New Twists on Old Crafts

New York Times

Being on the cutting edge of technology is one way to win market share; doing traditional, well-loved things supremely well is another. Some companies do both.
Plzensky Prazdroj will have been brewing Pilsner Urquell beer for 169 years, come October.

“At the time the new brewery was established, they had cutting-edge technology, they brought in the best ideas and a Bavarian brew master named Josef Groll,” said Jiri Marecek, the brewery’s external communications manager. “Using local ingredients and the new technology, he invented what’s now known as the Pils style beer.”

Within 30 years, the brewery was exporting its bottom-fermented brew to more than 30 countries. Now, after a couple of world wars, 40 years of Communist rule and the Velvet Revolution, comes another defining moment: the purchase of Plzensky Prazdroj by SABMiller, the global brewing giant.

Some might see that as a sellout, but not Mr. Marecek.

“After SABMiller came lots of investments,” Mr. Maracek said. “Not much was invested in the breweries under Communism, so we still had our historic technology. Now, they’ve invested 15 billion koruny,” or $870 million.

“We export to over 55 countries and not only are we building the brand, which has been ongoing from the beginning, but we continue to leverage the tradition,” he said.

Tradition is a buzzword for Plzensky Prazdroj, but looking at the current market the brewery is investing 200 million koruny in something beer purists might consider sacrilege: a PET plastic bottling line.

“Historically beer is consumed in pubs with your friends,” said Mr. Marecek. “ But times are changing. With the economic downturn, there’s been a decline in consumption in pubs and restaurants. The market for PET is rising.”

The brewery is selling its low-cost labels Primus and Klasik and its alcohol-free Kozel beer in plastic bottles, using a Hungarian bottler until its own line starts up later this year.

Herend has been producing luxury porcelain at its factory near Lake Balaton in Hungary since 1839.

The company won numerous awards at the 1851 London World Fair and Queen Victoria ordered a complete service, decorated with a Chinese flower and butterfly pattern, for Windsor Castle, said Laszlo Szesztay, Herend’s commercial director. The pattern, bearing the queen’s name, is still in production and a Herend dinner service was used for the recent wedding in the British royal family, he said.

The style is traditional but the company stays up-to-date. Mr. Szesztay said that in addition to a new, more youthful interpretation of the Victoria pattern, it was also introducing a jewelry collection while looking to expand exports to new markets in Russia and China.

At the core of its identity is involvement with its community and its workers. The company has joined Hungary’s employee share ownership program, which means that 75 percent of company shares are owned by its employees.

“The value of Herend porcelains is derived primarily from the labor invested into the product, the high level of skill of the workers, their love of the profession and the manufactory character of shaping and painting,” he said. “Thanks to the work of the potters and painters, Herend makes products that to this day earn the highest esteem of art connoisseur consumers.”

Skoda is one of the world’s oldest car manufacturers, dating to 1895.

“Family-oriented, functional, practical — that is what Skoda is all about,” Winfried Vahland, Skoda Auto’s chairman, wrote in the 2010 annual report.

Through the twists and turns of Central European history, the Czech company has held to that route map. Now celebrating 20 years of its association with Volkswagen this year, it is planning a major expansion to raise output to at least 1.5 million vehicles a year by 2018.

“Since 1991, Skoda has quadrupled its worldwide sales under Volkswagen,” said Rudolf Dreithaler, a company spokesman. “In order to achieve this, Skoda is investing massively in new products and new markets, particularly in China, India, and Russia.”