that everyone is fit and doing sports etc. On the one hand, this year, we have a nutrition program to help employees change to a healthier lifestyle, and on the other, we have a physiotherapist and a dietician to help people who want to lose weight. A most recent six-month program was successful in starting an internal awareness that ‘yes, you are in charge of your own destiny’. Don't trust that if something goes wrong, the government or medicines, etc. will save you. Whatever you can save on medicines, spend that money on good quality food and be more conscious of what you eat!”
Strong embassy and chamber ties
Being a Swiss-owned company, Eisberg Hungary has very close relationships with the Swiss Embassy and the Swiss-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce (Swisscham) with the company providing all the support they can for the cooperation, Zoltán Gazsi, who is also member of the Swisscham board, stresses. "Ambassador Paroz has been to our plant several times, for instance, last year, on the occasion of the company's 30th anniversary. When a health day was organized at the Swiss Embassy, I gave a presentation about my own hospital history and warned everybody to go to colonoscopy test not later than at the age of 40, or even earlier. Of course, there was no shortage of salads either. The latest embassy event with our participation was in August this year for the World Athletics Championships. So, we have a very strong relationship with both the embassy and the chamber, we support all their initiatives, and where they are, there is always salad.”
Keeping the company profitable
As for business in the first half of this year, with Hungarian inflation at an unprecedented high level in Europe, consumers have started to make different choices. “It's always very difficult when there is a fear in the system, when people don't know how much their gas and electricity bill will be, whether they will get a pay rise or not. There was a big scare in our company when the store chains had a drop in sales, often 15-25%. We did not lose many consumers, but they became more cautious and more careful about their purchases.
We were keen and successful acquiring new clients, which was needed to keep our production efficiency, and also looked at the biggest cost items over and over again, still being able to find improvement areas. As workforce availability in Hungary is still a continuous challenge, we have balanced our team with Indonesian workers: the integration went well, productivity went up.
Global warming uncertainties adversely affect vegetable growing and we do not expect climate conditions to get much better in the near future, so, prices will continue to increase. The Eisberg management learned that the only way to stay afloat in this market was to be very careful with price increases, so we kept convenience salad inflation far below average food inflation. The extra tax on retail chains have increased the pressure on the whole food industry sector, and as a result of all above, the profitability of Eisberg has clearly declined, we expect around only 1-2% this year,” the Managing Director explains.
Believing in a growing market: convenience will not go out of fashion
“From November, we will be launching a new type of product line based on dietician recommendations: bowls of ready-to-eat, colorful and convenience salad, which will give us a very strong share of that market segment. All in all, we are building further awareness of how to target people who could actually be persuaded to eat salads and eat healthier.”
In another important development for future growth, Eisberg bought a plot of land next to the processing plant in Gyál, because we strongly believe that the market will grow. “Eisberg has a large Austrian plant in Marchtrenk, near Linz. It has four large halls where they produce a wide range of products, and we are considering to supply them with raw produce and certain semi-finished products made here in Hungary. The company is investing in the Hungarian market because it believes that this country can play an important role in supplying neighboring countries as there is a future for this product range in the whole region,” Zoltán Gazsi concludes.
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