The COVID-19 crisis had led to lower demand in the food service market. The Valora specialists from Brezelbäckerei Ditsch had also been affected and, as a consequence, they have been intensively driving the development of innovative solutions and products in the B2B market. Corporate decisions that had already been made before the crisis played an important role in this.
The investments in the two new production lines in Oranienbaum have paid off. Valora invested in the plant near Berlin in 2019/2020 in order to meet the increased demand for pretzel products at the time. But just as the production lines were ready for operation, the COVID-19 crisis came along and caused the collapse of the core business, the food service market. Consumers have been eating less and less on the go and increasingly at home.
Coming to a standstill, however, was not an option. “As one of the world’s leading producers of pretzel products, we’ve been committed to innovation since Brezelbäckerei Ditsch was founded in 1919,” explains Sebastian Gooding, Managing Director of Ditsch Production/B2B. “The COVID-19 crisis has further illustrated the need for us to become even more focused in this area.”
Automated filling and individual packaging
Investments in production lines 9 and 10 in Oranienbaum, completed in 2019, proved to be proactive. During the crisis, they made it possible to automatically fill ready-baked pretzel products which can also be packaged individually at the customer’s request. Oranienbaum was also able to automate the looping of lye braids.
“Without these production lines, we wouldn’t have been able to react so quickly and adequately to new requests from our B2B customers during the crisis,” says Gooding. “In a difficult market environment, we’ve proven our market relevance thanks to innovative ideas.” Existing products from the Oranienbaum production site were placed and marketed in those channels (bakeries, service stations and general international customers) that were significantly less affected by COVID-19 restrictions than food service channels at transport hubs.”
As a result, relations with existing customers in the B2B markets in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria in particular strengthened, leading to an increase in market share in the DACH region in addition to the US. “We were also able to make an impact in the international markets by gaining new B2B customers,” says Gooding. “Because lye products, especially pretzels, are continuing their global growth trend.”
Additional business thanks to innovative product creations
In addition to automated filling, Ditsch also used lines 9 and 10 in Oranienbaum to develop innovative products such as organic pretzels, vegan pizzas and other bakery snacks. “This enabled us to successfully generate additional business,” explains Björn Tiemann, Managing Director Sales at Ditsch.
Among other products, Ditsch launched a new garlic and herb butter pretzel, as well as a lye braid, cream cheese pretzel, filled pretzel breadstick and an organic pretzel on the market. In 2021, the trade magazine tk-Report minus 18 even named the pretzels filled with herb and garlic butter as the most innovative product launch in the bread and baked goods category.
“In the meantime, pretzels filled with chocolate butter cream, the new St. Martin’s Day pretzels (sweet yeast dough pretzels) and pretzels filled with Camembert have left the production lines in Oranienbaum,” Tiemann continues. “We’re also working on developing existing products such as a palm oil-free pizza, a clean-label pretzel and low-carb pretzels.”
The employees take part
But how did Ditsch trigger these innovations in such a short time? Gooding explains that a “structured innovation process” had already been established before the pandemic. The Research & Development (R&D) team was reorganised in good time, with close cooperation between Sales, Operations and Business Development.
The realignment of the R&D team and the production lines was also accompanied by a cultural change. In 2019, the Ditsch management team initiated the development of a competency model and system of values. Around 40 managers are now actively involved in steering the change process. In 2022, the group will be expanded to include shift supervisors from Production.
“This boost in innovation during the COVID-19 crisis wouldn’t have been possible without the employees. They took on the change process during a difficult phase with short-term working and major challenges with regard to the start-up period,” explains Gooding. “The employees made a constructive contribution. Both personally and as a team, each and every is working to ensure that a crisis also opens up opportunities.”
730 million baked items for 30 countries
Valora is one of the world’s leading producers of pretzels and benefits from a highly integrated value chain. In 2021, Valora produced around 730 million baked items through Brezelbäckerei Ditsch and Brezelkönig on its own 16 production lines in Germany (Mainz and Oranienbaum), the US (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Switzerland (Emmenbrücke). The company primarily supplies a growing number of food service customers as well as the retail and wholesale markets – in addition to its own Ditsch, BackWerk and Back-Factory sales outlets in Germany, Brezelkönig branches in Switzerland and other Valora formats. Ditsch products are also exported to more than 30 countries.
Fotos: Noë Flum/Ditsch. Video: Noë Flum.
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