coverStoryAt first glance, the schedule sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection organized by DEULA-Nienburg Educational Centre seemed daunting. After all, it was clear one would be changing hotels daily.

Nonetheless, as I reviewed the companies listed for our band of ten journalists, bloggers and freelance food writers from North America to visit, I couldn’t quell the excitement.

Names such as Hachez Schokolade in Bremen; Niederegger in Lübeck; Ragolds Sweet in Boizenburg; Viba in Schmalkalden; and Rübezahl in Dettingen/Teck were all companies I recognized from covering the industry during the past 10 years.

Many of you who have been to the ISM show or perhaps traveled through Germany will undoubtedly recognize many of these names as well.

Hachez and its sister company Fedora stand out as purveyors of premium chocolates, while Niederegger remains a standard for the finest marzipan confections worldwide.

Hard and chewy candy producer Ragold’s, of course, is a familiar name given their long presence in the United States, while Viba has attracted attention with its nougat and better-for-you confections. Anyone doing business in the States with seasonal products would recognize Rübezahl for its wide range of moulded chocolate items.

The two companies I didn’t immediately recognize — Coppenrath Feingebäck GmbH, a biscuit and cookie manufacturer in Geeste, and Georg Lemke GmbH & Co., a wholesale marazipan and nut supplier in Berlin — certainly intrigued me.

So game on, as they say.

Let’s start with Coppenrath Feingebäck, the first company listed on our Monday agenda. Andreas Coppenrath, the sixth-generation family owner and a gregarious, no-nonsense master baker turned entrepreneur, embodies the conscientious owner, ever mindful of his father’s single piece of advice on how to run the company: “Make sure the people working there are happy.”

Coppenrath does so by ensuring workers have bonuses tied to production goals, insisting on impeccable quality standards and improvising flexibility in a production operation that combines automation with ingenuity (packaging machines on wheels).

At the same time, he faces issues all confectioners, bakers and snack producers encounter, be it here in Germany or across the pond in the United States: soaring commodity prices; increased government regulation; demanding retailers; cost-conscious consumers; and the need for sustainability.

And yet, this midsized operator can differentiate himself from others by being innovative, such as the company’s new re-sealable lid on packaging trays. Less packaging and easy re-sealability have made the Coppenrath brand greener to consumers, a critical distinction here in Germany.

As for Hachez, the second stop on our visit — well what can I say about a commitment to premium chocolates that exceeds the norm? Although I was disappointed we couldn’t visit the production facility because of a timing issue, the company presentation and subsequent tasting mollified the sorrow (I’ll be back, Hachez!).

Watching the film showing traditional roasting, the use of melangers for mixing and 72-hour conching methods tells you something about this passion for producing smooth-tasting, luxurious chocolate.

That passion starts with the bean, of course. Hachez sources all its beans from Central and South America. Most recently, it introduced a bar line using wild Amazonia beans, a treat every chocolate purist must try.

In addition to bars, the company offers a broad range of pralines, all of which mirror an unrelenting devotion to quality and flavor development.

If it’s Tuesday, then Niederegger and Ragold’s are on our schedule.

Located in the famed historical center of German marzipan, Lubeck, Niederegger combines heritage with unrivalled attention to quality. From the processing of almonds through the automated enrobing and packaging line, it’s easy to understand why they are the leader in the production of premium marzipan products.

A visit to the company’s café, which also houses a museum, remains a must for every confectionery connoisseur.

Upon travelling to Boizenburg and Ragolds, our group was whisked from history to hi-tech production. The company’s production facility in Boizenburg is one of the most automated and efficient hard and chewy candy facilities I’ve ever seen.

But I wasn’t just overwhelmed by the technology. I also was very impressed with the company’s game plan, spearheaded by Jorg Viader, head of marketing and sales.

Backed by one of the most efficient processing facilities, Ragold’s looks to influence the hard and chewy candy segment with an ambitious and savvy approach to the category. Watch for these guys to make some waves in the future.

From Boizenberg, we traveled to Berlin where we stayed the night to get a brief recharge before touring Lemke. The company, 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 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.

We even had an opportunity to conduct a tasting on marzipan in the R&D laboratory and got up close and personal with the continuous processing end of the operation.

With evening upon us and 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 then being built Nougat World. (The company held a grand opening of Nougat World Feb. 5).

This nougat-shaped glass complex features a flagship retail shop, museum, culinary training center, restaurant and otherwise total nougat experience for hundreds of thousands anticipated visitors.

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 Rübezahl.