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Those of you who had occasion to read Sweet & Healthy last week will remember my musings about the press tour of German confectionery companies sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.
As I previously mentioned, the group included a band of ten journalists, bloggers and freelance food writers being exposed to a cross section of German midsized confectionery companies.
I thought it important to record the highlights while they were still fresh in my mind before I begin caroling and feasting in earnest. So, here’s part 2.
Christkindlmarkt and Galeria Kaufhof department store
Prior to getting on the bus for our trip to Georg Lemke GmbH & Co. in Berlin last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to step out for a quick shopping spree at the Christmas market and Galeria Kaufhof department store.
Most towns in Germany have a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages and we’d had the opportunity to see a few versions so far on the trip.
As usual, I was on the clock and breezed through the quaint kiosks offering everything from winter wear to Christmas knick-knacks as well as sausages, hot wine and beer, the latter always hard to resist for a food adventurer as I.
No matter, work takes precedence as I wanted to check out the “candy aisle” at the Kaufhof store.
Well, this wasn’t your typical candy display. I mean nearly every major chocolate supplier in Germany had their goods there to tempt shoppers. It was just amazing to see the depth and breath of holiday confections available.
And yes, while I recognize that the Germans have had a longer confectionery tradition that we Americans, and that per capita chocolate consumption is higher, I have a feeling that U.S. retailers could learn a few lessons from Kaufhof.
A glance at my trusty Timex told me it’s time to hustle back to the hotel and jump back on the Sűßwaren express.
As we drove through the city to Lemke, we caught site of daily life in this thriving metropolis. One of the bloggers on the bus, Adam Groffman, a hipster travel writer (travelsofadam.com) and resident of the city, pointed out that Berlin remains one of the most affordable cities in Europe, which I assume leaves them more discretionary funds for confections, like marzipan.
Upon rolling in to Lemke, which is situated a marzipan’s throw from the old Berlin Wall as we discovered, Jan Hell welcomed the group. The company, which was founded in 1902, is run by Edith Hell, together with her sons Jan and Sven.
Yes, that’s right, the Hell brothers (both of them have Harley-
Davidson motorcycles, by the way) oversee this industrial supplier of marzipan, persipan (apricot kernel), macaroon and nougat pastes as well as creams and filings and all varieties of almond and hazelnut products.
Unlike Niederegger, Lemke produces marzipan using a continuous process developed by the company. As Jan, who oversees sales and marketing, pointed out, a continuous production process ensures ensures consistency, a critical element for bakers, confectioners, ice cream producers and food manufacturers.
Sven, who monitors production of the facility, which operates 24/6, led the group on a tour of the plant. He took particular pride in pointing out a 70-year old, open-flame Barth roaster, which he says produces the perfect roast of almonds used in marzipan production.
In explaining the difference such a roaster has on almond roasting, Sven cited the ways one can do meats: boiling, frying, roasting and grilling. As all men know, grilling on the barbecue delivers the ultimate flavor, and that’s what the open flame on the Barth roaster did, he emphasized.
Can’t argue with the man.
Viba Nougat-Welt Die Erlebnis-Confiserie
Ladened down with fresh marzipan, we piled into the bus and headed out of Berlin to Dessau, Germany, a stopping off point before our next day’s drive to Schmalkalden, Germany, home to Viba Nougat-Welt Die Erlebnis-Confiserie.
Having visited Viba at ISM several times, I’ve always been interested in their products, which focus on nougat and fruit bars. Both are excellent confections and I was particularly curious to see how they were produced.
After enjoying the beautiful rolling countryside, which had a sprinkling of snow, on our way to Schmalkalden, we squeezed through the small town’s streets to arrive at the plant - accented by its brand color, magenta.
Following a presentation by Kathrin Hesselbarth, exports manager, we took a tour of the facility, taking in processing of hazelnuts through paste production and final moulding and packing.
Again, as in many German confectionery companies, I saw a melding of traditional methods with the incorporation of the most automated processing equipment available on the market today.
After a relaxing lunch at the local Rathskeller in Schmalkalden, Wolfgang Lauterbach, online marketing and project manager for Viba, took us on a tour of the still being built Nougat World.
This nougat-shaped glass complex will feature a flagship retail shop, museum, culinary training center, restaurant and otherwise total nougat experience for hundreds of thousands anticipated visitors.
Although still under construction, plans call for a grand opening of the facility right after the ISM show in early February. Lauterbach led us through the “work in progress’ site as darkness fell. Despite the “under construction” environment, it was clear that this homage to nougats and Viba will be a popular destination stop.
From Schmalkadlen, we took a quick side trip to Waldenbuch to take in the Ritter Sport Museum. Although taken by surprise, Rodney Hunter, business director for the UK, North America, Asia and Development Markets, graciously spent some time with us, providing us a thumbnail about the company and the museum (see Candy Industry, April 2004) as well as answering questions. Hey, thanks again Rodney.
After stocking up on hard-to-get flavors of Ritter Sports bars, I headed toward the café for refreshments while others toured the museum. Listen, the old guy needed to recharge.
Upon checking into the Novotel hotel in Wurzburg, all of us took a deep breath to prepare for the final leg of the trip. The next morning, we hustled out of Wurzburg in the rain and drove toward Dettingen/Teck, home to Rubezahl.
At Rubezahl, Claus Cersovsky, managing director and ceo, welcomed the group warmly. After brief introductions, we were treated to a “Schwaben” lunch, which included such specialties as Maultaschen, a Schwaben ravioli. Thank you Claus for introducing me to a new local favorite.
After a wonderful lunch, Cersovsky then provided us with an in-depth overview. Known for its seasonal moulded products, the company acquired the Gubor chocolate brand two years ago and looks to reach 150 million euros in sales in fiscal 2011.
Cersovsky attributes the company’s ongoing growth to acquisitions and continued new product development.
At this year’s ISM, the company will unveil a truly breakthrough product, a gummi and chocolate bar that’s been in development for the past two years. Working jointly with Herbert Mederer, head of Mederer Group, which produces the famous Trolli brand gummies and jellies, the company was able to resolve tricky production issues with proprietary technology.
Initial reaction to the bar has been overwhelming and Cersovsky believes the new product promises to be an instant hit.
As expected, a tour of the facility was another example of high-end technology at work, with two Schubert pick n’ place robotic units deftly and quickly packing the company’s puffed rice chocolates, Sun Rice, into cartons at incredible speeds.
A supersized Bindler moulding machines handled chocolate bunnie production for the coming Easter season as a line of Rausch foil wrap machines pumped out the products for final hand packing in cartons.
The company continues to push the envelope to stay competitive in an already very competitive domestic and export markets. For example, Rubezhal will launch a line of Gubor products featuring Black Forest ingredients, such as fruits and milk.
It also has committed to having only UTZ-certified chocolate by 2013.
Cersovsky, together with his brother, Oliver, who oversees operations, aren’t sitting back waiting for the world to enjoy their products. They’re actively engaging retailers and consumers through a variety of means to keep both loyal to the brands.
After bidding our gracious host good-bye, the Sűßwaren express headed toward Stuttgart for the final night and departure back home the following day. That evening, we toasted our hosts and each other at the Block House restaurant, an American-style steak house chain.
A personal shout out to Yuliana Baranowa, our tour guide with DEULA-Nienburg Educational Centre, the group that organized the tour. Thanks for taking care of us.
Look for a more in-depth review of all the companies in the February issue of Candy Industry.
Oh yes, one last thing. All of us at Candy Industry wish everyone a Blessed Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Contemplative Kwanza and a Serene Solstice as well as a healthy, harmonious, holistic and prosperous Happy New Year!