Zwack is not only one of the most well-known Hungarian brands, but also one with a history of over two centuries, of which the last nearly 130 years have been associated with Hungary. Chairman of the Board of Directors at Zwack Unicum Plc., Sándor Zwack, explains how this great past of the company is cherished today.
“We are the 6th generation running this prestigious company. While we try to keep up the tradition as much as possible, we focus on innovation too. We believe that a company can only persist for centuries if it renews itself while the traditions are respected,” he points out to Diplomacy&Trade.
This is what happened in January 2017, when – after years of experimenting – the company reached an important milestone, presenting the double-barrel aged Unicum Riserva in which the familiar taste of Unicum meets the unique character of Tokaj. With this innovation, they were the first ones to enter the market of super-premium herbal liqueurs, not only in Hungary but in Europe as well. After nearly three years of development, in 2020, the company presented the newest member of the Unicum family, the Unicum Barista. Coffee and bitters have both been consumed for centuries. These two traditions are united in a very innovative way in the bottles of Unicum Barista in which the main components are Unicum and Arabica coffee. Just like in the case of traditional Unicum, the unique character of Unicum Barista comes from the oak barrel in which it is aged. “These stories demonstrate that we try to renew the brand from time to time,” the Chairman adds.
The Zwack factory in Budapest was destroyed in World War II and the brand was carried on in the United States by the family before Péter Zwack returned to Hungary in 1988. His son, Sándor Zwack, highlights that World War II and the subsequent nationalization had the biggest impact on the distillery because the family had to flee the country. When the distillery was nationalized, authorities forced the family to hand over the secret recipe, but Béla Zwack – who was one of the two brothers running the distillery at the time – gave them a fake recipe. This way, only a liqueur with fewer ingredients could be produced.
“It was quite an adventure how the original recipe was taken out of the country: Béla’s brother, János – my grandfather – took the original recipe to the United States, where he emigrated, hidden under an oil barrel, in a lorry. In the U.S., Béla and János continued the hard work and they even won a court case against the Hungarian state, after which it was not allowed to use the name ’Zwack’ and ’Unicum’ in the West. Later on, my father, Péter Zwack inherited the secret recipe. In 1964 in New York, he founded a separate company, which imported wine. Two years later, he became Export Director of another liqueur company. My father returned to Europe in 1970 and settled down in Italy where he met my mother. The production of Unicum was relaunched there. After that, it took my father 18 years to return to Hungary where, as a result of the privatization program, he managed to repurchase the family business in 1992,” he explains.
Zwack as a brand
The brand name Zwack has a special meaning in Hungary: Unicum means a lot to Hungarians, “it reminds us of our past and history. Our leading brand is still Unicum, which is a Hungarikum (part of the collection of Hungarian values). Technology has unequivocally changed but the recipe of Unicum remained the same for more than 225 years. Everyone has a personal memory connected to Unicum and the heritage made it even more delicious. Unicum stands for Hungarian tradition and history on the international liqueur market, it has a specific place in every heart and stomach. Our most important markets are those that have an outstanding history of bitter consumption, for example Italy, where we grew up with my sister, Izabella,” Sándor Zwack adds.
Value chain and portfolio
In a recent speech, Minister of Finance Mihály Varga mentioned Zwack as one of the Hungarian companies and brands that can organize value chains. The Zwack Chairman agrees that companies that are known at the regional level need to be introduced to the world more widely. “We are constantly working to make the reputation of Zwack well-known among more and more people around the world. In 2019-2020, we continued to focus on export markets; building up the brand in Italy and improve the brand awareness in Germany. Thanks to these activities, we achieved an increase in export sales last year.”
Zwack’s current product portfolio has also been developed along with building the brand. As Sándor Zwack says, Unicum is still the strongest product. “Unicum represents the respect of traditions and courage, which is essential when we try new flavors and ingredients to keep Unicum exciting. We need years of experimenting to develop a new product, but the real question is not that how often we can introduce a new liqueur, but rather how often can we create a truly unique spirit. For example, the success of Unicum Plum has continued since its release and it was able to reach a new audience. Four years ago, when we created Unicum Riserva, our purpose was to come up with a spirit, which combines in perfect harmony the exciting and exotic herbs with the seductive honeyed essence of Tokaji. Once the familiar bittersweet taste of Unicum encounters the sensuous sweetness of Tokaji, Unicum Riserva becomes mellower but at the same time spicy and fruity, with hints of dried apricots and an elusively herbal, minty taste like a cool breeze. With Unicum Plum, Riserva and Barista, we can get a new audience, as more and more people are interested in bitter liqueurs with a softer taste. In addition to Unicum, we are responsible for the production of popular spirit brands such as Fütyülős, Vilmos, St. Hubertus and Kalinka, among others. In 2018, after several years of development, we introduced Kalumba Madagascar Spiced Gin, a herbal and spicy gin that combines complex spiciness and citrus freshness, aged in oak barrels on dried figs for months.”
Transparency and sustainability
Zwack Unicum Plc. is committed to transparent operation and has been providing information on its sustainability performance for many years. As the Chairman explains, “sustainable development has been the principle of our company's operation for more than twenty years. It is a well-balanced combination of economic efficiency, social responsibility and environmental efforts, which we can ensure with an innovative mindset, preserving our values and traditions, and acting ethically to all our stakeholders. The training and development of our employees are also very important to us. In the 2019/20 fiscal year, we announced new focus areas: environmental protection and economical operation. During the campaign, we organized lectures quarterly to which we invited the best experts in the field.”
He believes that environmental education and attitudes have a prominent role to play in solving environmental problems. By leading the habits of consumers to a positive direction, Zwack Unicum Plc. can preserve and protect the health of the environment. “In the spirit of this, we wanted to draw the attention of our colleagues to those small things and practices that could make everyone's environment livable and more sustainable in the long run. We support this approach in all aspects of our work: innovation, production processes, promotions, and also in our everyday behavior,” Sándor Zwack concludes.