Balázs Matusz, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

All his life Balázs Matusz, the Chairman and CEO of the Company, wanted to be a chef. But it wasn’t failure that pushed him in a different direction; in 1992 he successfully built up a French restaurant in Győr. At 21, he became the youngest restaurateur in Hungary. But even though Pierot was doing well, the owner realised that on this track he was limited and could not move up a gear. So, when the rent doubled in two months, he decided to change.

“I wanted to go into manufacturing and trading. As a restaurateur, I was aware that there was an art to getting game meat, and it required good connections. So, in 1994, I set up a small processing plant on my own, bought game meat from hunting companies and processed it. Then the first price list was prepared, and the first restaurant that came by bought the entire stock”, recalled Balázs Matusz.

Initially, the meat processing plant produced artisanal products, game meats with bacon, which quickly became a market and laid the foundations for the company’s future. The first big step was hiring staff, and then the infrastructure improvements started.

In 2000, the first refrigerated warehouse was built, and at about the same time the company, which was already worth HUF 3 billion, was reorganised with the involvement of an external company and started to work in a corporate structure. The different departments were set up and serious directors were brought in. A new refrigerated warehouse was built in Eger and a large site in Budapest, which has already attracted widespread market attention.

And yet there is plenty of competition in Hungary, even from companies with almost the same portfolio. According to Balázs Matusz, they were able to emerge victorious from the com- petition because their service level is higher than that of their competitors; for example, customers can be sure that they will receive their order the next day.

“There are usually two big problems in the market: buyers don’t get what they ordered or they don’t get what they ordered for how much they paid. This can’t happen here. We have a stock of roughly HUF 2.5 billion in our fridges, but we also have a serious management system that allows for a lot of flexibility and guarantees very accurate operations. This is appreciated by our partners, and we don’t accept a product that we don’t consider to be of the right quality”, he said.

Over the years, Matusz-Vad has discontinued game meat, but everything else that is needed in the catering industry has been left, including specialities such as meat cooked sous-vide, zebra, camel, llama and bison meat. They focus specifically on catering, from cafeterias to top gastronomy, but are mainly present in the mid- and high-end categories.

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However, it was precisely because of the company’s ties to restaurants that it was hit hard by last year’s pandemic, with turnover falling from HUF 20 billion to HUF 14 billion.

“We had been going steadily up until then, and then in three days our turnover dropped by 80%. Costs had to be cut immediately, just like our headcount. Fortunately, the recovery came in time, so we were able to push out our stocks before they expired”, said the CEO, recalling the company’s darkest days. They also started a retail leg, mainly to retain as many staff as possible, and all the money from this was used for this purpose.

The company’s next five years of operation will also be intertwined with how restaurants recover from the shock caused by the pandemic. According to Balázs Matusz, the Hungarian hospitality industry is facing restructuring, mainly due to changing consumer habits and skyrocketing wage costs.

“In Austria, for the past fifteen years, most restaurants have been putting pre-cooked ingredients in the oven, so that even very few and untrained staff can do the job. The price of this is that, in the countryside, the same few dishes are on the menu everywhere, but people there have accepted this, and I think this will also happen in Hungary. We are very flexible, constantly trying to offer restaurants alternatives that allow them to produce the right quality product with the minimum of expertise. Our goal now is to have a portfolio that can help the Hungarian hospitality industry to develop. Matusz-Vad has always been the flagship of this kind of innovation, as we were the first to introduce a number of special products, the first to offer frozen pastries, which have now conquered everything in Hungary”, the CEO said, adding that the labour shortage in the hospitality industry is also affecting them. In fact, they employ chefs in sales, as they are the best at finding common ground with restaurants. But now there is a big fight for them, and often a colleague drops out after receiving an irresistible offer from a restaurant.

According to Balázs Matusz, what is called luck is actually hard work and good processing of a lot of experience. In terms of growth, he prefers organic development, but in the last ten years he has not considered it to be a bad idea to expand through loans either. Care must be taken, of course, not to over-finance themselves and to ensure that the loan does not jeopardise the operation of the company.

Although the director sees the knowledge and experience of a founder as impossible to replicate, he is already thinking about intergenerational succession. He considers it promising that his son, 27, is working for them as marketing director. He considers him to be hardworking and motivated, and will start restructuring the company in the near future to make it easy to manage.