Fresh Ideas for the Beverage Industry

Interview with Guido Kühne, Managing Director of Refresco Germany GmbH

Guido Kühne, Managing Director of Refresco Germany GmbH
Guido Kühne, Managing Director of Refresco Germany GmbH

In Germany alone, the globally active beverage service provider Refresco bottles more than 2.6 billion liters of water and soft drinks each year and works worldwide with industry giants such as PepsiCo. In an interview with Wirtschaftsforum, Refresco Germany's head Guido Kühne discussed current market developments in the beverage segment, the private label business, and the most important sustainability gains.

Wirtschaftsforum: Mr. Kühne, behind the name Refresco lies decades of expertise in the global beverage segment. How would you describe your core competencies and your market positioning in detail?

Guido Kühne: Refresco operates globally as the largest independent solution provider in the beverage area, while Refresco Germany holds a market-leading position domestically with approximately 1,600 employees and more than 2.6 billion liters of drinks bottled per year at a total of nine production sites. In this regard, we bottle both water and a variety of carbonated products such as soft drinks and colas, as well as juices, iced teas, and recently also milk alternative products. Our packaging portfolio, ranging from PET solutions to cardboard and glass, is similarly broad, with the filling processes varying significantly in complexity depending on the product category and type of packaging. Most of our competitors focus only on individual segments, so no other market participant can offer a similarly comprehensive portfolio.

Refresco Germany in Figures
An overview of the power of Refresco Germany in figures
Refresco Mineral Water Brand Hella
The mineral water brand Hella, with its numerous flavor varieties, was successfully established as a private label by Refresco

Wirtschaftsforum: At what points in the product life cycle does Refresco support its customers?

Guido Kühne: We are not just a beverage bottler – because many can fill bottles. Rather, we offer a comprehensive range of solutions, where our expertise is mainly in demand across the entire spectrum. We are also involved in product and packaging development with our large partners, long before the recipe of the final product is ultimately defined. Thanks to our highest quality standards, we are efficient in later stages of manufacturing, during audits of individual lines up to whole factories. Of course, we then offer a variety of other services at the factory and beyond in distribution, acting as an interim storage according to customer wishes, for example, taking over the entire logistics.

Wirtschaftsforum: A look at the target product range also reveals Refresco's comprehensive strategic breadth.

Guido Kühne: In addition to bottling large beverage brands, we are also engaged in the private label sector of our clients, serving there the own brand business of Edeka, Rewe, Aldi, Lidl, and other trading companies. In addition, Refresco Germany has also built its own brands with the mineral water products Hella and Fürst Bismarck.

Refresco Germany Plant in Calvörde
A new high-bay warehouse was recently built at the plant in Calvörde

Wirtschaftsforum: Does this not create tensions in the competitive environment with your other customers?

Guido Kühne: For us, operating our own brand store is an important part of our strategy because it gives us direct access to consumer behavior. By developing our own products and our own brand management, we gain important know-how, which we can then integrate into other areas of the company. Of course, we do not position our own brand business in opposition to the brands of our other customers - after all, our company is large enough to be able to operate in specific market segments while consistently preventing unwanted side effects.

Wirtschaftsforum: What topics are you currently focusing on intensively?

Guido Kühne: Consumer preferences are changing in many respects - and not always homogeneously across different customer segments: while for some, price sensitivity is increasing even further, others want to treat themselves especially after the pandemic. Almost all, however, are united by a stronger awareness of sustainability, which Refresco has been addressing for many years: Thus, together with our customers, we have increased the share of recycled PET in our plastic bottles to over 60%, while our increased process know-how has also significantly reduced the carbon footprint along the entire value chain. Careful handling of water as a raw material and energy now also plays a very important role. In all these areas, Refresco has always taken a pioneering role, which we naturally want to maintain in the future. To this end, we will rely even more on a stronger employer branding to further highlight our core values such as readiness to take responsibility and comprehensive design freedom at every level of the organization in the market.