Big with Sweets

Interview with Dipl.-Ing. Volker Günnel, Director of Sales and Marketing at CHOCOTECH GmbH

CHOCOTECH Product Selection

Gummy bears, chewy candies, granola bars, marshmallow sweets: many consumers find it hard to resist the allure of sweets and regularly give in to it. According to statistics, even several times a week. The enduring positive demand for sweets is also confirmed by CHOCOTECH GmbH from Wernigerode. The mechanical engineering company develops and manufactures plants and machines for the production of sweets. Contrary to what the name might suggest, chocolate plays no role.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Günnel, CHOCOTECH has a history spanning over 100 years. What were the milestones during this long period?

Volker Günnel: The company was founded in 1920 by the Lauenstein family. At that time, it manufactured packaging machines for pralines and chocolate and developed the world's first continuous chocolate tempering machine. During the GDR times, the company was nationalized and became part of the NAGEMA conglomerate. Also during this period, the international confectionery market was supplied from Wernigerode. After the reunification, Helmut Sollich took over the company from the Treuhand agency and established a new company site on a greenfield site. As part of continuous development, a forward-looking focus was set in 1999 with the Candy Division – moving away from chocolate to the confectionery sector.

Dipl. Ing. Volker Günnel, Director of Sales and Marketing at CHOCOTECH GmbH
Dipl.-Ing. Volker Günnel, Director of Sales and Marketing at CHOCOTECH GmbH

Since then, machines for candies, caramels, chewing candies, and jelly items have become internationally sought-after core products.

Wirtschaftsforum: What does the current situation look like after 100 years?

Volker Günnel: We employ 200 staff members and are a company within the Sollich Group, focusing on two different product portfolios at two locations. Thanks to valuable synergies, we can deliver turnkey solutions for process plants from a single source, for example for bar production lines from raw material processing to the finished end product, thus distinguishing ourselves from the market. 90 to 95% of the turnover comes from exports. The machines are in demand worldwide; in recent years especially in the USA, but also in Poland, South America, and some African countries.

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Wirtschaftsforum: What makes CHOCOTECH machines special?

Volker Günnel: As a custom machinery manufacturer, we offer standard plants as well as individual client- and process-oriented solutions with our equipment, and fulfill customer-specific requests and adjustments to support our customers in implementing their processes and thus their success. It is essential to listen to and understand the client. For development, we have a lab of 900 m2 at our disposal. We deal with the development of new machines, more efficient and innovative processes, as well as the implementation of artisanal manufacturing techniques into an industrial process.

Wirtschaftsforum: Today's consumers are health-conscious, critical, and question the ingredients or origin of a product. CHOCOTECH supplies machines for confectionery. What does the market demand look like?

Volker Günnel: Although sugar is often criticized, we do not sense a declining trend. Attempts to replace sugar have often failed. The market continues to develop dynamically, not least due to globally growing distribution networks. At CHOCOTECH, there is especially high demand for equipment for jelly articles, followed by bars, i.e., candy, protein, or cereal bars, and chewing candies.

Wirtschaftsforum: Is CHOCOTECH growing with the market?

Volker Günnel: A prerequisite for further growth is innovation and progress, but also suitably qualified employees; finding them is a challenge. Age-related, some employees will leave in the coming years. They need to be replaced, and with them, valuable know-how will be lost. To keep the know-how at a high level, early and targeted personnel planning is important. As a company coming from a very traditional industry, we need to rethink our recruitment strategies and open ourselves to new approaches. We must and want to be perceived as a modern company and employer and will explore new platforms to generate greater reach and project relevance.


Wirtschaftsforum: What role do digitalization and AI play in it?

Volker Günnel: Against the backdrop of a shortage of skilled workers, digital processes play a major role in many respects. For example, fully automated, PLC-controlled process systems have simple and logical user interfaces, where the process control and monitoring is taken over by our software. There is no doubt that AI will continue to evolve.

Wirtschaftsforum: What other challenges do you see, and what does the strategy for the future look like?

Volker Günnel: We take the issue of sustainability very seriously. Therefore, energy-optimized systems and processes, which we have already developed and also protected by patents, will continue to be a central challenge. With our patented ECOGRAV® weighing system with up to 50% energy savings, we have already set convincing standards worldwide. To remain market leaders in our segment, we will continuously evolve, drive innovations, bring new technologies and operating platforms to the market, and think ‘out-of-the-box’. Customers regularly expect innovations from us; we would like to continue to fulfill this wish, as before.