AZZA Cake House is the most popular manufacturer of cake and confectionary products in Azerbaijan. Originally established as a clothes store in 2004, the brand subsequently branched out into the café business. Four years later, AZZA moved into confectionary, and the company has not looked back since, today boasting the largest network of cake shops in the country.
“Initially we were working as a clothes retailer. We used to import 18 brands from Italy and were selling them in a multi-brand store. This is how the story of AZZA began,” recalls Rahman Abdurahmanov, the General Director of AZZA.
In 2008, the decision was taken to start the cake-baking business. Abdurahmanov recalls how he had been running the three-storey café on Fountain Square in Baku: “We baked delicious desserts and cakes there. Our customers liked them a lot. This is how the idea came and we thought why not do something new in the market by introducing European style cakes?” he said.
As oil revenues improved people’s quality of life, the middle class was growing. More and more people began to opt for healthy and high quality products made from organic ingredients.
“When we started the business, there were no European cakes. Unlike the retro cakes made with Soviet recipes, they are lighter and airy. Even when you eat 3-4 slices of our cake, you do not feel heavy – while the texture of Soviet era cakes was dense and heavy. The customers embraced our cakes and we decided to start our business,” he said.
Mr. Abdurahmanov says one of the reasons for his success was the application of ISO 22000, the International Food Safety Management System as part of a project implemented with the support of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and funded by the European Union under its EU4Business initiative.
“We benefitted from local consultancy advice that helped us to achieve ISO 22000 certification. We couldn't do it overnight, just because we wanted it. It took us two years of preparation to apply the necessary standards. We were eager to do so as we wanted to have a working system, and we achieved that. The EBRD covered half of the expenses we paid for the consultancy.”
He says one of the principles of this standard is to control the safety of the entire chain process, starting from the purchase of the raw materials until delivery of the final product. Applying this standard raised confidence in their products. The project was supported by funds from Austria.
“Today, I know the expiry date of every product in our shops. I can give you a guarantee that all the products in our shops are fresh and stored in a safe and hygienic way. You will never find any expired products on our shelves. This is our power. The support of this project was huge in achieving this standard. When the consultant was invited, we had 14 shops, and now their number has increased to 54.”
The second project implemented with EBRD support saw AZZA attracting Belgian chocolate and confectionary expert Beni Pollet for consultations. He has 25 years of experience in one of the world’s most famous chocolate factories.
“He had a great role in the development of our manufacturing. He explained to us the importance of high quality ingredients. He helped us to find the foreign companies that produce high quality raw materials. Later, we established contact with them and started to import. At that time, we had 5-6 shops and were using local products. Today, we import raw materials from all over the world. We import our goods ourselves without any distributor, which decreases our expenses. For instance, we bring the highest quality walnuts from Chile, cream from Denmark, chocolate from Belgium.”
The third EU-funded project was carried out in 2015-2016. The internationally recognised Dutch expert Jacob Molinaar provided consultancy support for general production and sales of AZZA’s products.
“At the time we were already a grown company with a lot of plans. He helped us to solve the problems we had in manufacturing. The issue was to purchase the automated equipment and we made some tests. Another part of the project was about sales. We have introduced the concept of understanding customer’s needs around the clock. As part of the project, we visited the confectionary factories of major companies in Europe and were acquainted with their production process. In the end, we brought the best experience to our country.”
Mr. Abdurahmanov says another secret of their success is related to AZZA’s customer-oriented approach.
“We never say that the customer will buy whatever we offer, on the contrary we have always asked our customer ‘What do you want?’ We always asked for their feedback. Moreover, we have a tasting commission made up of two groups at AZZA. They give us their opinion about each type of cake. Once it gets a positive opinion, we offer it to our customers.”
Each cake is treated as a work of art. The company even brought in professional sculptors, as they often get orders to concoct sculptures like the one below from the “Frozen” animation.
Currently, 600 people are employed at AZZA production line and shops. The shops have expanded beyond the capital Baku, with the company opening stores in Ganja, Sumgait and Khirdalan. The high demand makes it necessary to build a new production line.
“We offer 26 kind of cakes and 104 types of products in total. Now we have 54 shops. For the next three years we aim to increase them to 150. We are preparing to build a factory on a 12,600 square metre site because current production does not give the capacity we want. The project of the factory is ready. It is intended to serve as a workplace for 1,000 people.”
Author: Vusal Azizov