MARS IN VIERSEN: A SWEET COMBINATION
Mars came to Viersen 30 years ago. The American company opened its first confectionery factory on German soil in 1979 in the Mackenstein industrial park in south Viersen-Dülken, specifically targeting the Lower Rhine region so as to be near its Dutch sister factory. The sales office in Düsseldorf was closed down and all the staff moved into the new offices in Viersen. This was the start of a success story that continues to this day. Mars Viersen currently produces Twix, Balisto and some products for the chocolate selection Celebrations. Around 580 members of staff here make sure that the 60,000 tons of chocolate bars leaving the halls every year for customers all round Europe are of the finest quality.
A visit to the production hall in Viersen fundamentally changes your attitude to chocolate bars. We’ve all picked up a Twix or a Balisto at the supermarket or while driving without a second thought. But once you know the manufacturing process and all the logistics surrounding these bars, you can no longer simply bite into one of these bars without thinking about it. You have a new-found respect for the work performed in the only German confectionery factory of the American multinational corporation Mars. Mars Viersen has been a singular success story since the factory was founded 30 years ago (1979). The factory produces today 10,000 snacks per minute – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means 60,000 tons of chocolate bars a year, which are then exported to 32 countries all over Europe – and, the normal fluctuations notwithstanding, it has been a constant upwards trend. That hasn’t changed during the economic crisis either. There’s always room for something sweet.
The European market is a logistical challenge in itself. Twix alone is manufactured in five different sizes, but only the machines in the Viersen factory are equipped to make all sizes. Balisto is produced exclusively in Viersen for the rest of the world, and Twix is made in Veghel in the Netherlands. For Kai Könecke, Plant Manager at Mars Chocolate Deutschland, the factory in Viersen is a testing ground for the worldwide corporation; many new things are tried out here: “We’re always running ahead of the others.” No other factory is better, particularly as far as quality is concerned, according to Barry Parkin, Global Director of Purchasing. Mars was a big seller in Germany from the very beginning. Thomas Bittinger, General Manager of Mars Chocolate Deutschland, remembers the early years: “Mars and Snickers are legendary. They are the mother and father of all chocolate bars and have a special place in the hearts of consumers.” The bars Banjo, Twix, Balisto and Celebrations are all associated with the factory in Mackenstein. That is the exact name of the industrial park near Viersen-Dülken. Thirty years ago, Minden and Paderborn were considered as other possible new locations. But the proximity to the existing major sales office in Düsseldorf tipped the scales in favor of Viersen. The 35 members of staff who began with production in Viersen 30 years ago have now grown to 580. What’s more, their jobs are safe. “There’s little chance of reduced working hours for us,” Kai Könecke assures us proudly. And even better: 62 employees who were there at the beginning still work at Mars and can now celebrate 30 years with the company.
Kai Könecke, who himself has worked for Mars for 15 years, says the employees’ loyalty is attributable to the extremely good working atmosphere and the very open communication practices. Furthermore, Mars is a family business, and is still run by the family. Since no dividends have to be paid to shareholders, almost 100 percent of the profits are re-invested. Key Mars figures include 30 billion dollars revenue and 70,000 employees worldwide. Yet there are few employees at the headquarters near Washington. This is because the corporation has a very decentralized structure. The factory in Viersen is also largely autonomous and responsible for itself.
In Viersen itself Mars is also involved in supporting the community. It supports the Viersen charity Tafel which helps the homeless. Mars employees organize a Christmas market for those in need. It also supports the Kinderschutzbund (Child Protection Alliance), the Carnival Princes and Princesses from the entire Viersen district, the KreisSportBund (association of sports clubs) and the “schwer mobil” project for overweight children in Viersen. Mars is also involved in training. It trains confectioners and mechatronic technicians in Viersen. These activities reflect the five Group principles of quality, responsibility, efficiency, mutual respect and freedom. The current issue of sustainability has also been practiced at Mars 30 years. As the world’s largest buyer of cocoa, sustainable cultivation in the countries of origin is vital for Mars. Organizations like UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certify Mars’s fair cooperation. “For our chocolate products this means we have agreed to use only certified sustainable cocoa from 2020,” Thomas Bittinger, General Manager of Mars Chocolate Deutschland, explains.
Mars informs its consumers about the nutritional values of its bars on every wrapper. The aim is to ensure sensible transparency, since sugar and fat are simply essential ingredients in chocolate bars. Mars is constantly working on improving its existing products too. It doesn’t use any artificial aromas or colors at all. Since 2002 Mars has been able to decrease the amount of trans-fatty acids in its products by 97 percent. Today all the Mars products contain less than 0.5 percent trans fat. What’s more, the remaining trans fat come from natural sources only, such as milk. The company also recommends a balanced diet. The program “Clever naschen” (‘Smart Snacking’) offers orientation on how to eat sweet foods responsibly and provides valuable tips for parents. Plant manager Kai Könecke could actually be a role model for this program. The slim 2-meter man enjoys his chocolate bars. But the 43-year-old is also very keen on sport. He used to play basketball in the top league; now he’s mad about triathlons and marathons – and, of course, his family, which has settled in Kempen. The mechanical engineer who grew up in Höxter and studied in Braunschweig really likes the people in the Lower Rhine region: “The people here have a different attitude to life; they enjoy it more.” Könecke seems to have as much fun walking along the 350-meter-long production line in the factory as he does with sport. He takes the hurdle of reconciling the countless production parameters just as nimbly as the application of high-tech robots in the new logistics center, in which 4.5 million euros in total were invested in 2009.
Mars Chocolate Deutschland
Tel.: +49 (0) 2162 - 500 0
Review: October 2017