The best-selling Ćevapi in Europe, probably even in the world, come from Vienna. From there, the Adriatic Group supplies the immigrant communities across the continent..

When Amin Reda first tries to get the Brajlovic brand into supermarket chains, he receives skeptical looks. “They told me there was no target group for it,” says Reda, referring to his attempts to get the Brajlovic brand into supermarket chains. This cannot be pronounced or sold, they say. “That was a different time,” Reda grins. Before Brajlovic and their Ćevapi took off to new heights.

An Austrian-Bosnian success story

Ćevapi are Soul-Food. The minced, seasoned, and handy “meat fingers” need to release their fat during preparation, that’s part of it. In Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, the dish is called Ćevapi, while almost everywhere else, the diminutive form Ćevapčići has become more common. What many people do not know is that the producer of the best-selling Ćevapi in Europe, and probably in the world, is based in Vienna-Liesing. It is an Austrian-Bosnian success story that has its origins in the fact that a huge community from former Yugoslavia fled to Austria and found a new home.

“We don’t compromise. Our products taste just like you’d get them in the region below,” says Amin Reda, CSO of Adriatic Group.

The industrial estate is located at the outermost edge of the 23rd district of Vienna. A false step, and you are already in Lower Austria. Here, the Adriatic Group, which includes the Brajlovic brand, has its headquarters. Sales Manager Reda, a friendly man in a suit jacket and jeans, welcomes us for the interview. In front of him on the table, the products are spread out, from beef smoked meat to mild Ajvar.

Strict taste control

“We don’t make compromises.” Reda, being the salesman he is, likes to talk enthusiastically about his Ćevapi. “Our products taste just like the ones you can get in the region down below.” The meat for the products is 100% produced and processed in Austria. He emphasizes that the taste of the product should not be “austriacized” or “germanized”. “We constantly do tastings with our employees,” Reda explains. They would definitely speak up if something doesn’t taste right.

Amin Reda Brajlovic
At first, Amin Reda received skeptical looks when he tried to get his Ćevapi into supermarkets. Today, Adriatic Group has twelve subsidiaries and its turnover exceeds 100 million euros.
(Photo: Heribert Corn)

Ćevapi is a simple dish: in addition to meat, there are rarely more than four or five ingredients. There are numerous regional variations. The most famous Ćevapi come from Bosnia, especially from the capital city of Sarajevo. But you can also find the dish in Romania, Albania, or Bulgaria. And as with all dishes with a wide distribution and few ingredients, there are heated debates about how it should be made “properly”. Purists only add salt to the meat mixture for Ćevapi, while others at least add pepper and garlic. In Banja Luka, they deviate from the usual “finger shape” and press the Ćevapi into blocks.

A small kingdom

If you will, the headquarters in Vienna is like the capital of a small empire: Today, the Adriatic Group consists of twelve subsidiaries, with revenue exceeding 100 million euros. The business is based on two pillars. To begin with, they distribute their own brands. It all started with Brajlovic, the meat brand. Nowadays, Natura Ajvar is produced under the same brand, and Sofka Lepinja (flatbread) and sweets are produced under the name of Sofka. At the same time, Adriatic also distributes Balkan products from other manufacturers, with a portfolio of more than 500 items. Usually, a subsidiary supplies several countries. The Dutch subsidiary covers the Benelux region, while the Swedish subsidiary serves the Scandinavian market. Translation: In Germany, an important market, there are now two companies within the group.

The history of the company group begins around the year 2002. Four people with Bosnian family backgrounds, some of whom were still living in Bosnia and others in Austria, have a thought towards the end of their studies around the year 2002: after the Balkan Wars, a large number of people were dispersed throughout Europe and had found a new home, and were unlikely to return. “Those people missed the food, the brands they have known their whole lives,” says Reda. “We wondered why there was no link between the consumers and these brands,”

“We bring people’s beloved products to their new home countries. “That is the principle on which everything is based”,
concludes Reda

Under the Brajlovic brand, the four individuals begin to produce meat products. Initially, they don’t produce Ćevapi, but instead beef smoked meat and Sudzuk, a type of beef sausage, under the Brajlovic brand. With a lot of door-to-door sales, they manage to place their products in the ethnic market segment, which at that time and today is firmly in Turkish hands. “After two or three years, we dared to knock on the doors of supermarket chains,” says Reda. They were very skeptical there. One purchaser gave them a three-month chance. He didn’t believe in their success, but he thought their spirit was okay.

Nothing to lose

As they establish their meat production and conquer the ethno market, the four founders also establish a second foothold with distribution. They visit the market leaders of Balkan products in their countries of origin. At first, they don’t take the four fresh university graduates seriously, without a fleet, Back then, there was no competition. And so, the producers are often convinced by one argument: Why don’t you just give it a try? You have almost nothing to lose.

“We bring people’s beloved products to their new home countries. That’s the principle on which everything is built,” says Reda. In Austria, there were about 800,000 people of Balkan descent, one of the largest “homogeneous” target groups. The products that this target group demanded did not need to be advertised or introduced. “People had known the products for decades, they just wanted to be able to buy them.”

Out of the bargain corner

Today, the Ćevapi can be found in the chilled section of several major supermarket chains. The products of Brajlovic have also made their way into the gastronomy industry. “When you order Ćevapi in a restaurant in Vienna, the chance that you are eating our products is quite high”, says Reda. Even if the chefs wouldn’t admit it. The company now sells several thousand tons of Ćevapi annually. Yes, that’s a really large amount of Ćevapi.

Reda says that one must get rid of the idea that the target group of ethno food only looks at the price. “We have always been the most expensive. We also knew that we were the most expensive.” The trick is to create a brand that people want. It is possible to move Ethnofood out of the discount corner. Even with the Döner Kebab, it was long only about reducing the price. “Today people are lining up for a nine-euro döner at Ferhat’s in Favoriten,” says Reda. “Something like that is what we dream of as well.”

Austria is a country of immigration. Austria is a country of immigration with one of the highest rates of foreigners in the EU and relatively large communities with familial roots in the Balkans or Turkey. “When you look at how many shelves are dedicated to these people, there is still so much growth potential,” says Reda. “We have been driving with the handbrake on for 15 years.”

Taken from (Jonas Vogt, 18.12.2022)