At Wagner | History
In the small Saarland region of Germany, good food and three stars have little to do with gourmet cuisine – the first thing that springs to mind instead is frozen pizzas from Wagner. In association, it brings to mind a visionary master baker from the small town of Braunshausen who turned a small bakery in his parents house into a major European frozen pizza company.
The history of Nestlé Wagner GmbH has its origins in a village bakery, opened in 1952 by master baker Ernst Wagner in his parents’ house in Braunshausen.
Ernst Wagner was fined no less than twice on the same day in 1953 for “irregular industry”. The first fine was issued because Wagner was still serving drinks at his parents’ restaurant at 1.30 a.m., long after the official closing time. The second fine was issued because he was caught working in his bakery a mere two hours later, in spite of the ban on night-time baking that was in force at that time. The young Ernst Wagner was obviously an entrepreneurial kind of guy, and from 1958, he had the opportunity to gain even more business experience when he took charge of his parents’ tourist restaurant.
His establishment soon earned itself a reputation that extended beyond the borders of the Saarland region, with his charcoal-grilled steaks also drawing in clientele from the neighbouring Rhineland-Palatinate region, from Luxembourg and from France. But it wouldn’t have been very typical of Ernst Wagner to have stopped there. Instead, he came up with the idea of preparing and freezing the most popular types of food ahead of increased demand, and this move made him a pioneer in the field of frozen foods in Germany. His steaks were the first frozen product that Wagner delivered to shops and other restaurateurs, but he soon expanded his product portfolio to include frozen chicken, various types of cutlet, etc.
Before the bakery’s 10-year anniversary could be celebrated, the entire business consisting of the restaurant and a food store that had been added was destroyed in a fire. But within a year, a new business had been rebuilt on the same site – the Peterberger Hof hotel.
Ernst Wagner must have been born with a pioneering streak and, never being satisfied with what he had already achieved, he was forever coming up with new ideas, be they tourism ideas such as opening the Peterberger Hof hotel or his commitment to making the Peterberg hill more attractive by incorporating a ski lift and bob run. Back then, there was still plenty of snow in Braunshausen in the winter and winter sports enthusiasts came from far and wide, clogging up the streets of the small community with their cars. At this stage in the company’s development, the business still focused on meat-based ready-made meals.
In the early 70s, the top holiday destination for Germans was Italy and amongst all the holidaymakers were Ernst Wagner and his family. But after coming back from one trip, he changed his life. He began to experiment, drawing on his master baker’s expertise in an attempt to produce a pizza industrially that tasted “like a delicious pizza from the pizzeria round the corner”.
Wagner began to make pizzas in the early 70s. But unlike his competitors, he did not bake his pizza bases in a standard oven, preferring instead to experiment with a small stone oven that baked the dough at a very high temperature in a matter of minutes.
Ernst Wagner then began to mass-produce pizzas, adhering to the credo of adapting his methods to suit the product, and not the other way round. The technology used had to improve the product, the taste and consumer acceptance.
The concept of quality frozen produce soon proved to be a winner. And Wagner stuck firmly to his principle – “Our methods are developed to suit the product and not the other way round!” – not shying away from using complex and expensive technology to improve product quality. And this entailed always being on the lookout for new methods, the best ingredients and the fastest delivery methods. The company establishes a freezing and storage facility in Otzenhausen.
At Anuga, the leading international trade fair for the world of food and beverages, Wagner took visitors by surprise with a completely new product at their small stand: the Original Wagner Stone Oven Pizza. The secret behind its success was its thin and crispy base, which is achieved exclusively on the basis of the Original Wagner method of baking them in a modern stone oven. Wagner had achieved his ambition of creating a frozen pizza second only to the quality of pizzas served in a pizzeria.
By 1992, the family-run company had managed to secure itself a 17 per cent share of the market without even investing in any marketing activities. The customer base consisted primarily of food retailers in Saarland and in neighbouring regions, and the company continued to grow within the locality through word of mouth. In national surveys at that time, however, the name Wagner only triggered awareness amongst 8.7 per cent of those surveyed. The family consciously chose not to hire a large international advertising agency and it was a small agency with a structure that suited Wagner better which then came up with the company’s German slogan of “Einmal Wagner – immer Wagner”, which translates as “Once Wagner, always Wagner”.
Public awareness of the company soon increased following radio, TV and billboard advertising campaigns that showcased the Original Wagner stone oven-baked pizza with its thin and crispy base and delicious topping and also set the brand apart from the Italian-style advertising used by the company’s competitors.
Another of Wagner’s principles is innovation based on tradition. Because innovation is what it takes to be ahead of your time, to meet the ever-changing needs of the customers and to identify and exploit new avenues. Wagner’s “Pizza American Style” was an instant hit with consumers and to this day constitutes one of the company’s biggest segments after its classically thin pizzas.
