The Sűßwaren Express
Niederegger GmbH &
Serving up magical marzipan
“Take almond, sugar and rosewater,” states the classic recipe for marzipan. For J.G. Niederegger GmbH & Co. KG, it’s provided the foundation for premium marzipan confections since 1806, the year Johann Georg Niederegger, a trained confectioner, purchased Maret Confectioner in Lubeck, Germany.
Lubeck, which doubled as a power center for the Hanseasic League — a powerful trading organization dating back to the Middle Ages — also gained a reputation for its confectionery and marzipan industry, one it vigorously maintained despite the passage of time.
Hence, when journeyman confectioner Niederegger came to Lubeck in 1800 and joined Maret Confection, he did so knowing this was the place to build his future. Seven generations later, Niederegger remains the leading premium marzipan producer in Germany.
The company exports to more than 40 countries and produces in excess of 300 different items, everything from its classic chocolate-covered hearts and logs to nougat treats and personalized marzipan works of art.
To produce its famed marzipan, Niederegger uses Mediterranean-sourced almonds, specifically from Spain and Italy. After inspection, almonds are sorted according to color and shape. Those not meeting specifications are rejected.
A hot water bath blanches the almonds, which facilitates skin removal. The almonds are then inspected electronically and then by inspectors before they are washed again and cut up to be mixed with sugar.
It should come as no surprise that Germany has strict rules about marzipan quality, given its long history with this special confectionery product. According to the German Food Act, marzipan paste has to have a minimum 48% almond content and a maximum 35% sugar content. The law, however, does allow additional sugar to be added to the paste during later processing.
At Niederegger, the company uses a higher standard than what’s on the books, sticking to a 66% to 33% almond-to-sugar ratio.
Once the almond and sugar is mixed, the mass passes through a system of granite rollers where it is finely ground. At this point, the paste is automatically scaled and fed into a bank of 20 copper kettles that continuously rotate.
Master roasters keep an eye on the paste, which gets heated to 95° C. The heat drives out moisture paste and enables the almonds and sugar to bind together, creating marzipan’s specific texture and aroma.
The hot paste is then transferred to “cooling boats,” copper kettles that use dry ice to reduce the temperature of the paste down to 16-18° C. The marzipan paste then is conveyed to a block cutter that turns out 15-kilo marzipan blocks for further processing.
At this point, the marzipan undergoes curing. Also, an ingredient similar to rose water is added, the identity of which remains a closely guarded secret. Once cured, the marzipan blocks are directed toward a variety of automated and manual production sites.
Thus, marzipan can either be fed into a hopper where brass rollers with various shapes press out marzipan hearts, logs, etc. or stored for use by artisans who sculpt the marzipan into piglets or bas reliefs of the famed city gates, the Holstentor.
Today, Managing Director Holger Strait oversees a company dedicated to turning out premium marzipan and nougat products, a tradition going back two centuries. The company also operates a café, which dates back to 1880 when the company had its headquarters on famed Breite Strasse in Lubeck.
The café, which underwent several expansions and rebuilds, houses a retail store, café and bakery as well as a museum dedicated to marzipan and Niederegger history. It’s also the only place where visitors can take in 12 life-sized figures, one of which features J.G. Niederegger himself, made of a half ton of marzipan.
Ragolds Sweet Sales GmbH
Recreating a successful brand can be difficult — doing so for an entire company even more so. Nevertheless, in 2003, Oliver Schindler, grandson of Karl Schindler and the owner of Ragolds Süsswaren GmbH going back to 1924, opened up his own candy company.
In doing so, he set the groundwork for reacquiring the name and brands his grandfather and father had built up over the years. In 2006, the company formally acquired many of the former brands and established itself as Ragolds.
The move was more than simply re-establishing a cherished family-owned name; it coincided with the building of two new manufacturing facilities, which together encompass 575,000 sq. ft.
The Toffee-Tec plant, which specializes in toffee production, and the Sweet-Tec plant — which focuses on hard candy, deposited lollipops and chewy candies as well as compressed mints — turn out 53,000 tons of sweets annually.
Considered to be some of the most technologically advanced facilities in the world, the Ragolds plants employ 250 workers and have yearly IFS certification.
Engineered to surpass strict German “Sustainability Guidelines,” both facilities feature “best of class” processing and packaging equipment as a means of offsetting higher European labor costs with highly efficient output and the highest quality.
In addition, the company is committed to reducing carbon dioxide, having actually reached a CO2 neutral level in the newest segments of the manufacturing complex.
Priding itself on innovation through the use of technology, the Ragolds management team touts the company’s ability to produce products containing no artificial aromas and colorants, full-flavor sugar-free and reduced-sugar items, flip box and roll line capabilities and deposited lollipops.
Thus, it’s at the forefront of being able to manufacture “better-for-you” confections using “superfruit” juices and recently introduced natural sweeteners, such as stevia. Recognizing that the marketplace also demands sweets that provide comfort and enjoyment, the company has launched a new brand, dubbed Victoria’s Grandma.
Targeted toward the modern woman, theVictoria’s Grandma line of caramels, toffees and chewy candies combine all-natural goodness with contemporary flavor combinations.
Having reacquired the Velamints brand from Wrigley’s in 2008, Ragolds, which was the first to introduce sugar-free mints in 1974, will reintroduce the product line into the United States this year.
The company continues to reinvest in its facilities, with plans calling for two more lines to be installed in 2012. Sales last year topped $115 million and the company remains on course to become the fifth largest sugar confectionery entity in Germany.