Thirty years of re-shaping the food industry in Central Europe

This year, it is thirty years ago Marie Vavrova started to work with potato starch, modified starches and blends at Lyckeby Culinar in Czech Republic. The name of the company at that time was Skrobarny Horazdovice and a lot of things has happened during these three decades. We got a chance to catch up with Marie Vavrova, Managing Director for Lyckeby Culinar, to learn more about the important changes in Central Europe.


Why did you start working at Skrobarny Horazdovice?

As a graduate from University of Economy in Prague, I was looking for a job around Horazdovice, the town of my family. I was hired as assistant to the financial manager and could then take over that position after a year. This was the perfect start for me in my career and I learned a lot from the Director, Mr. Chlan. We worked side by side for many years and complemented each other. He was focused on investments and production and I am passionate about economy and business. 

Marie, you have been part of the food industry in Central Europe since 1988, what are the most significant changes from your perspective?

It was a different Europe with several central European countries locked into communism. After having experienced this system, the biggest change compared to today is that we can all travel freely, meet and discuss. The old system was difficult, remembers Marie Vavrova. Everybody in our company had equal salary, regardless of education and position. Prices and sales were fixed and regulated. I remember getting a ration for two kilos of bananas or oranges for Christmas since we were two children in my family.

The privatization that took place after the collapse of Soviet Union was positive. Many food producers got the chance to invest more and started to export to a more profitable market. At Skrobarny Horazdovice, myself and the Director Chlan were the first to apply for privatization from monopoly of starch factories in Czechoslovakia.

How has Lyckeby Culinar adapted and developed during your time in the company?

It has been a fantastic journey during these years. The company was acquired by the Swedish Lyckeby in 1993 and this meant that we got access to a number of new ideas and concepts that we have gradually implemented one idea after the other. A major step for myself personally was when we created the new company Lyckeby Culinar in 2003. I got the chance to step up as Managing Director and take full responsibility for the new company. It also meant that we could entirely focus on the food industry and the business opportunities there. Lyckeby Amylex in Horazdovice became dedicated to technical applications in sales and managed as a production unit for the group.

When Culinarium was established in 2006, we took the next step in growing our company. Having our own fast and close development team has been a key success factor for our customers in Central Europe. Today, we have been able to grow the turnover three times if you compare to where we started in 2003, something I am almost positively surprised by, says Marie Vavrova.

The next step was when we first started to make our blends in the new facility in Horazdovice in 2011. We can now offer more specialized, value-adding products to our customers.

As a manager, I believe strongly in a close partnership between sales and development. They are the units driving the heart of the company, other teams will support them. It has not always been easy to recruit skilled team members to the countryside of Czech Republic, but we have managed to build a strong and dedicated team here. I think we have a good image, attracting people to work for us. We have established a straightforward culture in the management team allowing everybody to question, speak freely and argue professionally, something I appreciate from my point of view, says Marie Vavrova. Another important factor for my own success has been the cooperation with Hans Berggren, CEO for Lyckeby. He has always managed to challenge me and help me to find solutions to problems.

What do you think is the most important challenge for the food industry in Central Europe?

Quality continues to be the most important factor for future success, claims Marie Vavrova. There are modern and efficient production units in all markets we operated today. If the industry continues to deliver products with high quality, the future is bright.

European consumers will demand more and more specialized products offering added values, such as health claims and clean label. The industry needs to be innovative and offer new development.

For Lyckeby Culinar in Czech Republic, what is the most important project for the future?

For us, we need to stay faithful to the original business idea which was focused on local development, local production, support and service. We feel we gradually come closer to our customers being able to actively support their operations.

The core markets for Lyckeby Culinar are Czech Republic and Slovakia, but other markets show promising future as well. We can do more business with the range of modified starches in Central Europe, says Marie Vavrova. Furthermore, we hope and rely on product development to get access to new starches. Especially, being able to offer stable starch solutions without E-numbers is something we will have more projects in the future.

I am hoping to care and manage a stable and profitable company in the future, a company I will be proud to hand over to future management. 

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