This leading Romanian poultry meat producer processes today around 75,000 tons of chicken products a year, with capacities up to 100.000 tons, which it sells domestically but also exports to over 10 countries under the CocoRico brand. Despite the numbers, company chief Bogdan Stanca prides himself on putting quality before quantity, nothing than healthy food creates healthy customers. The company holds quality certifications from all the relevant international agencies, and AAylex controls every step of the process, from the water that the animals drink to the genetics that go into hatching the best broilers, making it a key player in the integrated food industry. After investing in expanded facilities, AAylex is getting ready to roll out an innovative new product.
As founder and CEO, what are the major decisions that have made AAylex what it is today?
Ours is a story of step-by-step growth rather than single, watershed decisions, such as taking over other companies through mergers and acquisitions. From the beginning, I decided to work in the food industry, and we slowly built up our company from there. You could probably say the most important decision was taken in 2008, when I decided to make a very big investment of over €50 million in our expansion. We were three partners and they didn’t have the same ideas as I did. At the time we also held real estate and other assets, and they wanted to keep growing on those fronts, especially real estate. For this reason, we decided to split up, and I eventually remained with our core business. Between 2008 and 2010 numerous investment decisions were made towards achieving what I see as the most important goal of the company, to dedicate ourselves towards the highest quality. Healthy food is very important for humans, and I am very conservative about this concept. If you don’t eat right, you will eventually get ill, which is why we strive to contribute to people’s health.
The nutrition is such an essential element for the organism, together with the air and water, as everybody knows. But not any type of water or air can be good for you, it can even harm you.
That was crucial timing, at the start of the global crisis.
Yes. I built on the belief that quality would ultimately pay for itself, and that if you are not greedy, you will eventually succeed. Step by step I worked towards the complete integration, and we have recently invested in robotics, which will further modernize the slaughterhouse we finished in 2011. We have also invested millions in improved feed, breeding and slaughtering capabilities, and next year we will start producing at two new factories. Both factories will produce 100% natural & nutritious ready to eat products, exclusively from fresh chicken meat. In the first one we’ll produce chicken meat sausages, and in the other one we will produce cooked chicken parts.
These are unique product categories, which recipes were developed as a result of AAylex’s own research and development work.
It is then safe to say you control every step of the process?
We work on everything from genetics to the client-side of the business, on every aspect of the process. We are working on maintaining the special breed of chicken that was made naturally in 1957; we own hatcheries, we produce feed exclusively for our chickens, which we do not sell to others. CocoRico doesn’t add anything artificial to the feed, we keep it very simple and natural. We do not use antibiotics to enhance growth, fish meal, animal flour, hormones or any other synthetic additives like that. And we are BRC, IFS, FSSC, BSCI, SGS, and ISO- certified, audited& verified annually, which proves that we do not just claim to produce quality food: it has been checked by all the relevant organizations.
Do you see a trend in Romania for greater demand for chicken and less for red meat, as in other parts of the world?
I do, even though there is a lot of competition in this field, which brings great pressure on pricing, where you have to be careful and ask at what cost. It takes us at least six months to bring a chicken to market if you consider everything from the hatchery onwards, plus it costs money if you want things done right, with quality.
How do you see the company moving forwards in the future?
Our main idea is to keep working on top quality products, rather than growing by volume. We also want to remain vertically integrated. We’re not focusing on developing quantity, because it would make it difficult to maintain the same conditions for the produce. The environment is also very important to us, and we are working to be the first waste-free Romanian company, in three years’ time, and planning to continue investing in this direction. For instance, the chicken waste is transformed in electricity and steam within our own industrial bio-gas station.
What are the logistics of producing and distributing fresh food every day?
It is indeed difficult to sell fresh food every day, it requires very special logistics and faithful clients who understand all the aspects. Because of the fact that shelf-life for fresh chicken meat is maximum 15-16 days, from the production date, maintained in special conditions, many choose to sell frozen. But if you use the freezing process in meat, you may destroy nutritious parts. Everyone asks us how our chickens are so tender, even the breasts, without manipulating the chicken in any way. It is done through the right feed and the right genetics. Economically this approach makes sense for us, because we can save costs on all those extra substances that are expensive, and I don’t use energy to freeze the meat. I often like to say that the water the chickens drink at our farms is better than the tap water you get here in the city. This, because we strictly control the source and we have a special system of hydrogenated water.
There is a big difference in pricing between ordinary chicken and bio chicken products. Do you see room for branding in between?
All of this is purely marketing: You could say that we are bio producers too. It’s just about who gets the licenses to put the labels on their products. Our issue is that we cannot produce at two different qualities. I produce natural products, but I do not seek these licenses, because I think it’s a fad and misleading for the consumers. A lot of it is just playing with words.
But how do you fight the popular image of chicken farms where animals are being injected with substances?
We try to explain the facts even on our website, and explaining it daily to the customers who have tasted our products. But it is difficult, because these days, on the internet, “the biggest imbecile can compete with a university professor for attention”- quoting Umberto Eco. And erroneous information can destroy an industry. European standards are very high, and we have also been certified by SGS, the global leader in inspection, verification and certification. So it’s not just a claim, it is a confirmed fact. Our chicken has a superior taste and our clients recognize that. We think that eating healthy food is good for people in every sense – it drives you from getting better physical health up to a good state of mind.
Companies with double-digit annual growth require financing and the banks in Romania are said to be not so good for this…
I went abroad for funding because I want to make this company secure and resistant, but I am also funded by banks in Romania, who understand our vision and strategy. I am not interested in merging or buying other companies. We are structured like a corporation, so few people have understood why I care more about quality and people than about money. I could double production& profits if I wanted to, but this is not in my interest, because it would mean I should lower the quality and enter in another type of competition. We are market leaders today in our country, but a day could come when we are no longer in top place, because other companies engage in mergers and acquisitions. But that’s all right with me, as long as we keep producing and delivering the same quality to our customers.
Final message to the readers of ‘Die Welt’
If you try to eat healthy and balanced, you will have a good life. You will make financial savings, will have an increased productivity, but most important, a good health, both physically and mentally.