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QFF industry's perspective on reunion is positive light in a difficult time.

QFF Industry's Perspective on Reunion Is Positive Light in a Difficult Time

Though confusion reigns as to who gets what as dissimilar economies and work ethics merge, strong efforts are under way to stabilize eastern region's transition.

The euphoria over the unification of East and West Germany into one state has begun to wane. Now, some 18 months since the historic decision was made, is a good time to step back and look at the contemporary situation.

The general consensus is that the merger was good, although feelings are tempered with some apprehension that changes are coming too quickly. Many believe that development should be carried out with caution to avoid too much disruption to the existing infrastructure.

The facts are that overnight a land of 108,000 square kilometers (42,000 square miles) and a population in excess of 16.6 million people were absorbed into the Federal Republic. In its own right, East Germany was a leading European industrial area and perhaps the most developed region of the former Eastern bloc. Geographically it features predominantly flat countryside with typical Central European climate -- cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers.

In the past East Germany traded with Communist Comecon partners as a leading supplier and producer of chemicals, synthetic fibers and plastics. It claims a successful engineering industry and until recent times, was an expanding manufacturer of consumer products. Although it is largely an urban industrial economy, agriculture employs 10% of the work force producing mainly cereals, potatoes and sugar beets. Livestock raised include cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry.

A visit to East Germany brings home just how deprived her people have been over the past 50 years. In fact life there has been unsettled for a great deal longer than that. One would have to return to the Bismark period of 1890-1910 to find a contented nation.

How will the frozen food industry benefit from the unification process? In recent months the research company Gallup, on behalf of Reader's Digest magazine, conducted in-depth polling on the lifestyles of EEC inhabitants. The results are revealing and may suggest a living standard that East Germans will enjoy five or ten years from now. Four of the categories researched are of special interest to the frozen food industry, as illustrated by the table below.

German figures are now skewed by the unification. However, they should give manufacturers an idea about future potential markets. There is no doubt that East Germany will eventually reach West German standards. And although the established West German frozen food industry is well placed to benefit from the new situation, there is plenty of room for outside companies to profit -- particularly if their plans take into account further expansion into Eastern Europe.

The rudimentary state of the East German frozen food industry is probably on a par with West Germany's during the 1960s when the concept of quick freezing had relatively low acceptance. Then, as now in the east, talk was mainly about basic products such as fish fingers, bulk vegetables and potato pomme frites. During the '70s and '80s, with more adventurous manufacturers bringing out many new products including quality ready made meals, rising West German frozen food consumption passed the one million ton a year figure. With today's sophisticated marketing and selling techniques, coupled with the Bonn government's determination to fully reinstate East Germany into a unified Federal Republic, rapid growth is sure to take place.

To achieve this aim, heavy investment has had to be made by West German retailers. And as a result in less than two years shopping in supermarkets has become a pleasure in East Germany. Bright lighting, new cabinets, improved standards of hygiene plus well stocked shelves have already transformed the frozen food industry there. Many people own home freezers, although they may not always be the latest models. Add to this a recent influx of new equipment and the market is rapidly taking shape.

The modernization of grocery outlets can be attributed to the expansion plans of West German retailers. The exact number of refurbished or new stores is still unknown, but suffice to say that there are now western-style supermarkets accessible to all.

Outside of those in West Germany, there has been no supermarket chain involved in this expansion. This is regarded as somewhat surprising as the territory is still virtually virginal. And after all the fuss and bother caused by the Aldi Group in the United Kingdom recently, one would have thought an ideal opportunity exists for a British retailer to get a foothold on Aldi's home turf. This state of affairs was explained by the fact that German retailers work on a lean 1-3% profit margin, while British grocers expect 6-7% or greater. Hence they are non-starters in the Federal Republic.

Real Estate Woes

One of the most exasperating problems any investment company could encounter is to find out who actually owns what real estate in East Germany. Apparently there are 1.5 million West Germans claiming abandoned land now occupied by others. And although many of these people possess the title deeds, official government records have been destroyed or vanished over the past 50 years. There are major problems ahead in this area which will take many years to resolve.

