Surely you know his face, it smiles from labels and billboard signs. But who is he exactly? Expats.cz had a chance to put some questions to Stanislav Bernard, co-owner of one of the Czech Republic’s more idiosyncratic brewers: Bernard.
RS: Acquiring the brewery in a state auction in the nineties must have been a substantial financial investment for you. What was your plan to be successful in the brewing industry?
SB: When you ask today about a plan, I have to laugh. During the auction of the Humpolec brewery, which was in an extremely poor technical condition, somewhat beyond death, my partner and I made a calculation on a sheet of A4 paper. The asset value of the brewery was 9.5 million Crowns. We managed to get it for 52 million Crowns, including unusable supplies. Many people probably tapped their foreheads, thinking we were mad, but we were full of enthusiasm and determined to prove ourselves. After years of oppression came a possibility to start a business, to achieve something, to try to see if we had it in us. We have run into technical problems and lack of funds daily from the beginning. It was tough, but we wanted to have the best beer. That was our goal. In our first year of business we brewed approximately 107,000 hectoliters of beer. Meanwhile as the state enterprise Jihočeský Pivovar [South Bohemian Brewery], into which Humpolec fell, 26,000 hectoliters were made a year before.
RS: How has the beer market in the Czech Republic changed since this time?
SB: At the beginning of the nineties, people were so sensitive to advertising, because until then no advertising had existed, it was enough to hang an advertisement on the motorway bridge and sales immediately rose. It obviously doesn’t work like that anymore. You have to offer not only a quality product but fantastic service. Before you serve beer in a new restaurant, you have to invest tens of thousands of Crowns in glass, refrigeration, beer taps, table cloths, outdoor advertisements et cetera. Also consumer behavior has changed. More and more people buy bottled beer. This trend is Europe-wide. Fortunately this doesn’t concern us. Even today our sales of draft beer are growing. We have established business in new restaurants. However, the product range is changing. While desítka once prevailed, interest in lagers, special brews, ales and even wheat beer is growing. In recent years non-alcoholic beer and fruit beers also play an important role.
RS: In recent years the trend has been toward microbreweries. Do you personally see the microbreweries as competition for the large breweries, with which must be counted in the future?
SB: Speaking for myself, I don’t regard microbreweries as competition, but rather as enriching the market through various special brews and new flavors. It’s only good that the offer on the market has increased. When Plzeňský Prazdroj stopped supplying yeast to microbreweries, we immediately offered ourselves, that they can obtain yeast from us.
RS: You are personally connected with your brand and not only in name. Your face appears on advertising campaigns and labels. How has this approach been an advantage? Have you encountered any negative reaction?
SB: When Dejan Štajnberger, the then creative chief of the advertising agency with which we cooperated, came to me for the first time with this idea, I couldn’t imagine that I would say, “We have the best beer.” But later I saw the power of humor, Bernard s čistou hlavou. [Literally, Bernard with a clean head, it is the brewery’s non-alcoholic variety. The image on the label shows a bald Mr. Bernard.] A personal touch is important. On the shelves with all those alcohol-free brands a bottle with the label Bernard with a shaved head can’t be overlooked and people appreciate that I know how to make fun of myself. As for negativity, not really, but one of the first email responses I got was when I appeared on the label. It read: “You brew fantastic beer, but what is the big-eared bat doing on the label”.
RS: Your campaigns aren’t frightened to comment on current events, like the Svět se zbláznil [The World has gone mad] campaign. Aren’t you scared that your customers will regard this as overstepping the role of a brewery? According to you, what role does Bernard have in Czech society?
SB: Our dream is to build a cult brand and that must have not only quality and a story but also its own opinion. Certainly, not everyone always agrees with us, but based on reactions we have learned how the public feels. And the majority of the messages are positive. Several years ago with our employees we created mission for our brewery, which was “one’s own way to an honest Czech beer.” And we stuck to this. Also we have taken the side of preserving the taste of beer diversity and so we have come with the campaign to guard against “eurobeer”.
RS: In 2008 you ran for ODS for the senate. In the presidential election you supported Karel Schwarzenberg and have participated in the Anti-Corruption Fund. Are the above all your personal interest or is it the politics of the whole firm? And what are your personal goals in regards to these activities?
SB: I’m not a person who would only curse a situation and do nothing to change something. In the Czech Republic role models, unfortunately, are missing, which can offer a positive example. I supported Count Schwarzenberg, for example, simply so that such a role model can be even when I can’t agree with him in everything. In our campaign I represent my own opinion, which I stand behind. If I point out some absurdity, some broad social problem, it’s always that I agree with not only my co-owner Josef Vávra but also my team of co-workers. The reason why I became a co-founder of Nadační fond proti korupci [The Anti-Corruption Endowment Fund] is that I think it is to prevent the misappropriation of state funds that should be used for the construction of new roads and highways and investment in education.
RS: What are your plans for the future?
SB: In the category of lagers Czech beer is one of the best beers in the world and our brand Bernard is among the best on the market. My dream was to brew and sell fantastic beer and I think we fulfilled this dream. And so I have a new dream for the brand Bernard to become a cult brand.
What’s your favorite Bernard beer?