CEO of Pivovarna Laško Union
As both Chairman and CEO of Pivovarna Laško Union – the company that from July 2016 unites Pivovarna Union (founded in 1825) and Pivovarna Laško (founded in 1864) as a part of Heineken – if you’ve enjoyed a cold Slovenian beer anytime recently you have Mr Zorko and his team to thank, as the breweries and their various brands account for a huge share of the local beer market, even after the recent and rapid development of the local craft beer scene. Named for the town in which it was established, the Laško brewery is not only the most popular beer in the country, but also one of the largest in the region, with its Zlatorog label (named for the legendary white chamois or Goldenhorn of the Slovenian Alps) found in bars and pubs from northern Italy to southern Macedonia. Meanwhile the Ljubljana-based Union brewery is the country’s second most popular beer, and is especially prevalent in the capital. The erce rivalry between the two breweries has divided local beer-drinkers for decades, and continues to this day despite the fact that Pivovarna Laško acquired a controlling stake in Union back in 2004. In addition to the Laško and Union brands as well as other beers, they also produce a wide range of refreshing non-alcoholic beverages, including Sola soft drinks and Zala and Oda bottled water, with the common ingredient being the pure, natural spring water that rises up from the depths of the earth. Following Heineken’s acquisition of the company in October 2015, this was an especially interesting time to talk to Mr Zorko about branding, beer and the future of Slovenia’s breweries.
WHAT MAKES A BRAND SUCCESSFUL?
Products are made in factories. Brands are made in heads. Brands are only as valuable as they’re worth in the consumer’s eyes – we can say that everyday is like an election. We have to do things that people care about, be known for good things, be known for things that are di erent. We are aware that people don’t buy a product or service, they buy a bet- ter life, good feelings, relaxed and happy moments. They’re looking for products that make their life easier, simpler, more fun, products that give them freedom and touch their hearts. We improve everyday to make sure that our brands are beloved by building emotional connections – loyalty beyond reason. At the end of the day we don’t just count our return on investment, but also the return of this relationship.
WHAT DO THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SLOVENIAN BRANDS HAVE IN COMMON?
Clear and consistent positioning, a great brand experience, sense of innovation, sense of authenticity and strong corporate culture. On one hand they respect and are proud of their own traditions, while on they other they have a strongly innovative and forward-thinking approach.
HOW DID LAŠKO ZLATOROG BECOME THE BEST-SELLING BRAND OF BEER IN THE REGION?
Laško’s brand awareness in the former Yugoslavia and the larger region is the end result of long-term work over the past twenty years in the eld of exports and promotion. We have managed to maintain the vis- ibility of our brand and perception of the beer’s quality. Over the years we have adapted to the needs of consumers with products tailored to the market and implemented appropriate marketing and promotion activities. Key success factors have been the understanding of consumer needs, an excellent sales team, good distribution, competitive pricing, partnerships with distributors and retailers, exibility and further inno- vation. Despite strong competition we still have top brands.
CAN CORPORATE BRANDING AND BRAND RECOGNITION AFFECT A THE COUNTRY AS A WHOLE? ESPECIALLY A SMALLER COUNTRY LIKE SLOVENIA?
I agree that Slovenia’s internationally-known brands are excellent am- bassadors of the country. And we have some powerful Slovenian brands in almost every cat- egory – from medicine to mobile houses. The beer business is mainly local, but perhaps with our new owner Heineken we will have an even broader approach export.
HOW WILL HEINEKEN’S TAKEOVER AFFECT THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAŠKO AND UNION BRANDS?
We are happy to have an owner that is really a jewel in the global beer busi- ness, and thanks to their knowledge I’m sure will progress in all areas. As I mentioned in the beer business local brands have the largest market shares and Heineken is determined to continue the success of our favourite brands.
HOW HAVE CONSUMERS’ HABITS CHANGED OVER THE PAST FEW DECADES WHEN IT COMES TO BEER?
Most notably beer is becoming a category that consumers use more to express their individuality and less their belonging to a group. On the other hand, the selection of beer brands that the average con- sumer drinks on a regular basis is wider than ever. Di erent brands t di erent individual occasions. So loyalty can be secured only through continuous excellency and innovation.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT TRENDS IN THE BEVERAGES INDUSTRY, SPECIFICALLY IN BEER?
Beer as a category will see lower rates of consumption per capita. But brand-wise the market will be even more fragmented. Craft beer is no longer a niche trend, it is entering the mainstream market. Also new prod- ucts, which are inspired by beer culture, like for instance cider, will enjoy growth over next decade. And most importantly consumers will become much more sensitive regarding issues such as corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability, eco-friendliness and fair trade ingredients.
DO THE BREWERIES HAVE ANY TOURS OR OTHER INTERESTING ATTRACTIONS FOR VISITORS?
Yes, we welcome everyone to the unique world of Union and Laško beer, and warmly invite them to join our tours at both breweries. We are proud to show the process of beer brewing, the production of alcohol-free bever- ages and water bottling. At the Union Brewery in Ljubljana our Brewery Museum opened in 1986, and has even received the EMYA award pre- sented by the European Museum Forum. In the 600m2 exhibition space you can see numerous museum showpieces from the brewing industry, historical methods of beer production and follow the historical evolution of the brewery. Tours start and end in Union pub – the former malt house, which is also a listed industrial heritage building. The Union pub is excellent meeting point for those who love great beer and exquisite gastronomy. In Laško the tour includes the Laško city Museum with an exhibition of the industry, beer tasting and other brewery products. We are really satis ed that we get so much excellent feedback and word of mouth promotion.