However, immediate investment is required and to ensure that this develops, a special government department has been created -- the Treuhand Gesselschaft. Any company looking at investing in the old East Germany should contact the bureau regarding all land searches on property sought for purchase. Once a price is agreed upon with Treuhand Gesellschaft, complete clearance is granted and no other legal claims can be made. On this subject, it is interesting to note that the Spar Group and Edeka Supermarkets have both signed contracts to arrange a network of outlets throughout the territory.

One final point on investment should be made. Every effort is being undertaken by the Federal Republic to bring the East German region up to western standards. This includes housing, factories and the environment. Urban pollution in particular is in a shocking state throughout the former Communist "worker's paradise," with land contamination at alarming levels. The West German government feels strongly about environmental issues and insists that the new owners of real estate assume full responsibility for cleaning up the land. These environmental improvements can be costly and the work needed should be determined before contracts are signed.

Buy Western Mentality

Supermarkets are full of West European goods, which is great news for suppliers as they find this expansion often means automatically increased orders. This action has benefitted neighboring countries such as Holland and Belgium, which are already major suppliers of potato and vegetable products to Germany.

But what about manufacturers in East Germany. The news is not good at all for them. It is said that East Germans will not buy anything that hints of being made in the old DDR. In fact, this attitude has reached such a pitch that not even local milk will be purchased. East Germany bulk milk is sent to West Germany for processing and returned repackaged as finished milk products.

This phenomenon stretches further than the food industry and is completely undermining the stability of the East German manufacturing sector, resulting in many factories closing down and causing widespread unemployment.

Yet another important factor is work attitude. Until unification, East and West Germans had markedly different work ethics. In the west, in accordance with long-accepted Germanic tradition, steadfast employees make sure that their job is finished before pursuing leisure activities. This kind of discipline has helped build West Germany into the strongest economic powerhouse in Europe.

Things are very different in East Germany. There the people have lived in a system for more than 45 years where everybody was paid regardless of the amount of work rendered. This, of course, will certainly not be tolerated by hardworking West Germans who believe money is the way to convert the mind to honest labor. When an East German employee goes home with several hundred DM in his pocket at the end of the week, and can actually spend the hard currency on attractive goods in local shops, then his attitude to work will change. Indeed, this has already happened to a great extent.

Apart from retailing, more and more non-German concerns are starting to set up shop in East Germany. It is reported that among the first foreign investors was Machinefabriek C. Rijkaart by. The Dutch company negotiated with Treuhand Gesellschaft to take over all the shares of Kosora Maschinenbau GmbH of Dresden, a 200-person company that manufactures special machinery for the food processing industry. Its production program is complementary to that of C. Rijkaart, and the new owner plans to transfer part of its production from Holland to Dresden.

Taking the Plunge

How will companies involved with the frozen food industry cope with new horizons?

When planning, machine companies and processors are looking further afield than the old East Germany. Feelings are that former Comecon countries are likely to develop free market systems in the coming years. This will make the East German area a logical pad from which to launch into future markets. Admittedly at the moment these nations have little, if any, Western currency to lubricate the transition. But in recent times the frozen food industry has not been averse to a certain amount of bartering -- particularly on the equipment side.

An example of so-called counter-trade (based on fact, although hypothetical figures are for demonstration purposes only) follows: An East European factory producing meat approaches a West German trading organization and offers 1,000 tons of product. The trading company then approaches a food processor, negotiates a monetary sum for the raw material plus the return to the sourcing country of 500 tons of frozen, processed end-product. The trader will then also work out a deal with a cold storage construction company to erect and equip a cold storage warehouse in the originating country. Although this does not immediately improve the shortage of hard currency, in the long run it does allow for the creation of a modern cold chain which can be used for storing local processed products that can eventually be sold for cash to the West.

A limited amount of bartering is acceptable, but at the end of the day money makes the world go 'round and thus strategy must be concentrated on stabilizing the new marketing territory. A certain amount of equipment, frozen food products and general know-how can be obtained from home-based companies. However, domestic German outfits are not large enough to entirely service this overnight market of 16.6 million people. So there is plenty of business to go around for export-oriented concerns from abroad.

