Gabriel Oprendek and his brother own a company that produces craft drinks. Their ‘Opre’ cider was one of the first cider brands to be introduced in Slovakia. They’ve recently created a new brand of honey-sweetened lemonade called ‘Mellos’. Read about his motivation to create unique products and the desire to always be the first. Read about his motivation to create unique products and the desire to always be the first.
Why did you decide to return home after studying abroad?
I didn’t really want to (laughs). My plan was to continue studying and travelling. Had the opportunity with the cider not come up, I’d probably have never returned. But this was a chance to create something new and interesting in Slovakia, something that would enable me to put in practice what I’d learned abroad.
More and more people go abroad to get the knowledge they can then use at home. In your opinion, is it important to study or work abroad?
Every moment spent abroad teaches you to think differently and be aware of how certain things work well somewhere else but not in Slovakia. Experiencing a different way of thinking and then coming home a more experienced, well-rounded person, gives you a big advantage.
Do you believe that given your age at the time you started your business, you’d have been equally successful in another country?
Would I ever start a business abroad, with no contacts and not speaking the language of the country? Even if I had the same business idea, I probably wouldn’t.
What was your motivation for introducing a drink that very few people in Slovakia knew of and even fewer used to drink?
More than anything, it’s knowing that, if you come up with something completely new, you are the first to have done it.
How difficult is it to build a brand around an unknown product?
You need to do a million things at the beginning and then make sure that the business is working. When your product is completely new and unknown, the first thing you have to do is explain. That’s a major difference. If someone came up with a new brand of cider today, everybody would know what cider is. But creating something new requires all the steps necessary for making people familiar with your product. That’s what makes it a bit more complicated but other than that, there isn’t much difference.
What did you do?
When we first started, we took bottles of our cider everywhere we went for the first year and gave them away as samples. People in Slovakia usually don’t but something they’ve never tried or even heard of.
What role has luck played in your business?
A big one! My brother and I were very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. We came up with the idea, believing we’d be the first in Slovakia. It took us roughly a year to actually start producing the cider. A year later, major companies started introducing their cheap, poor quality ciders in Slovakia and promoting them heavily. We beat them to it, so our customers recognised that “those guys did it first” and our timing proved to be perfect. Had we launched our product later, our small brand might’ve gone completely unnoticed among all the advertisement by the big companies.
We were also lucky to meet our biggest client at a market in Bratislava. I was selling the cider there, gave him my business card and he’s been buying our cider for two and a half years now, even becoming our biggest client. You have to be out there, with the people, regardless of whether you manage to sell something or not. I think that if you do something you really believe in and you do it well, luck will come. Sitting at home, doing something you don’t like and waiting for luck to strike will get you nowhere. If you work hard, make contacts and believe in your product, sooner or later you will succeed.
This year you launched a new brand of soft drink. Is it a necessary counterweight to your cider or simply a new addition to your portfolio?
There were several reasons but first and foremost, we felt that a quality non-alcoholic drink was missing on the Slovak market, among the major international brands that are heavy on sugar, chemicals and food colouring. Our goal was to create something natural and unique. We are aware of the demand for a soft drink. People have been asking us about a non-alcoholic cider but that was not what we wanted to do. So we created the Mellos lemonade.
We wanted this product to have some added value that would set it apart. In the end, we chose honey. I only know of a single brand of lemonade, an American one, which uses honey as a sweetener. But despite sporting the word “honey” as a part of its name, the list of ingredients is still full of food additives with “honey” appended to its end. This lemonade contains about 0.1% of honey while ours contains 10%. Water, herbs and honey. Nothing else.
It seems that for you, it’s more than the marketing and business. You must enjoy the product itself.
Definitely, I must be interested in the product. When creating something new, you must always take into consideration whether all the ingredients are available, preferably year-round and at reasonable prices. Then you must figure out how to sell your product. Being able to create something is great but that doesn’t always mean it’s also marketable. That’s why we selected the herbs very carefully during the initial development phase. For instance, elderflower was the first option that we considered. But then we realised that many elderflower teas, lemonades and syrups were already available. Instead, we decided to use juniper, thyme and chilli.
Do you feel it’s time to share your know-how with others?
Sure. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to be an open business and share what we are doing. Eight foreign students have already done internships in our company. Not all of them were really motivated but each one had to complete a project or an assignment and they could all see how our business works, what challenges we face and how we approach the marketing of our products.
People often ask us for advice. I’ve never refused to help another producer who was about to start their own business. Once I gave away too much information, including supplier and customer contacts and, as it turned out, helped to launch a company that has become one of our competitors. That’s when I asked myself whether to change our approach. In the end, we decided to stay what we’ve always been — an open business.
Has your brand definitely put down roots in Košice?
We were thinking about moving abroad, where we could be closer to our suppliers. But I want to stay here. I like Košice, it’s a nice place to live and everything we need is here.
Opre Ciders and Mellos lemonades can be found inside the Welcome Pack which is waiting for you in any of the rooms of The Invisible Hotel.