During communist rule, Boguslaw Miszczuk began working at Sokołów, a meat processor in the town of Sokołów Podlaski in Eastern Poland. He does not recall the experience fondly.
“You had to work like a robot,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “Your initiative or ideas – they didn’t matter.”
Much has changed for Sokołów over the past half century. Communist rule ended in 1989, triggering a radical transformation for the company – which eventually found its footing and has thrived in the market economy, though not without some early stumbles.
“Investments over the past 10 years have made us a market leader with very popular products. We have state-of-the-art production sites, extremely experienced managers and highly skilled employees.”
Now a subsidiary of Danish Crown, Sokołów has become one of the most important meat producers in Central and Eastern Europe. It dominates the Polish market, where it was declared the most valuable brand in the food sector by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. The company employs 9,500 people, operates eight modern plants and exports to countries across Europe and further afield.
Sokołów has weathered tough times. “It’s especially challenging to compete in the very demanding European market,” Miszczuk says.
But he can proudly point to the modernization projects implemented over the years, which have further strengthened its position in our home market and enabled them to gain market share abroad. “We are constantly investing in our plants, improving efficiency while maintaining the highest standards.”
The company’s focus on profitability in all its divisions has also helped it to remain on top. “Sokołów has good prospects for the future because investments over the past 10 years have made us a market leader with very popular products,” Miszczuk explains.
“We have state-of-the-art production sites, extremely experienced managers and highly skilled employees.”
Miszczuk has had a unique vantage point for witnessing Sokołów’s evolution from a company operating under the constraints of central planning to an innovative market leader. After starting as a manual laborer 49 years ago, he worked his way up to be leader of the cutting and deboning area in the meat plant. He left the company but returned seven years later as a plant director.
“It was not easy to change my attitude, my approach,” he admits. But the company has modernized and innovated under his leadership, though it has had some difficult moments.
When Miszczuk returned in 2001, Sokołów had to merge plants – the result of the formerly lucrative Russian market evaporating, leaving the company with excess production capacity.
The business quickly returned to profitability, allowing it to open new plants and chart a path for growth, which has continued through 2022.
Moving forward, Miszczuk says the company’s long-term strategy is tweaked month to month due to shifting market conditions, along with unforeseen events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in neighboring Ukraine.
“As a part of Danish Crown, our strategy for the next five years is feeding the future,” Miszczuk says. “We are committed to sustainable development as a key driver of our strategy. We strongly believe that better food means a brighter future for all of us.”
“Our strategy for the next five years is feeding the future. We are committed to sustainable development as a key driver of our strategy.”
Innovation will also go beyond its traditional meat offerings. Sokołów now also produces plant-based products that provide the taste and texture of meat.
Production is small at just 50 metric tons monthly – a speck compared to the 40,000 metric tons of meat the company processes – but Miszczuk points to growing demand for meat-free options, with the number of vegetarians in Poland projected to quintuple to 15 percent of the population over the next five years.
“We recognize the importance of plant-based foods and we’re creating more and more capacity to serve this growing market,” he says.
The desire for traditional meats will also remain strong. Sokołów has focused on its partnerships with farmers to ensure that demand is met and quality remains high.
It has helped farmers introduce better, meatier pigs and maintain competitiveness in foreign markets. Sokołów also offers assistance for farmers to stay on the land, to counteract the flow of workers away from agriculture.
Forming strong partnerships with farmers is imperative to Sokołów’s success, Miszczuk says – along with establishing trust and win–win relationships. “The main reason Polish farmers believe in us is a long-cultivated sense of cooperation for mutual profits,” he says.