Farmland in East Germany has on the whole been kept in reasonably good condition, thus inviting on-site processing plants. The agriculture parcels are under the same milk quota pressure, etc., as West German acreage. Also, it is believed that more land is likely to be allocated to vegetable production. Companies such as Calenberger Feinkost GmbH are only interested in the German domestic market, and concerns of this ilk are likely to increase in number.

Another field where West German companies have started to show prominence is in potatoes, with at least three major producers in the fore: Pfanni, Schnefrost and Agrarfrost. And as East Germany is very strong in potato production, there is bound to be added impetus to the market.

Warehouse construction companies are sure to benefit from the frozen food boom. Kafer Isoliertechnik GmbH is one of the leading international cold store builders in Europe. Based in Bremen and backed up by a network of offices on the Continent, it is ideally situated to develop East Germany and other East European countries which in the future will want to enhance their existing facilities.

On the machinery front there are German outfits involved in all aspects of the QFF industry including freezing equipment, processing lines, gasses, packaging, scales, blanching machines, saws and cutters.

The seafood scene is already well served on the processing front, and with new plans being announced for the total redevelopment of the fishing industry along the North German coastline, plenty of activity is expected here. A united Germany will, of course, have fish catches regulated by quota, but even this will not stop the advancement of what will be a new fishery.

Other food lines such as ready-made meals are in the vanguard in West Germany, with at least four companies operating internationally. These include Langnese-Iglo GmbH, Hansa Tiefkuhlmenu GmbH, Frosta Tiefkuhlkost GmbH, and Apetito-Karl Dusterberg KG. Then there are players in other markets such as world-leading pizza maker Freiberger Lebsnsmittel GmbH, which reportedly produces some 500,000 units a day.

The packaging sector is also having a busy time. A great deal of additional packaging is required for 16 million new customers. Extra demand is already showing through. Indeed, processing companies that used to expect deliveries in less than a week after placing orders must now wait for six to seven weeks for routine shipments to arrive.

Some forms of anxiety are already being experienced. Price increases have been astronomical for easterners as gone are the days of paying 1950s-era rates for gas and electricity. And shelling out a paltry 7 DM for a week's apartment rental has gone the way of Karl Marx statues. But increased unemployment in the restructuring society is of serious concern.

In modern marketing methods, the honest East German is an "innocent abroad" who has sometimes been unfairly taken advantage of by unscrupulous insurance companies and used car dealers. But, like those in the West, they will have to learn from experience before picking the fruits of success in a capitalist class society.

Meanwhile, the cost of unification has forced an 8% increase in the German income tax. After all, somebody had to pay for rebuilding the antiquated east, as well as aiding a needy East Europe. Not all citizens are happy about playing the role of "rich uncle." But grumble as they may, there is no room for bartering when it comes to satisfying the taxman.

And now, with no further adieu, Quick Frozen Foods International presents capsule reviews of a number of the leading companies it inspected during a recent two-week survey of Germany.

Langnese-Iglo

Hamburg-headquartered Langnese-Iglo GmbH continues to be on the vanguard of the retail front, particularly with ready made meals in the western part of Germany. In the east the Unilever company's marketing of fish fingers, ice cream and other lines is having success.

Nielsen research figures for 1990, depicting the west only, show that the ready meals market expanded by 15% over 1989, while the fish sector increased by 13%. Indeed, the West German frozen food market grew overall by 10%.

No numbers are available so far for the unified Germany, but to ensure that Langnese-Iglo maintains its front-runner position, two steps have been taken. First, to cater to the extended market, the company is building a new sales and merchandising force. Here the emphasis is on merchandising, as most buying decisions are made at the head offices of supermarket chains. This plan appears to be bearing fruit as there was no shortage of Iglo products in stores recently visited by this magazine.

The second step involved ice cream, a sector where the well-tried program of placing small cabinets free in exchange for an exclusive rights contract is again proving to be a strong marketing tool.

A company of the standing of Langnese-Iglo is always involved in development, and 1991 brought the launch of a selection of Italian ready meals including Lasagne Toscana, Lasagne Bolognese and Cannelloni Florentina. All original Italian recipes made specifically for the German market, each has a RSP of below 5 DM.

