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Austria's Ćevapčići Emperor

Success story. How a former Bosnian WU student managed to pave the way for this popular dish and other Balkan delicacies into supermarkets across Europe.

What does a student from the Balkans do when he wants to satisfy his craving for food from his homeland in Vienna? Yes, he goes to one of the many Balkan restaurants and stuffs himself. That would be a temporary solution. But Mirza Haračić wanted a permanent one - and not just for himself. That's why he and two fellow students founded a company that today satisfies the longing of many compatriots for original Ćevapčići and other Balkan delicacies.

In 1995, Mirza Haračić came to Vienna from Bosnia-Herzegovina to study. He soon discovered that, despite the geographical proximity and large community, it was difficult to buy products from his homeland in local grocery stores. "Our idea was to change that," the now 46-year-old recalls how he and two other WU students recognized the huge gap in the market.

Domestic production

So the students made contact with a large Bosnian meat processing company, which expressed interest in working together. However, one major hurdle had to be overcome. As a non-member country, Bosnia could not export its meat to the EU. So the Bosnian partner wanted to know whether production could be organized in Austria and distribution throughout the EU.

"Three students and a partner from Bosnia founded Brajlovic GmbH ," says the managing director of the company, which is now called Adriatic Group, employs 70 people in Vienna alone and is one of the leaders in the production and distribution of food from the Western Balkans to the EU market. "Initially we only produced smoked beef (Bosnian: Suho meso, ed.) and beef sausage (Sudžuk), later we added Ćevapčići. Then we also started wholesale distribution of other food products such as coffee, sweets, pickles, etc.," explains Haračić, whose company fills most of the shelves in Austrian supermarkets with Balkan products. Today, these shelves are no longer the exception, but rather the rule. In the 1990s, this was not a given.

"The buyers in the supermarkets were initially skeptical. The products were too exotic for them - even though so many people from the Balkans were already living here at the time," says Haračić, drawing a parallel to Scandinavia: "There you find shelves in the supermarkets that are 12 to 15 meters long and only filled with Balkan products. In Austria, the whole thing is still conservative." Why is that? "It's because of society. Scandinavia has always been more open to immigrants. They are more confident about trying new products there."

But purchasing behavior in Austria has also changed significantly in recent years. "You can feel that we from the Balkans are part of this society." But it is not only the people from the Balkans who are well integrated in Austria, but also a dish that is an indispensable part of the menus of local restaurants: Ćevapčići. Haračić describes the delicious meat fingers with a smile as a "migrant with an Austrian background."

"The name comes from another country, the meat, the spices and the production are Austrian," he says, referring to the production in a factory on the outskirts of Vienna. A four-digit tonne number of Ćevapčići, made according to a Bosnian recipe, now finds its way from here to buyers in Austria and the EU.

Meat love

Nevertheless, one has to ask Austria's "Ćevapčići Emperor" a clichéd question: Can people from the Balkans not survive without meat? "More or less. In this community you will certainly find the fewest vegans and a lot of people who can go a day without

Consider meat a wasted day,” he replies with a smile, but also admits that compared to his Balkan friends, he eats much less meat than he used to.

"You can definitely feel a bit of integration," jokes the entrepreneur, but makes it clear: "Meat is what makes our company." Despite the great love of meat, the Adriatic Group wants to move with the times and also win over new generations who do not eat meat.

"There were already ideas about how we could make our Ćevapčići from soy, wheat or peas. We also made samples," explains Haračić. But they are not yet ready to put it on the market. There is a good reason for this: "It has to taste like Ćevapčići first. We don't sell anything until it is perfected."

Taken from (Mirad Odobašić, 24.09.2023)


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