As dawn breaks on Aleksanderplatz in Berlin, the square’s famous television tower, Fernsehturm, pokes at the sky outside my window at the Park Inn Hotel. I don’t remember the square being that built up back in 1973 when I visited then East Berlin as an exchange student living in Cracow, Poland.
I do recall riding the U-Bahn to cross over from West to East, as guards with dogs and machine guns patrolled the border separating the two cities. That was then.
Today, Berlin is one of Germany’s most dynamic cities, exuding youth, history, culture and an internationalism that’s infectious. It’s also a stopover for our tour of the German confectionery industry sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.
When I say our, I’m referring to a band of 10 journalists, bloggers and freelance food writers being exposed to a wonderful cross section of chocolates and sweets. We’re also living out of a suitcase, changing hotels daily to squeeze in an intense itinerary that’s included the following to date: Coppenrath Feingebäck GmbH in Beestge; Hachez Schokolade in Bremen; Niederegger GmbH in Lübeck, and Ragolds Sweets in Boizenburg.
We’re scheduled to visit Gerog Lemke GmbH & Co. later this afternoon in Berlin, then Viba Nougat-Welt Die Erlebnis-Confiserie in Schmalkalden tomorrow and Rübezahl Schokoladen GmbH in Dettingen/Teck Friday.
Those of you who have been to ISM or perhaps travelled through Germany will undoubtedly recognize some of the names. Hachez and its sister company Fedora standout as purveyors of premium chocolates, while Niederegger remains a standard for the finest marzipan confections worldwide.
Hard and chewy candy producer Ragold’s, of course, is a familiar name given their long presence in the United States, while Viba has attracted attention with its nougat and better-for-you confections. And, anyone doing business in the States with seasonal products would recognize Rubezahl for its wide range of moulded chocolate items.
On my end, Coppenrath Feingeback and Lemke were the only companies I really didn’t have much familiarity with, but it doesn’t take much to bone up on basics with the Internet.
Midway through this wonderful tour, I thought it would be interesting to give readers some first impressions prior to writing the complete overview for our February issue.
Let’s start with Coppenrath Feingeback, a cookie and biscuit producer, and Andreaus Coppenrath, the sixth-generation family owner. The gregarious, no-nonsense master baker turned entrepreneur embodies the conscientious owner ideal, mindful of his father’s single piece of advice on how to run the company: “Make sure the people working there are happy.”
Coppenrath does so by ensuring workers have bonuses tied to production goals, insisting on impeccable quality standards and improvising flexibility in a production operation that combines automation with ingenuity (packaging machines on wheels).
At the same time, he faces issues that all confectioners, bakers and snack producers encounter, be it here in Germany or across the pond in the United States: soaring commodity prices; increased government regulation; demanding retailers; cost-conscious consumers; and the need for sustainability.
And yet, this midsized operator can differentiate himself from others by being innovative, such as with the company’s new re-sealable lid on packaging trays. Less packaging and easy resealability have made the Coppenrath brand greener to consumers, a critical distinction here in Germany.
As for Hachez, the second stop on our visit, well, what can I say about a commitment to premium chocolates that exceeds the norm? Although I was disappointed we couldn’t visit the production facility because of a timing issue, the company presentation and subsequent tasting mollified the sorrow (I’ll be back, Hachez!).
Watching the film showing traditional roasting, the use of melangers for mixing and 72-hour conching methods tells you something about this passion for producing smooth-tasting, luxurious chocolate.
That passion starts with the bean, of course. Hachez sources all of its beans from Central and South America. Most recently, it introduced a bar line using wild Amazonia beans, a treat every chocolate purist must try.
In addition to bars, the company offers a broad range of pralines, all of which mirror an unrelenting devotion to quality and flavor development.
Niederegger and Ragold
Quickly, since our bus schedule doesn’t tolerate any slackers, I’d like to wrap up my first impressions with just a couple of notes on Niederegger and Ragold.
I had not, until yesterday, seen a marzipan facility. Well, by visiting Nideregger, I believe I had the privilege of visiting one of the best. What a fascinating process, and what excellent products!
Niederegger combines heritage with unrivalled attention to quality. From the processing of almonds through the automated enrobing and packaging line, it’s easy to understand why they are the leader in the production of premium marzipan products.
And finally Ragolds. What can I say but that their production facility in Boizenburg is one of the most automated and efficient hard and chewy candy facilities I’ve ever seen.
Although I don’t claim to be a plant expert, I’ve seen a few in my day during my 10 years as editor of Candy Industry.
But I wasn’t just overwhelmed by the technology. I also was very impressed with the company’s game plan, spearheaded by Jorg Viader, head of marketing and sales.
Backed by one of the most efficient processing facilities, Ragold’s looks to influence the hard and chewy candy segment with an ambitious and savvy approach to the category. Watch for the guys to make some waves in the future.
OK, if it’s Wednesday, it’s another confectionery company and city in Germany. Stay tuned for more from the Susswaren Express next week.