In the ice cream area, new introductions are essential to retain market leadership. Hence at the forefront are family packs of internationally-accepted Cornetto lines. New flavors are strawberries topped with cream and nut-filled toppings with cream. Also brought out was an ice cream wafer sandwich called Chipwich, which comes in a pack of four. The individual impulse-buy category has been supplemented with flavored cornettos, ice lollies, and the Gino Ginelli Tiramisu. The latter features a biscuit base and specially formulated vegetable fat ice cream covered with chocolate sprinkles and sold in individual tubs at 2.20 DM each.

Frosta

The 1980s were very good for Frosta Tiefkuhlkost GmbH, a member of Nordstern Lebensmittel AG. And early indications are that the decade of the '90s will continue in the same vein as it seems clear that a move toward frozen food diversification is paying off. Now boasting a wide range of fish, vegetables, fruit and ready-made meals, the company's persistence has made it the No. 2 processor in the country -- second only to Unilever giant Langnese-Iglo.

Allied to this market growth has been extensive investment of over 36 million DM spent on modern equipment, cold storage facilities and offices. A new fish finger line came into operation in January 1990, adding further capacity of 12,000 tons per year.

Frosta claims brand leadership on two fronts -- frozen fruits and the highly specialized herb sector. Both categories represent comparatively small volumes, but even so, they contribute solidly to company profits. The seafood market has been particularly buoyant, with special emphasis on fish fingers and fish cakes. Both of these lines are proving to be popular in the old DDR. Vegetables have shown overall growth across the board, with single lines and spinach mixes standing out.

Holding company Nordstern Lebensmittel AG was one of the investment front runners in liberated East Germany, spending 10 million DM to build up Elbtal Tiefkuhlkost, which was formerly known as UEB Elbtal. Its plant is based in Lommatzsch near Dresden, in the heart of fertile agricultural land which assures plentiful raw material. New machinery has been installed and arrangements for technical staff, accounting and marketing have already been put into practice to ensure that production meets EEC standards.

One of the all important changes made was in mental attitude. In the past, this type of operation processed seasonal crops, paid its workers and shut down until the next harvest. Not any more! The new management has introduced additional products such as frozen soups. Packing same enables Elbtal to produce year-round.

Additional forward planning includes the possible introduction of baked goods. Elbtal produces under its own brand name and private label as required. With all the above developments a new cold store became essential, so last July a fully automatic, 8,500 pallet warehouse came into operation at Bremerhaven.

Hamburger Feinfrost

Suppliers of fish speciality lines have begun promoting products to the east. In the main, over the past years only five basic species were evident in the DDR: carp, trout (generally farm-raised), herring, mackerel and plaice. Since unification this selection has widened, but to date it is still the cheaper end of the market that is being catered to. Nonetheless, a certain amount of interest in speciality lines is now being created.

Hamburger Feinfrost GmbH has been expanding continuously since its 1982 formation as a subsidiary of Gottfried Friedrichs KG. The outfit specializes in the importation and distribution of deep frozen seafood from around the world. More and more value added fare has found its way into the product range -- items such as breaded black tiger king prawns, party gambas, shrimp and cuttlefish skewers. A Gourmet assortment includes smoked eel fillet roll filled with Atlantic salmon, surimi- and aspic-filled plaice fillets, fish pate topped with Atlantic salmon fillet, shrimp or plaice fillet rolls.

Also offered are shell scallops and shrimp in cheese sauce, mussel meat in puff pastry topped with white cream sauce, mussels on the half shell with tomato sauce, cheese and spiced butter.

Of course, traditional products are also available such as cooked peeled shrimp, king prawns, fish steaks, squid, fruit de mer and salmon. And for snack bars, the catalog includes fish frites, crispy fish, breaded plaice fillets, scampi fritti, calamares Romana, breaded king prawns, red fish fillets, saithe fillets and fish fingers.

Said to be gaining interest are surimi sticks, chunks, crab claws, lobster tails and shrimp shapes.

