Three years can be a very long time. Or, in some cases, a blink of an eye. But it was almost exactly three years ago, that Ulrich Zuenelli, chairman of A. Loacker AG/Spa, and I were enjoying a wonderful meal at Vogele restaurant in Bolzano, Italy. And it was then that he told me the board had approved construction of a third plant, one adjoining an existing facility, to be built in Heinfels, Austria.

So here I was, blinking my eyes, partly from a bit of jet lag, partly from the morning sun rising over the mountains, as I was being chauffeured to the grand opening of Loacker’s dazzling new plant last Saturday (June 25). Built in the same architectural style as its sister facility — white facade, plenty of natural daylight, energy-saving enhancements, top-of-the-line processing and packaging equipment — the new facility is…well…huge is a good word.

Of course, you can’t really tell driving up to the plant that it covers 16,000 sq. meters (172,223 sq. ft.) of floor space and has a total floor area of 36,000 sq. meters (387,501 sq. ft.). Or as Frank Hess, managing director for Loacker and Heinfels project manager explained, 36,000 sq. meters is comparable to five football pitches, I mean five soccer fields.

But that’s not readily evident as one drives up to the front of the building, which is relatively narrow compared to its length. So after I donned my press pass and walked up the few steps to what is a holding area for shipping products out, I was anxious to see what the inside looked. Well, my first reaction, “Wow!”

The Loacker team had transformed a gleaming white staging and shipping area into a reception hall for 320 guests. It was complete with standup cocktail tables, a musical duo, coffee and cake service, even a pair of Loacker Tyrolian trolls. Rows and rows of chairs faced a small stage with a podium for remarks framed by a beautiful backdrop showing Sciliar Mountain. Of course, the Sciliar Mountain backdrop is the same view workers have at Loacker’s headquarters’ facility in Auna di Sotta, Italy. And it also appears prominently in the company’s logo. Nice.

I was one of the early ones to arrive, the drive from Sporthotel-Sillian being less than five minutes, thus I had some time on my hands before the ceremonies started. Amidst reacquainting myself with members of the Loacker-Zuenelli family, including brother-and-sister board members Christine Zuenelli, and Armin Loacker and Andreas Loacker, Armin’s son, I had a chance to study the opening speeches.

Lara Consoli, communications manager for Loacker, had graciously translated the speeches from German into English. The first to grace the podium was Ulrich Zuenelli, not only chairman of the company and Christine’s son, but my meal mate from three years ago. After welcoming state and local officials as well as various dignitaries — and there were quite a few — Ulrich expounded on the reason for the day’s ceremonies.

“Today, we can look back on an unbelievable export growth of 22 percent per year on average for the last 10 years,” he explained. “This means that we generate more than 70 percent of our sales outside our Italian home market and 65 percent of our revenue outside the European Union!

“This is proof that it is possible to capture world markets from Central Europe, even as a medium-sized family business with a consistent, quality-oriented differentiation strategy under an authentic brand.”

May I also add significant reinvestment into the business.

As Andreas Loacker, head of research and development for the company, subsequently pointed out to the guests in attendance, “This must be the biggest project Loacker has ever undertaken. Hess and Carlo Raggi, head of engineering and overall project manager, elaborated on Andreas’ remarks with additional details, everything from the 30-month construction schedule and the 37.5 kilometers of piping used to the 350,000 liters of heating oil saved as a result of construction techniques and heat-recovery systems. Yes, it was an enormous undertaking.

Even better, as Raggi later told me, “The project was completed on-time and on-budget; now I can sleep at night.”

Of course, when you have 320 guests on hand, it can take a little time to complete tours for everyone. There were 16 of them, in fact. Fortunately, I received a personal tour from Bernhard Origer, head tour guide and pastry workshop specialist, given my cane and recent knee replacement surgery. As I mentioned earlier, the building didn’t look that big from the front. But believe me, it’s definitely a long trek.

Thanks to Origer they were keeping the wafer lines running till I arrived. Currently, there are two wafer oven lines, three creaming units and one enrobing line feeding very sophisticated packaging machines. The plan calls for two more oven lines next year, eventually expanding to 10 upon need. And yes, there’s even room for a chocolate moulding line.  

I won’t get into additional details now — look for the story in our September issue — but realize that excellence isn’t reserved for multinationals. Passionate, family-run businesses focused on “being close to consumers and their needs” while driven toward “constant innovation and diversification” can achieve awe-inspiring results.


Loacker overview:

  • 2015 turnover: 313.71 million Euros
  • Employees as of December 2015: 822
  • Head Office: Unterinn (Auna di Sotto), South Tyrol
  • Sites: 2 (Unterinn/Auna di Sotto, South Tyrol – Heinfels, East Tyrol)
  • Product portfolio: 65 percent wafers, 35 percent chocolate specialities
  • Wafer market share modern distribution in Italy: 55.6 percent
  • Global sales: More than 100 countries (Middle East, Africa, USA, Asia, Europe)