Lotte Wedel – A Golden Ticket to Sucess
“When I last went to a chocolate museum, I was observing the history of chocolate companies there, of the top ten, most no longer exist,” says Sławomir Kluszczyński, COO of LOTTE Wedel. One of the brands that stood the test of time is E.Wedel of the LOTTE Wedel company. We talk to one of the oldest names in the chocolate industry.
We’ve got our 170th anniversary next year. Our German founder, Karl Ernst Wedel, came to Poland and started his own business by selling and producing chocolate, setting up the factories and bringing the product to the market,” recounts Kluszczyński.
Where Innovation Meets Tradition
This history of bringing new confectionaries to the public continues even today. Today, Wedel’s factory is a place where the past and the future of chocolate meet.
“We constantly develop, bearing in mind our achievements and those of our founders, looking at how they tackled challenges,” Kluszczyński says. “We have a synergy of innovation and tradition.”
Today that synergy can be seen in a number of significant investments.
“We’re investing in one more tablet line and one more chocolate masses line. The construction works and related activities will be completed in 2021,” Kluszczyński tells us. “This is followed by a factory extension and another Ptasie Mleczko® line in 2022. Our intensive automation program will change our traditional factory into 4.0 modern plant.”
But for Kluszczyński, Wedel’s biggest investments aren’t necessarily new equipment or factories.
“This is purely an investment of CAPEX. But if we talk about other investments it’s down to our vision around green energy, which is part of our CSR strategy,” he says. “We have a factory in Warsaw powered by windmills energy and we’re very passionate about building on that. We’re going to responsibly manage the transfer to renewable energy to reduce our impact on the natural environment through initiatives to bring down greenhouse gas emissions.”
A Passion for Chocolate
Wedel’s most important investment, Kluszczyński insists, is its people.
“Our team consists of ideas creators, experienced technologists – first of all with chocolate but also chocolate art. Across all departments, you can always find people passionate about chocolate, starting from R&D, manufacturing, warehousing to different functions within the company,” Kluszczyński says. “Our staff feel that passion and enjoy an atmosphere where everyone’s contribution counts.”
Wedel has a staff of almost 1,300 people. Its people stay with the company for a long time as well, with the average length of employment being 11 years. This year the company celebrated an employee retiring after working with Wedel for 51 years. Kluszczyński also considers it important to bring people from different backgrounds and perspectives into the company.
“Diversity is very important, different points of view help us to create solutions,” he points out.
That is just one of the ingredients that have helped build Wedel’s unique culture.
“Our culture is very different from other companies thanks to our cultural development program and that we are privileged in having an owner, LOTTE,” Kluszczyński says. “LOTTE’s managing us in such a way that respects what we do, treating us as a team of professionals that knows what’s best for the company and develops the tradition of the brand, giving us the space to develop the business. We’re entrepreneurs coming back to the tradition of Wedel’s family. We are investing our resources both in new machines, in the market but also the development of our people. Our last novelty, which is an effect of cooperation between many organizational departments, is a new Extra Milk chocolate tablets line. Earlier we created new kind of chocolate which has been very successful among the younger generation, caramel chocolate.”
This year Wedel’s team has had to come together to respond to the COVID crisis.
“COVID is really unprecedented,” Kluszczyński says. “At the beginning it was confusing for people; coming to work, people were feeling unsure and, in our factory, I had to meet people and explain our rules of safety. Our business partners were also anxious, so after identifying this issue we decided we had to ensure our staff full safety in these new circumstances. Safety of our employees has always been our first priority. We were thinking about how to make sure all our people were secure even beyond what government and state regulations required, and we’re proud of that. We managed proper safety while implementing CAPEX projects and delivering products to our customers continuously.”
Besides prioritizing health and security issues among workers and continuing business activities, at the same time Wedel has shown its support to the people in the front line of the fight with the pandemic by donating packages with chocolate sweets. “We also financially supported the Polish Red Cross and over 400 health paramedics. We donated our products and provided help also to other organisations that we support on regular basis. Such initiatives show that openness for cooperation and joint actions may be beneficial to a greater extent and Wedel is always ready to provide support,” Kluszczyński adds.
While COVID has obviously bitten into the profits of almost every business sector, Wedel has also witnessed some surprising growth areas during the crisis. During the lockdown, after all, chocolate was the ideal comfort you could enjoy while also social distancing.
“We saw both decline and growth in different confectionary categories from consumers,” Kluszczyński points out. “What was unexpected is our chocolate bars increased in demand because in these hard people enjoyed the moments created by the product.”
Looking forward, Kluszczyński believes Wedel is well-positioned for the post-COVID market.
“In general looking to post-COVID, we’re in a good position in this economy. If we look for our reaction to COVID-19, we managed well and I hope this good performance will continue,” he says. “We are approaching a most interesting time for this sector of the market; we’re deploying for Christmas with the high season sales starting from September.”
COVID has also brought about shifts in the market that open the door to new kinds of innovation.
“Digitalisation is also something we are focusing on now within the business in different sectors. Not only production but other processes, sales or business analytics and planning,” Kluszczyński says. “COVID made businesses more active. It generated new threats for business efficiencies and at the same time new opportunities. Long term this will require mitigating activities. To maintain high operational effectiveness – innovation in the effective communication tools among employees will be vital,” Kluszczyński concludes. “We work on solutions supporting virtual communication and employees’ engagement. I will not mention remote health control or processes of hygiene control applications that are a must nowadays. IT innovations accelerate. Automation will be common even if the cost of investment will be high. Process bots will be an answer to innovation needs. One change in the post-COVID-world is e-commerce where consumers are developing at a higher pace than before. Chocolate was difficult to sell remotely but now e-commerce has accelerated in this area. We want to deliver our products in different ways, always thinking about consumers’ comfort so this year we expanded our presence in the e-commerce channel. We launched an online store with E. Wedel Chocolate Lounges’ offer and website, where you can buy Torcik Wedlowski for your own project.”
“One thing is for sure,” Kluszczyński summarizes “Wedel’s mission is ‘we are constantly changing to bring joy to us and our clients’, that reflects our operating philosophy as we respond to a greater extent to post-COVID challenges than before.”