Sweet Poland: from a bakery to one of the most interesting success stories in food retail

Sweet Poland: from a bakery to one of the most interesting success stories in food retail

We met with Adam Sowa, chairman of Cukiernia Sowa, during the Gelato World Cup at SIGEP. With over 600 employees and the region’s leading chain of cafés, bakeries and pastry shops, his firm is a prime example of how craftsmanship and an entrepreneurial spirit can go hand in hand and how a small bakery can become one of Poland’s largest corporations.

Can you tell us how Cukiernia Sowa came to be?

It was 1946 and the war had just ended. Using his own recipes, my grandfather opened a bakery, despite it being very challenging times as a result of the dictatorship and the status of the economy. Together with my grandmother, they baked bread that could be smelled for miles around. At that time, it was even hard just to find the ingredients, whether it was flour or sugar, and it was not easy task to produce a good bread. 

And how did you manage to grow from then on?

The bakery became so successful that my parents decided to hire their first two employees, and then they began to bake cakes as well. The first was a chocolate cake based on a personal recipe.  This, too, was a great success because it was so light. Of course, the law didn’t allow you to make many types of bread and desserts. Bureaucracy was still too strong and set a number of restrictions. I joined the firm in 1982 after getting a Master’s degree in pastry making. In 1988, we opened our first shop, and soon after, together with my wife, we created the new Adam Sowa Pastry & Bakery brand and opened our first coffee shop. Towards the end of 1997, we built a new central production facility, which remains our company’s headquarters to this day. So new production, new shops—often in shopping centers—and new products were all launched and were a great success. Today, we have three restaurants, 120 franchise points of sale, and our coffee shops.

Can you tell us what is the secret to growing in this industry?

Take it slow, step by step, with good quality at the right price and a whole lot of passion for what you do. Beyond a certain size, technology and marketing become important as well, although people—our employees—play a crucial role in production, too. We have also often involved the best experts and other partners from the worlds of pastry and gelato making to come help us improve our products and discuss new ideas. 

Are you planning on opening new points of sale?

We are currently working on a generational shift, which is essential before we can look to the future. My daughter, Aleksandra, who is on the Polish team that participated in the 2014 Gelato World Cup, and my son, Michal, who handles marketing and operations, are now working in the business and helping me to run it. I’m very happy about this. Another important step was opening our first shops abroad, in London and Berlin.

What is the secret to your success?

Craftsmanship and an entrepreneurial spirit.  Craftsmanship goes into everything we make, and we pay close attention to product quality. We have a central laboratory with 300 employees, and we distribute products out to the various points of sale. We have our own recipe for chocolate and our own special blends of tea and coffee. We have improved our products a great deal over the years, thanks in part to our partners, who are often Italian. Of course, today’s problems are different from those of many years ago. Human resources management, marketing and technology are now just as important as the quality and goodness of our products.

You make gelato, too?

Of course. Italian gelato is becoming more and more popular in Poland, even though the summer there is shorter. But, given that many of our points of sale are in shopping centers, our customers tend to eat gelato all year round. Our most popular flavors are chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and cherry swirl, as you would expect.

Shortly after this interview with Adam Sowa, we joined the Polish team, the revelation of the most recent edition of the Gelato World Cup, to help them celebrate placing third, behind Italy—a great result for their nation and for the Sowa family, seeing as how Aleksandra was a member of the team as well.

For more information about the company, visit their web site at www.cukierniasowa.pl

Sweet Poland: from a bakery to one of the most interesting success stories in food retail
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