Since its acquisition by Sollich in 1991, Chocotech has rapidly moved from its chocolate processing heritage to candy processing equipment to ideally complement its parent owner.

Chocotech’s Martin McDermott takes Sollich’s Thomas Sollich, Ralf Schaeffer, and Rolf Bartels, the company’s chief financial officer, on a plant tour to check on projects.

Otto Lauenstein might  have difficulty recognizing the company he founded in Wernigerode, Germany back in 1920. First, although it’s still located in the same midsized city about 100 kilometers southwest of Hannover, the company’s modern facilities today encompass nearly 150,000 sq. ft. of office, production and test laboratory space, a far cry from Lauenstein’s modest building back then.

More than 160 people working two shifts produce a broad range of candy and chocolate processing equipment today, the bulk of machines built (75%) devoted toward sugar treats, such as fruit snacks, caramel, fondant, aerated products, jellies, chewy candies, fudge, hard candies and croquante while the remainder are focused on chocolate.

That would be odd, indeed, for Lauenstein who’s known for developing the first continuous tempering machine as well as producing other chocolate processing equipment and foil wrapping machines. What wouldn’t be strange, however, is the company’s ongoing commitment to innovation and processing improvements.

Nor would he be that surprised to see a 7,300-sq.-ft research and testing laboratory, one that not only helps customers validate product concepts, but also acts as a proactive new product development facility for valued customers.

Key management members take a break during a meeting at the company’s headquarters in Wernigerode, Germany. From l. to r.: Sollich’s executive director and chairman, Ralf Schaeffer and Thomas Sollich; Chocotech’s marketing and sales director and co-managing directors, Martin McDermott, Erhard Hilker and Klaus Markwardt.

Since its acquisition in 1991 by Sollich, the renowned global supplier of a broad range of chocolate processing equipment and lines, Chocotech has gradually become the perfect candy processing equipment compliment to its parent company.

“One of the reasons Sollich acquired Chocotech back then was that it wanted to gain access into the markets of Eastern Europe [such as Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Poland and the Baltic states),” explains Erhard Hilker, co-managing director. “Chocotech sold the eastern market with competitive equipment.”

The privatization of former Communist companies provided Sollich with a perfect opportunity to gain entry into a marketplace that had been previously closed off to Western companies. At the same time, the Chocotech acquisition also created a challenge for Sollich in how to best integrate the subsidiary into its growth strategy.

That strategy became more focused when Sollich acquired Eberhard Ernst in 2001, a company dedicated to producing aeration and fondant equipment. That move, coupled with the addition of Klaus Markwardt, a former executive with another candy processing company, and several of his colleagues, firmly established Chocotech as a player in the candy processing equipment segment.

“Since 2001, sales  have quadrupled,” Hilker says.  “When we started focusing on candy processing equipment, we really didn’t have an established reputation. Today, Chocotech has earned itself a good name to both large, midsized and smaller players.”

A view of the company’s production floor where 160 employees working two shifts assemble a broad range of confectionery processing equipment.

Markwardt, the company’s other co-managing director, attributes this success to not only developing machines that have the capability to handle large volumes, but also to the hygienic design that’s inherent in the engineering.

“We highlighted hygienic considerations relatively early on when we started designing our machines,” Markwardt adds. As he explains, upon joining Chocotech, there was a clean slate for him and his group of engineers to incorporate concepts they always wanted to try.

“One of them involved finding solutions to effectively clean equipment,” Markwardt adds.

Reinhard Foehre works on a chain forming die for hard candy.

As Martin McDermott, sales & marketing director points out, “Customers typically want to know how do they start, stop the line, what stoppage entails and how do they CIP the line.”

Today, with food safety and quality assurance  playing such critical roles, the bar on how clean is clean continues to creep higher and higher.

As Hilker points out, one can clean a line well or poorly. “Today, inspections involve looking at bacterial levels with swab tests. Then there’s being efficient in cleaning. Every manufacturer knows he’s not making money with his equipment when he’s cleaning it.

“Say you have a typical line with weighing, cooling, dosing and blending systems,” he continues. “Today, you can have a mass that goes through the first part of the production process, then cleans that process while the mass moves through the other processing sections of the line. This, of course, is only possible with mix-proof valves.

“On certain products you can do an intermediate rinse that takes two minutes just to keep the equipment clean enough for continuous 24-hour production, instead of shutting down the entire line for two hours to clean it.”

Finished equipment is readied for shipment.

Hygienic design wasn’t the only innovation in Chocotech’s pioneering efforts to establish a reputation for itself. It also made a substantial investment to build a research and testing laboratory designed for “real life” processing.

“It proved crucial to the business,” says Hilker.

The research and testing lab also allowed the company to develop products for its customers. As McDermott notes, one of the company’s first efforts involved coming up with a “softer” protein bar for the North American market. And although the nougatine bar developed didn’t make it onto any retail shelves, Chocotech’s capabilities as a innovator didn’t go unnoticed.

“We gradually got better and better at identifying simpler and more  hygenic methods to successfully manufacture products like chewy candies, fondant, caramels and fudges for our customers,” he asserts.

That capability has become “crucial to growing the business,” adds Hilker.

Chocotech’s 7300-sq.-ft. testing and research laboratory is designed for “real life” processing.

Another element that has helped the company retain customer loyalty involves its holistic approach to sales, production and service.

“We look at the business in its entirety,” says Hilker. Typically, someone will make a sale, hand the specifics to the shop and then have service follow through when it’s shipped. Often, there’s no interaction between the three different operations unless there’s a problem.”

In Chocotech’s case, once a sale is completed and the specifics are given to the production department, four groups will be involved in assembling, which includes all interconnections, cabling and pipe work. Upon receiving a factory acceptance test (FAT), the same groups then disassemble the equipment prior to shipment. Upon delivery, the head of each group will travel to the installation site to ensure the line is properly put in.

“This procedure saves 15% of the typical delivery time,” says McDermott.

Such scrupulous attention  to detail mirrors Lauenstein’s original philosophy.  But that’s not the only carryover from the Lauenstein legacy. Innovation continues to be a driver at Chocotech.

Chocotech’s Frozenshell unit can produce a broad range of chocolate items without the use of moulds.

At the most recent interpack, Chocotech unveiled several key innovations,  improvements and refinements, including theAutograv,  a complete weighing and mixing system with recipe management; a newSucrocrunch sugar melter with aSucroform W embossing line for hard candies, chewy candies and croquante items; a newFruitmaster for processing pure fruit products; aBarline kitchen to supplyConbar lines; aTurbowhip 300 for aerated candy nougat; and a newChewmaster, which provides a pronounced pre-crystallization to chewy candies so that they can be formed without extrusion.

Of course, the revolutionaryFrozenshell was on display,  a processing concept Lauenstein would have paid particular attention to, given his chocolate heritage. As highlighted in the Halloren cover story this issue (see pages 14-18), theFrozenshell line eliminates the use of chocolate moulds  by using ultra-chilled tool sets that are dipped into tempered chocolate. The tool set (available in 400 x 400 and 600 x 600 millimeter sizes) then deposits the formed chocolate shells onto a conveyor through gentle air dispersal. Various fillings can be deposited into the shells once they are cooled. Additional enrobing and/or chocolate capping are also possible, making product variations seemingly endless. Flexibility and efficiency are keys to its recent success.

Initially designed to appeal to a broad range of  small and midsized  chocolate manufacturers, ongoing acceptance and use by higher volume manufacturers has prompted the company to roll out an even larger design (800 x 800 millimeters) this year to meet higher output demands.

Of course, meeting customer demands is something Lauenstein certainly could identify with, even in the 21st century.

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