How did an Austrian company manage to build a strong international business, with presence in five countries from the region, Romania being one of them? Biz uncovers the story of Maresi in a special Biz World edition, which virtually takes us through the five countries where the company has people building partnerships based on trust and where they passionately grow portfolio brands. Five countries, five markets, five strategies adapted locally, but unified through a business born in Austria that conquers more and more markets worldwide.
The company that grows brands
For more than 12 years, Maresi Foodbroker is developing its business in Romania by distributing and promoting brands that occupy front positions on the segments where they are present. Harald Bock, General Manager of Maresi Foodbroker says that the objective for 2021 and in the long run is to keep the business growing by mergers and acquisitions bringing new brands under the company’s umbrella, in order to grow them at nationally and internationally.
by Gabriel Bârligă
How did the Maresi business develop in 2020?
At the end of 2019 we have stopped distribution for one of the most important brands in the portfolio; nevertheless, in 2020 we have managed to register one digit sales increase. Letting aside that specific brand, the 2020 increase was over 20% and the majority of brands in our portfolio had a very good evolution last year.
Which is the position of Maresi on the Romanian market?
We are a medium-sized company; we have started operations in Romania in 2008. But, given that we entered the market and we extended the business by a series of mergers and acquisitions, we can say that now we have more than 25 years of experience in retail distribution. Even if our brands are generally situated in the premium segment of specific categories, many of them became market leaders either on the respective segment, or on certain chains or categories. Maresi deals mainly with retail distribution, main channels being big retail chains (international key accounts), online shops and the pharma segment.
How did you adapt to the new reality of remote working?
Our priority was to protect our colleagues, so we have implemented procedures over the level of those introduced by authorities. Our remote work system, technically speaking, got instantly implemented. From a human standpoint, some of our colleagues even nowadays prefer office work whenever that is possible. Perhaps the most important accomplishment is that we have managed to convince everyone to take the pandemic seriously. At smallest sign of symptoms that could have suggested a possible infection, we had immediately insulated the person, tested all people working nearby, allowed working from home or in a separate office and the respective colleagues were allowed to return only when absolutely sure that everybody was safe. Thus, we managed to be very flexible, but also responsible towards each other.
Which were the main lessons of the pandemic for you?
That our business can operate at full capacity even remotely, but only for a limited period of time. The highest risks are those related to our partners in the logistics area, as there no one can work remotely. Then, good procedures are vital for an efficient and seamless activity. And, last but not least, you will be rewarded if you take care of your employees.
”Our strategy has not changed. Our purpose is to continue to grow and, therefore, mergers and acquisitions are top of our priority list.”
HARALD BOCK, General Manager Maresi Foodbroker
How has the company strategy changed when facing this new reality?
Our strategy has not changed. Our purpose is to continue to grow and, therefore, mergers and acquisitions are top of our priority list. We are actively searching for companies in the same field or similar business fields (distributors for HoReCa, beverages, pharma, non-food goods) or companies that have their own brands which can grow internationally. As for the rest, we are constantly assessing new brands to introduce in our portfolio.
Harald Bock detailed the six pillars the company is built on:
- Austria – is our home, the place where everything started
- International – our brands and our partners are present in many countries
- Partnership – we believe in teamwork, in growing together and reaching success together
- Passion – we have a passion for brands, and we treat each brand as if it was the only one
- Grow – Maresi is a constantly growing company
- Trust – the most important value in any relationship.
Which was the impact of the accelerated digitalization for the Maresi business?
Generally, digitalization gets things done much quicker. The possibility to rapidly switch from one meeting to another, with different partners from different countries increased efficiency. It also generates a higher amount of work, that can be easily followed, though, thanks to new softwares designed for teamwork.
Which is the biggest challenge for Maresi in the new reality?
People. However efficient procedures and softwares proved to be for the company, we need to focus more than ever on our people, in order to maintain team spirit alive, in this work environment that gets if not more difficult, at least unusual. Besides this effort, we have to attract and grow people willing to take on responsibilities, that will become our next generation of managers to provide future growth.
Which is the philosophy of the Maresi brand?
Our tagline, “Brands are our passion”, perfectly describes us. During the years we have developed non-existing brands or unknown brands to local market (as well as to other markets we operate in). The creation of a connection between consumer and the story of a brand is most of the times more captivating than the mere sale of some products.
How do you attract and retain the most talented employees on an extremely competitive workforce market?
Hardly, as everybody… Joke aside, we try to offer our colleagues a familiar work environment, very good work conditions, flexible benefits and ongoing personal development solutions. Moreover, as we are a relatively small organization of about 30 people, in many situations we have only one person for the job, which creates a special dynamic and does not allow anyone to be overwhelmed by routine.
How was Maresi School programme created and which is its importance for the organization?
Maresi School was created out of the willingness to pay forward the experience gathered along the years, but also the need to pass on the information correctly, completely and in a structured way. In order to make sure that this is possible, we have created a “curriculum” which includes already over 120 courses with a cumulated period of over 180 hours. Each course has a clear addressability, according to the position held by the trainee in the company organizational chart. Even if, initially, the main beneficiaries of the Maresi School seemed to be the new colleagues, we were happy to see that even experienced colleagues attended many of the available courses; to update their knowledge in the respective field. For most courses, there are learning materials that trainees must go through before the actual course. Thus, the course becomes more interactive, facilitating the learning process and equally contributing to updating and perfecting the learning materials. As for 2021 we intend to design tests for some of our courses, so that we could identify in due time the fields we should to insist upon.
20% Maresi portfolio brands recorded increase in 2020 versus 2019
How do you see the evolution of the local market in 2021 on segments with Maresi presence?
2021 will be a difficult year in human terms. People accept harder and harder the restrictions imposed by authorities and, moreover, they have exaggerated expectations from recently launched vaccine. In reality, coming back to a “normal” life is to be quite waited for, and it can affect consumers’ behaviour, already suffering –downtrading has been felt for some months already. Economically, 2021 could be tumultuous. Even if, on a macro level we have an economic increase, it cannot cover the 2020 decrease. The investments in fighting pandemic effects that reached unprecedented levels in 2020, cannot be continued forever without significant negative future consequences (exaggerated indebtedness and accelerated inflation). On a micro level, the reaction easily influenced by mass panic is going to be paid off: some postponed payment of credit instalments only because it was possible, not because they really needed this postponement, some invested in assets they didn’t understand with possible adverse evolutions. On segments operated by Maresi – mainly modern retail and premium products – we see a slight increase compared to 2020. The HoReCa sector cannot recover in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels and consumers will consume at home more than they did before.
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