Wagner’s share of the German market increased from 25 to 27 per cent between 1994 and 1995, and continued to grow in 1996 to approximately 32 per cent. This success came from the never-ending line of new products that Wagner launched, appealing to new audiences each time. One such product was the Original Wagner Piccolinis, which are deliciously small, bite-size pizzas baked in a stone oven that are perfect for serving up at parties. The salami Piccolinis are now the top-selling type of Wagner pizza available.
Since Wagner introduced its stone oven-baked pizzas, its range has included one product that it calls an “Elsässer Flammkuchen” (tarte flambée). And when Wagner is posed the question of whether a tarte flambée really belongs in the category of pizzas, all they can do is smile and shrug their shoulders. Nevertheless, it is one of Wagner’s most popular stone oven-baked “pizzas” and therefore deserves to have its own name and be accompanied by similar products. The Original Wagner Tarte Flambée, originally from the Alsace region of France, is now very popular, especially as an accompaniment to Federweißer, en primeur and white wines. And by using crème fraiche, Wagner managed to create a delightful alternative to the traditional pizza.
With its technical know-how, dough-making and baking expertise, a thorough approach to quality when choosing and using the raw ingredients, and its ongoing endeavours to identify new target groups, by 1999, Wagner had already laid the foundations for being awarded EU organic certification when it launched its “Unsere Natur” range of organic Stone Oven Pizzas. Wagner’s “Unsere Natur” product line is now the leading brand of frozen pizza in health food retail.
Wagner delivers to the Benelux countries, Austria, Switzerland, France and Denmark. To do this, it first had to implement a quality management system and the entire company is therefore certified according to the ISO 9001 standard.
Wagner’s new storage facility was inaugurated in September 2002, offering space for up to 10,400 pallets. Since then, Wagner has been able to deliver all its supplies from just the one plant. By investing in its logistics in this way, Wagner had already readied itself for the retail demand of the future.
In 2004, the “Pizza American Style” range was renamed “Big Pizza”. But that’s all that changed and the pizzas have remained deliciously light and fluffy, wonderfully crispy and mouthwateringly moist. The only things to have changed are the name and the packaging – nothing more, nothing less!
Wagner 2005: Happy Birthday!
In 2005, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Original Wagner Stone Oven Pizza and therefore also the fact that Wagner stands for quality, long-standing baking expertise and, above all, innovation. Back in 1985, Wagner developed its revolutionary stone oven baking method, which formed the basis for creating the Original Wagner Stone Oven Pizza with its thin and crispy base and deliciously moist topping. There are now 21 delicious varieties of this standard pizza, which is more than enough reason to celebrate!
An expanding pizza business: Nestlé and Wagner merge on 1 January 2005.
Nestlé Deutschland AG, Frankfurt am Main, bought a 49 per cent share of Nestlé Wagner GmbH. Gottfried Hares, spokesperson for Wagner had the following to say on the merger: “Nestlé is the ideal partner for us to expand our business throughout Europe and tap new markets. As the two companies focus on commerce and industry, forward-looking strategies are needed in order to secure long-term success. The two companies share a quality and brand philosophy that prioritises product quality, and this will serve as a good foundation for future success. The Wagner workforce wholeheartedly embraces this forward-looking change of direction, as it adds zest to the company’s business and also increases job security.”
Wagner’s new “Balance” is a lighter kind of pizza. With less fat, fewer calories and more fibre, this new range can make an important contribution to a healthy and balanced diet. The spelt dough and heaps of fresh vegetables mean you can indulge yourself without worrying about your waistline!
Happy Birthday Piccolinis!
The small and delicious pizza snacks are celebrating their tenth birthday. Ten years of unbelievable taste and the best Wagner quality. The small snacks that are big on taste continue to contribute to Wagner’s success story, thanks to the unique baking method in the original Wagner stone oven and the deliciously juicy toppings. Being so small yet so delicious, they are a welcome addition to any party. On this special occasion, Wagner is also giving away a total of nine convertible Mini Coopers!
Besides the carefully selected ingredients and top preparation methods, the Original Wagner stone oven ensures incomparable crispy-thin yet juicy bases, as well as the unique taste of Germany’s favourite stone-baked pizza. And now there is also a new family packaging design. All products belonging to the Original Wagner stone-baked family can now be recognised by the stone oven in Wagner blue that is visible on every packet.
Our new organic range NaturLust is now available in traditional grocery retail shops. Organic à la Wagner means crispy-thin bases and proven, stone oven quality, using the best ingredients from certified organic land.