A world of chocolate
With a new owner arriving in April 2016, German chocolate manufacturer Schokinag is looking to the future with new ambitions
Established in 1923 by the Hermann family, Schokinag was founded with a spirit of entrepreneurship that enabled flexibility, direct communications and fast decision-making. As Rolf Eiermann, Managing Director explained, while this approach was somewhat lost over the years under different company ownerships, today as part of Nimbus and Varova, once again an entrepreneurial ideology is flourishing, with policies such as transparent targets replacing rigid structures and procedures. “Our new Dutch investors have a hands-on mentality and they enjoy taking prompt action,” he added. “They also share our vision for long-term success – in our business we count on enduring relationships with our customers and suppliers and we build a culture of trust. Nimbus and Varova understand this very well and they have the same vision, which is why they have no plans to sell us for at least for the next seven to ten years. Historically the other companies in which they have invested have adhered to that sort of time line, so they have proven that this is their preferred approach in the past.”
Now that the new owners have taken over, Rolf believes Schokinag has the best of both worlds to draw on: “Being part of ADM gave us the advantages of a corporate identity and structure, and now that is combined with entrepreneurial flexibility. So we combine the greatest parts of the two business models in order to deliver the best service to the customer. This means that when the customer asks a question we can react quickly and do not need days to respond – internally we can rapidly push the right buttons. It is more a ‘target-orientated’ approach rather than a ‘way-orientated approach’. These methods are applied to all our departments, including supply chain, research and development and so on. Overall our focus remains on our clients, with customer intimacy and flexibility as our main goals.”
Thanks to the revitalising effects of the new owners, Schokinag is able to fully focus on re-establishing its reputation for responsiveness and reliability, and turn its attentions to creating the best chocolate products for its customers. Rolf explained how the company’s operations are organised: “When we were founded, we originally processed cocoa beans to cocoa butter and cocoa powder and produced chocolate as a next step of the supply chain.
“Recently the company was divided into a semi-finish branch and a chocolate production division under the wings of Schokinag, and as the company was already based in two separate buildings it was physically divided as well. As a result, the cocoa factory is on the other side of the street, but we still use the original pipeline between the two sites to transport the cocoa butter and liquor and still work closely with Olam, the current owner of the cocoa processing site. We still process our own cocoa beans, especially when it comes to special bean types, sustainable certified like Fairtrade, Utz and Rainforest Alliance or single origin beans.”
Overall, on the liquid side Schokinag manufactures an extended range of dark, milk and white chocolates and offers the opportunity to develop tailor-made recipes according to customers’ specifications and requirements. The liquid product range is complemented by ice cream compounds made with coconut oil and by chocolates in which part of the cocoa butter is replaced by CBE.
On the solid chocolate side, Schokinag produces chips and chunks as dark, milk and white chocolates for bakery inclusions and for re-melting in various shapes, as well as speciality chocolates for decoration and inclusions.
“We have a capacity right now of 80,000-90,000 tonnes, which should increase in the coming years,” Rolf highlighted. “We are currently looking at finding all the easy processing optimisation improvements we can make, so your so called ‘low-hanging fruit’, so that we can increase our flexibility and efficiency.”
The core market where Schokinag focuses its attention is central Europe, but Rolf does see opportunities to expand further afield in the future: “Our location in Mannheim is basically in the centre of Europe and so we do consider ourselves in a rather advantageous position geographically. Certainly we do also see prospects in markets in central and Eastern Europe, the UK and US, the Middle East and may other regions of the world.”
In order to ensure that it is meeting the needs of this broad and growing customer base, Schokinag is constantly supporting its customers in developing new products: “We have a very strong research and development (R&D) department, which in the business-tobusiness sector is crucial for success,” Rolf noted. “We develop and optimise recipes together with our clients, and when there is a customer thinking about adding a new application or product to their own portfolio then we work together with them on a lab-scale, using our own R&D lab to help them. We do need to follow market trends, which are opened up by customer applications, recipes and products, and we help the client develop these further. So for example, we are now producing a lot more single origin cocoa beans, from Ecuador or Ghana for example, according to the requirements of our customers.”
It is clear that Schokinag is approaching 2017 with a revitalised attitude and a new owner that is keen to invest in order to help the company achieve its ambitions. Concluding with some ideas on where the business is focusing next, Rolf summed up: “We are going to increase our flexibility further, and we are looking at reducing bottlenecks in production. We will also be making some investments that will enable us to offer a broader product range, including very low fat to very high cocoa content chocolate.
“We are focusing on efficiency measures as well as reducing costs, and finally, we want to continue to perfect our quality levels on our products as well as increase the quantities we manufacture, and all at the right price. We certainly have some major investment plans in our pipeline but we will keep them under our hat for now – it is a very exciting time for Schokinag.”