Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Franck: story behind a vintage advert

I was having my coffee in 1920s Berlin's Cafe Elektric this morning, when one of the posters on the wall caught my attention. It was an advert for the Franck products.

It was a strange case of SL/RL overlap, as at that very moment I was having Franck coffee in first life!

You will notice that the logo has been modernised, but it's the same brand, after all these decades. Even the red, blue and white coffee substitute packaging seen in the poster was on the market until recently. Back when I was a kid it looked exactly the same, now it's changed a bit.

Franck is a major food brand in my native country of Croatia, and I was surprised to see its poster in 1920s Berlin. For a long time, I thought Franck was our local business, not known much outside the countries of the former Yugoslavia. But, as it turns out, Franck was a household name across much of Central Europe until World War 2.

Franck was founded in 1828 in Germany as Heinrich Franck Söhne G.m.b.H. Their specialty were coffee substitute products, based primarily on chicory. It was Johann Franck who started branching out to other countries towards the end of the 19th century, creating a hugely successful multinational company. The Zagreb, Croatia, factory was one of several in central Europe. It opened in 1892 and the company HQ remains in the same street to this day, although a lot of their products are made elsewhere (their instant coffee now comes from Poland, for example).

Franck headquarters in Vodovodna Street, Zagreb
In 1950, the company was nationalized by the Communist Party, or "handed over to the people" as they used to say. For the company it was an era of innovation: they started producing many other products, such as instant soups, teas, puddings, potato crisps, and different brands of coffee substitutes they are known for until today.

For decades, Bianka, Divka and the more traditional Kneipp were a must in a Yugoslav home, especially at the time when it was difficult to get real coffee - a pure luxury - in the post-war years. Many continued to enjoy those after coffee became readily available: I remember waking up to the scent of freshly brewed Franck chicory "coffee" prepared by my great-grandma in the '80s. I still love my chicory (which, in a funny turn of events, is now more expensive than Franck's regular coffee...).

I managed to find a picture of a tin box of Kneipp from before the nationalization, produced by Hinka Francka Sinovi d.d., Zagreb (Hinko Franck's Sons, Zagreb). It must be from the mid-1940s, as it carried the name Kathreiner, one of the last remaining symbolical links with the greater Franck company based in Germany. That one merged with Kathreiner's Malzfabrik and became Franck & Kathreiner in 1943.

Sadly, they don't make such these day. Now the Croatian version of Kneipp comes only in the standard paper packaging. Still, they've kept some elements of the original design.

And here's an assortment of post-war products from the former Czech branch. Now known as Kavoviny, this company based in Pardubice has its origins in the factory opened by the Francks there back in 1896.

After the nationalization, the Croatian branch of Franck became a completely separate entity. Quite unusual for the Communists, they kept the Franck name - normally at such takeovers, they would completely rebrand the business, often giving it the name of a fallen Communist war hero. Mercifully, Franck is still Franck.

In Germany, after the 1943 merger, the business changed name to Unifranck in 1964 which was then taken over by the food giant Nestle in 1971. And so it seems that the family name survives mainly in Croatia - thanks to the former Communist regime, oddly enough. Oh, and in 1920s Berlin sim!

P.S. Here's the link to the brief illustrated history of Franck, Zagreb:

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