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Trading up

Portrait

Sawex was founded by Piotr Krzysztof Sawicki together with his father in 1989 just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in the Eastern Bloc. They took advantage of the new economic freedoms to set up a trading company specialising in chemicals for the rubber industry and food staples such as rice and beans.

Their headquarters in the beginning was an old box container in Warsaw, but they quickly moved to more suitable premises. “There was a real sense of excitement at the possibilities being opened up at the time,” recalls Mr. Sawicki.

“At first we were solely exporters, and by 1993 we had become the biggest exporter of beans from Poland. In the mid-1990s, we started to import goods as well in response to demand from the market.” Up until around 1996, the company was involved only in trade with no attempt to add value to the products.

“For example, we imported boil-in-the-bag rice from Germany to sell in supermarkets,” says Mr. Sawicki. “Over time, however, the German product became too expensive for Polish consumers, so rather than lose an existing customer base, we contracted out the packaging of rice in cooking pouches to a company here.”

In 2003, Sawex opened its own production site in Pomerania where rice bought in bulk is packaged for the Polish market. In this way, Sawex adds value to the bulk materials it buys and is able to keep more of the profit for itself. The rice used is imported from the EU or the Far East and is packaged for sale under the brand names Britta, Halina, Rani and Sotto, to mention just a few.

In all decisions concerning the portfolio, Sawex is guided by the principle that the customer sets the trend. “Thus, we have included rice varieties for specific dishes such as Sushi or Risotto, and we also offer basmati and jasmine rice for Indian and Thai cuisine,” Mr. Sawicki says. “Also, our product portfolio is upto- date on current trends, such as healthy diet and nutritionists’ and doctors’ recommendations.”

The production site was deliberately chosen with space to spare. Sawex is currently looking for a partner for its food activities to extend the scope of its production activities. “We are looking for a partner from the food industry with the expertise to break into new product areas,” explains Mr. Sawicki. “Our production site is strategically positioned close to the port of Gdansk and is ideal for exports to Germany and Scandinavia.” Sawex’s current portfolio focuses on rice, beans, rolled oats and, since 2011, breakfast cereals.

At the end of 2011, the company was reorganised into two separate entities: Sawex Foods and Sawex Chemicals. The latter continues to focus solely on trade in natural and synthetic rubber as well as chemicals used in the rubber processing industry. It is the Polish distributor for the German chemicals company Kettlitz. “We import from Germany, Russia and Asia for just-in-time delivery,” says Mr. Sawicki. “We have long-term contracts with our partners and warehousing capacity around the world.”

In fact, Sawex has just opened a warehousing facility in the USA. Sawex’s customers include the major supermarket chains such as Metro Group and Carrefour, as well as smaller food retailers in Poland. Its chemicals division focuses in the main on industrial clients such as tyre and conveyer belt manufacturers. The food side of the business employs 60 people and generates 8.5 million EUR in turnover, while the chemicals division employs 30 people and generates turnover of 250 million EUR.

Clearly, Sawex has come a long way from its humble origins in a box container. It ascribes its success to the commitment and motivation of its workforce, many of whom have been with the firm almost since the beginning. Mr. Sawicki now runs Sawex together with his wife and has ambitious plans for the future.

“We hope to internationalise our food activities, which is why we are looking for foreign partners or Polish companies with suitable contacts overseas,” says Mr. Sawicki. “Now that Poland is part of the EU, the opportunities are even greater and so, too, are the rewards.

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