Hansa Tiefkuhlmenu

Also among the first West German companies to commit resources to East Germany was Hansa Tiefkuhlmenu GmbH & Co., which announced a 10 million DM investment in a factory at Halle close to Leipzig. The capital is being used for equipment and technology, with the first priority to enhance hygienic and quality control standards to match those in place at the main plant in Hilter. The Halle operation has 100 employees currently working a single shift to turn out 6,000 meals daily. But with modernization, production will rise.

In the meantime, continual expansion and updating of machinery is taking place at the flagship plant in West Germany. The ready-made meals segment has grown out of all recognition since the company started in 1969, producing 30,000 meals a day at the time. Currently over 350,000 meals are made daily, with customers given a menu of some 800 recipes to choose from. The price of meals starts as low as 2 DM (about 70p sterling) and rises to 5 DM (approximately 1.70 [pounds]).

Already active in exporting to the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, Hansa is looking to do business in Portugal and Spain. It also regards the United Kingdom as a very important market. Private label production partners are now being sought abroad.

Hansa's recipes are formulated for four key commercial segments, as follows:

* Industrial catering. New standards are being met with the A La Carte system. Easy-to-serve meals give canteen managers an opportunity to offer menu selections unthinkable five years ago.

* Institutional catering. Nutritious and cost effective menus are available for this important and growing sector. The range fulfills particular requirements of schools, hospitals, old folks homes, "meals on wheels" services and other specialized buying groups.

* Fast food, hotel and restaurant catering. An attractive tailor-made range of recipes is offered allowing operators to respond to market needs with a high level of flexibility at a competitive cost.

* Retail food trade. A wide variety of high volume completely- or partially-cooked dishes is being produced. The private label option is popular in this sector, as all menus can be altered to suit local tastes. Of course, the regular Starfrost brand is also packed in abundance.

Freiberger Lebensmittel

Is pizza now king of the convenience food market? Well, there is certainly no doubt that this category goes from strength to strength with its increasing worldwide appeal. Pizza has captured the public's imagination with its appetizing appearance and flexible portioning. It can be either a snack or a main dish, while toppings have advanced from the original cheese, tomato and onion mix to high value meat, seafood and vegetable varieties. Additionally, there is a choice of dough bases ranging from French bread or plain pastry to stone oven style. The latter is individually cooked and may contain a selection of flavors to further enhance the dining experience.

The market is strong throughout Europe, with probably the largest pizza plant in the world operated in Berlin under the management of Freiberger Lebensmittel GmbH & Co. KG.

First, a little bit of history: During 1971, in West Berlin, the name Pizza Versandbackerei GmbH was registered. Five years later, after a degree of modest success, the company got into difficulties. Then Ernst Freiberger took over the business, which at the time employed only 20 people making no more than 7,000 units a day.

Since that humble beginning, and in spite of being disadvantageously situated on an island surrounded by the old East Germany, Freiberger has built a modern plant employing 550 workers who bake 500,000 pizzas daily.

Turnover in 1991 is expected to be some 300 million DM, with the 22-24 cm conventional segment alone accounting for 120 million, and stone oven premiums bringing in another 70 million. Ready-made meal volume should hit 50 million, with French bread pizza earning 45 million, and ice cream grossing 15 million.

Until recent times, 100% of production was geared to the private label market. However, the company's critically acclaimed stone oven creation encouraged it to launch same under the Feinkost Kafer Munchen premium brand. It is also selling regular pizzas under the Erno's label. Each has wide distribution in German retail stores. The company also packs a range of Italian pasta ready-made meals and premier ice cream under the Kafer brand.

A major extension to the existing plant will be on line late this year. The 60 million DM expansion will increase the pizza production capacity to 800,000 units a day. This figure includes the latest development, a 850 gram family-sized product that is currently available under private label. Plans are afoot to market it under the Kafer label too.

Germany has the biggest appetite for pizza in Europe, with 22-24 cm volume sales of 170 million packs per annum worth some 540 million DM at RSP. Volume is estimated to be growing at 17%. Add to this the lucrative French bread line (60 million packs at 150 DM RSP). Indeed, it is claimed that pizza is the most important category in the retail frozen food cabinet -- accounting for 20% of all sales registered.

