Wawel has been making confectionery for more than a century, the key to its longevity being the ability to move with the times
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Matthew Selby
Of all the foodstuffs produced, confectionery is arguably the category that produces the most smiles.
From fruit jellies and cream fudges to caramel candies and cocoa-rich chocolate, the tremendous variety of flavours and textures makes for a market that can identify with almost every consumer.
In Poland, Wawel has become synonymous with the rich tradition of the confectionery industry, producing a huge variety of sweet treats for 110 years in and around Krakow.
Staying true to original recipes and hand-made processes in some areas, the company has also been able to thrive during this time because of its ability to innovate and change with the times, adapting products and processes to meet the evolving needs of Polish and international consumers.
“Wawel is a leader in the manufacturing of confectionery in Poland, but we cannot forget about export sales, which are a very important part of our business,” explains Wojciech Winkel, Technical Director and Board Member at the company.
“We are systematically working on our international expansion and growing the popularity of our sweets, their high quality, and the ready-made system solutions for our product merchandising and sales, all of which stimulate the positive results we achieve.”
Winkel attributes the long-lasting success of Wawel to several crucial factors, among them its pioneering approach to removing what he describes as unnecessary additives.
This ties into the company’s Good Ingredients project. Launched in 2018, the programme commits to producing the highest quality product, without preservatives, colourings, artificial flavouring, polyglycerol polyricinoleate (E476) and genetically modified additives.
“We have also increased the content of ingredients which are desirable in a given product, such as nuts and fruit juices,” adds Joanna Sztefko, Wawel’s Chief Operations Officer.
“We have established and are collaborating with a board of experts who are university professors and experts in nutrition. We make no compromises with regard to quality, and are convinced that this makes our sweets not only healthier, but also tastier for the consumer.
“We are one of the first large producers in Europe to have successfully implemented this. The project is highly appreciated by our customers and business partners and we have plans regarding its further development, fitting in line with what is a global FMCG trend towards naturalness.”
The Good Ingredients initiative covers all products produced by Wawel, an operation which manufactures 200 tonnes of confectionery a day across 100 brands, sweets which are then distributed across Poland and almost 50 other countries.
Such a vast portfolio includes chocolate at various cocoa grades and sugar levels, flavoured chocolates, fruit jellies, candied chocolates, toffees, fudge, caramel, mints and wafers.
“My personal favourites are the dark chocolate with 90 percent cocoa and Choco & Fruity (Mieszanka Krakowska) jellies in chocolate,” Sztefko reveals.
“But with over 100 different brands, it is easy to the meet different tastes of every consumer. And indeed, whenever I talk to people, we discover that they have a very specific Wawel product, or two, which they love from their childhood. Typically, when you ask five people in a row, they point at very different sweets.
“This is why we have such a broad and diverse clientele. Of course, views on sweets and tastes change over time, and we need to answer the new demand by creating new delicacies, but it is crucial to keep the right balance. We love novelties, but we feel bound to support the legacy chocolate brands that have been praised by generations of our consumers – this is the obligation we feel in relation to our over-100-year-old brand.”
Responsible for producing such volumes and variety are most of Wawel’s 1,000-strong workforce, based at two state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Dobczyce, located around 30 kilometres south of Krakow where Adam Piasecki first set up in 1910.
The first plant was built in 2006 as part of the move away from the city centre, a necessary relocation which allowed the company to grow and develop more efficient logistics.
“During the last 13 years this production facility has seen numerous investments in top-notch production lines, which allow us to carry out all value-adding processes in house,” explains Winkel. “In July 2017 Wawel opened the second production facility in Dobczyce, furnished with state-of-the-art machinery and infrastructure.
“It cost over PLN 100 million ($25.3 million) and gave us the opportunity to test, develop and produce new flavours and recipes. What follows is an open path to improve existing products, but mostly to introduce new concepts as we have the capacity required to develop our business activity and broaden our product portfolio.”
Such credentials are backed up by a raft of certifications, including ISO 9001, HACCP (The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), BRC (The British Retail Consortium), IFS Food (The International Food Standard) and, for selected products, the NO GMO, HALAL and KOSHER certificates.
Wawel also acquired two further certificates in 2019, the first being the UTZ Certificate for premium chocolate bars, meaning the cocoa used by the company is from responsible and sustainable crops and sourced with care – both for nature and without exploitation of people.
“The second, and particularly important in the food category, is the RSPO Certificate (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil),” says Sztefko. “This means that the palm oil we use is from crops that do not contribute to the devastation of the natural environment, and is sourced while respecting rights of people inhabiting the areas of cultivation.”
This is not the only means by which Wawel operates responsibly, however.
Sustainability is etched into its own activities at Dobczyce and elsewhere in Poland, both in terms of community-building around the country and environmental safeguarding practices at the two production plants.
For example, LED lighting was installed in the newly-opened plant in 2017, and water is heated using solar power instead of natural gas – this initiative alone generating over 150 MWh of thermal energy in 2018. In the sales arena, Wawel has introduced paper bags in its Freedom of Choice offerings (where customers purchase custom orders like pick and mix), a move which is reducing plastic consumption by 15 tonnes a year.
This shift also prompts Winkel to praise the crucial role of suppliers, from new paper packaging to the state-of-the-art technology which powers production.
“We are benefitting from the fact that most of our business relations have lasted for many years, sometimes even decades,” he says.
“This allows us to take faster actions and react swiftly to the changing business environment. We especially value our long-term relationships with producers of machinery and equipment, suppliers of our raw materials and packaging – without their trusted co-operation this business could not be as successful as it is.”
These stable relations also allow Wawel to plan ahead, especially around busy periods such as Christmas when seasonal products come to the fore. For Sales Director Robert Okoński, this is a particularly active time of year, and as we head towards the winter of 2019, there is plenty to look forward to.
“Our increased production capacity should allow us to successfully realise forecasted orders,” he says. “We are very proud to present and deliver to our consumers a seasonal collection of premium limited-edition products for Christmas and winter.
“We are going to run a broad advertising campaign, especially domestically, but also in some Western European countries. Wawel’s top export market is the UK, where we need to observe and get prepared for the inevitable decision on Brexit. The company also wants to strenghten its position in Germany, which is the biggest foreign trade partner for Polish foodstuffs.”
Looking further ahead and into the longer term, Okoński identifies discount retailers as a promising avenue of growth, Wawel already well-established with the likes of Jeronimo Martins Group (Biedronka) and LIDL stores in Poland.
Increasing promotion abroad, which includes exhibiting at events like ISM Cologne 2020, is another key priority, and for the Sales Director, the future is all about keeping up with trends and serving the conscious consumer.
He concludes: “This means offering confectionery products consisting of ‘good ingredients’ only – without preservatives, artificial flavourings, colourants and, what is extremely important for this industry, no E476 emulsifier (or PGPR – polyglycerol polyricinoleate).
“Despite the fact that this makes the production process more difficult and our costs higher, Wawel’s commitment for the near future is to apply and increase the percentage of raw materials and additives supplied from certified sources, based among other things, on our UTZ and RSPO certificates.
“We want to be a pioneer in healthier sweets, and we claim that people who want to live healthy do not need to reject all confectionery, and can deserve a bite of nutritious chocolate, made by Wawel.”