"I stand by sugar" - Interview with Philip Hitschler Becker in Lebensmittelzeitung on 4 October 2019

Lebensmittelzeitung published an interview with Philip Hitschler-Becker under the title “I stand by sugar” on 4 October 2019. A report by Sabrina Schadwinkel. Read the entire interview here:

“I stand by sugar”

Even sugar bashing and traffic light rating system cannot spoil Philip Hitschler-Becker’s good mood. In the fourth generation he leads the confectionery manufacturer of the same name all the way to the US.

For the US it had to be a different name. “Hitschler is sometimes difficult for foreign consumers to pronounce and remember,” explains Philip Hitschler-Becker during a tour of the production facilities. That’s why the brand there is named after his bestseller – Hitschie’s. For one and a half years, the Cologne-based confectionery manufacturer has also been selling its chewy sweets in bright colours on the US East Coast. In view of the “America First” policy of US President Donald Trump, “Made in Germany” is printed on the rear side of the packaging as a precaution. The fact that the young entrepreneur puts the family name at the back is the exception.

On the conference table, the 31-year-old spreads out dozens of black-and-white photographs: the grandfather on a harbour tour, at a family celebration, talking to sales representatives from the Middle East. The grandfather initiated the international expansion in the 1970s already. Today Hitschler International is active in a total of 40 countries – from Eastern Europe to the United Arab Emirates. Hitschler-Becker takes every picture into his hands, looks at it with a pensive smile and talks about the family, the almost 90 years of company history. “Every evening at 9:30, I spoke to my grandfather on the phone. We had an close relationship.”

Even the furniture testifies to this. The small meeting room at the production site in Michelstadt – located in the idyllic Odenwald Forest – has hardly changed since the death of Walter Hitschler nine years ago. At the age of 88, he had still managed the business as sole owner. The red painting on the wall, the wood paneling, the old button telephone, everything’s still there.

However, his grandson and successor has placed a soccer table in front of the door in the entrance area. One floor higher, the offices have been freshly refurbished: Purchasing, sales and quality assurance are located in more open, light-flooded rooms. The desks are height-adjustable. New Work in the medium-sized company

About two years ago, Hitschler-Becker had replaced external managing directors at the top of the company. Many a one has left since then, but also came from the larger competition. Job postings for a national key account are headed “We are looking for a bubble-gum key market customer care process representative optimizer”. “We even have a Feel Good Manager,” says Hitschler-Becker and pulls out his mobile phone. This refers to his she dog Lotta, which he also takes with him to the office. On the official Instagram account, she sprints down the corridor with a bag of candy in her mouth. After work Hitschler-Becker trains her for hunting. In nature, on the raised hide, he can relax well, he says.

Managing a confectionery manufacturer is not necessarily a dream job in the current political climate. The aversion to sugar has increased dramatically over the past ten years, as the latest Nestlé nutrition study in 2019 showed. “Society is convinced that sugar endangers them,” said Renate Köcher, Managing Director of the Allensbach Institute for Public Opinion Research, when presenting the results. Forty-six percent of those surveyed stated that they look for foods with little sugar when shopping. In 2008 it was only 26 percent.

“The rank and file will not do without sugar,” believes Hitschler-Becker, who sees sugar as an “energy supplier and happy maker.” He is relaxed about coloured nutritional labelling like Nutriscore: “I stand by sugar.” His range includes vegan and halal-certified products, but so far no sugar-reduced variants. “We’re also looking at sugar substitutes, maybe there will be one or two in the future.”

A glance at the market development shows that Germans continue to grab nibblings: According to IRI’s market researchers, sales of sugar confectionery rose by a total of 3.9 per cent to 185,109 tonnes, while turnover increased by 1.2 per cent to 987.4 million euros in the six months to June 2019. Fruit gums and chewy sweets are the growth drivers here, while marshmallows and lollipops are weakening. In fruit gums, market shares are currently shifting at Haribo’s expense.

In addition to the family photos, Hitschler-Becker also shows a black-and-white photograph of children in front of a kiosk. “The mixed bag of laces, bacon and sherbet ufos from the swimming pool kiosk is part of childhood for many,” he says. But nostalgia is not enough to survive: “He who doesn’t keep up with the times will perish with the times.” Recently, in his assortment it glitters in pastel and mother of pearl shades: Hitschies in the mermaid edition.

“We have been growing continuously for four years,” says the young entrepreneur from Cologne. In 2018, his company, which operates as Hitschler International, has had a turnover of around 55 million euros. He plans to invest a high seven-figure sum in the modernisation and automation of production in the coming years.

In the damages proceedings against the sugar cartel members a lot of patience is required: “The various proceedings seem to be dragging on altogether. We have decided to concentrate on our daily business,” says Hitschler-Becker.

He describes the production of moulded fruit gums à la Haribo and Katjes as a short-term excursus that has come to an end. Instead, the niche player relies on “globally unique” products such as its hitschies. According to its own statement, more than one billion of these are consumed every year. This obviously arouses desires. Most recently, a Turkish supplier was caught with plagiarism at the international confectionery fair ISM.

For Hitschler-Becker it was always certain that he would join the company: “My clear goal was to be here at 30.” At first he studied business administration in Maastricht and Australia, then worked in sales and marketing for Danone and Iglo. He is the only one in the family who is active in operational work. His younger siblings have chosen other careers. His father, who worked in the company, has already passed away.

“The Hitschler family is very important to me,” says the 31-year-old, by which he also means his employees. He wants to be a hands-on boss who gets down to work – and who ensures good mood. He has given his employees two extra days of holiday. In the past, the colleagues at the Michelstadt and Cologne locations had hardly anything to do with each other, he says. Now there is a joint whatsapp-chat and one factory day a year, so that everyone knows what is going on in production. An employee celebrating her tenth anniversary is hugged by him. “Then you’ve known my grandfather!” cries the company boss and beams at her.

During the production tour Hitschler-Becker spreads out his arms: “This is my life.” With childlike enthusiasm he looks into the drums, in which bright green hitschies are spinning. “Doesn’t that look nice?” His name is on his protective gown. His aim is to ensure that the company remains in family hands in the next generation. lz 40-19