One of Freiberger's largest customers is Intermerk GmbH, a Munich company that runs an international distribution operation. Sales and Marketing Director Harald Georg told Quick Frozen Foods International that the bulk of the business is in private label at the moment. He supplies many of the blue chip supermarket chains in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe. Penetration into the United Kingdom with the 22-24 cm size was particularly gratifying as to date that market has been inclined to regard pizza products as a snack rather than as a serious meal.

Research has proved that the 22-24 cm variety is being well received in numerous countries. For example, this segment has an estimated annual value of 18.6 million DM in the Netherlands, 3.5 million DM in Belgium, and 45 million DM in the UK. It is forecast that in Britain annual growth of 19% will be recorded over the next three years, along with a 27% increase in sterling value.

More Pizza Packers

Also active in German and export pizza markets is Braunschausen-based Wagner Tiefkuhlprodukte GmbH. Its Original Wagner-Pizza stoneoven line features 300g, 350g and 400g packs with toppings ranging from pepperoni and salami to ham, mushrooms and a deluxe combination. Also offered are individual slices as well as frozen soups, gravies and stuffed potato dumplings.

Pizzafrost is a brand packed by Dobra GmbH. The Verden-based outfit also markets the Icewind line of ready dishes, poultry and sauces under the German Kitchen label. Pizzafrost pizzas, which were previously made exclusively in Italy until German production came on line this year, are sold to both catering and retail segments. Also turned out is an assortment of lasagna and other pasta specialties.

Gustav Wulff

Also worthy of note is the Hamburg-based Gustav Wulff Company. A specialist in quick frozen fruits and vegetables since the 1950s, it sources large volumes of raw material from Hungary and Poland, with lesser tonnage coming from Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, the Far East, and North and South America.

Last year Gustav Wulff became a shareholder of the Mirelite Kulkereskedelmi Reszvenytarsasag in Budapest, a Hungarian frozen food producer. The main reason for the investment was to establish a joint venture for the "bio-growing" of vegetables for customers in the babyfood business.

Wulff has also signed an agreement with LPG of Poland, an agricultural products cooperative society, in order to have better access to raw materials. "For the same reason we are participating in a Polish company which has several supermarkets in the country," advised a spokesman.

Pickenpack

Situated in Luneberg, near Hamburg, Pickenpack Tiekuhlgesellschaft has gained an excellent reputation in the European market as the supplier of an extensive range of frozen foods. With a wealth of experience in the fish business, the company's well balanced line policy and strict quality control have put the Packfish and Pickenpack brands into a leading position in both domestic and international markets.

A wide range of frozen fish products is marketed under the Packfish brand, including traditional main sellers such as fish fingers, breaded and unbreaded fish fillets and portions and fishcakes. The company is also renowned for its fish specialities like tempura products, controlled-weight breaded fillets, fish nuggets and convenience products.

The Pickenpack brand includes such interesting and innovative frozen foods as frozen fruit mixtures and ready meals based on fish-vegetable mixtures made to different international recipes. [Tabular Data Omitted]

PHOTO : Langnese-Iglo has introduced a selection of Italian recipe dishes to its already extensive range of ready-made meals. Packed under the Delite label, Lasagne Bolognese and Cannelloni Florentina are among the offerings.

PHOTO : Frosta GmbH not only makes a vast selection of frozen fish, vegetables and ready-made meals, but it is also active in the highly specialized frozen herb market, offering everything from basil to parsley.

PHOTO : Shrimp of every specification is only part of Hamburger Feinfrost's range of frozen seafood products.

PHOTO : Chefs at Hansa's test kitchen check recipes on a regular basis to ensure that they meet specification for markets throughout Europe. The company packs frozen meals for a variety of institutional, catering and retail trade clients.

PHOTO : Frozen pizza products are king at Freiberger Lebensmittel, the Berlin-based packer that sells some 230 million DM worth a year. This Pizza Fantastica offering under the Feinkost Kafer Munchen label is marketed as a meal, not a snack.

PHOTO : Mushroom is among the toppings featured in the Original Wagner-Pizza range.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:QFFI Special Market Report: United Germany; quick frozen foods
Author:Brown, Morrison
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:4948
Previous Article:1992 mania takes back seat in Germany as cold store operators look eastward.
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