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Raising the spirits of the Black Forest

Portrait

Founded in 1966, both the first and second generation of the Bimmerle family owners are active in the firm. Mr. Bimmerle senior was a trained barrel maker who believed passionately in the future of fruit spirits, for which the Black Forest is renowned.

“He really started the business from nothing,” says Managing Director Nicolai Benz. “Fruit brandy is a popular, natural product and, over fifty years later, the company is still extremely successful.”

There have, of course, been challenges along the way; one of the greatest was trying to introduce fruit spirit to the export market. Mr. Bimmerle quickly realized that to depend on this product alone to develop an international customer base would be very difficult. He decided to diversify and therefor the distillery included rum and gin in its portfolio two years ago.

Today, Bimmerle produces fruit brandies made from cherries, zwetschgen and mirabellen plums, pears, and raspberries. “This is still our main product,” emphasizes Mr. Benz. “We process between 30 and 40 million kg of fruit a year; 12 to 15 kg are needed for every bottle.”

Bimmerle does not burn any fossil fuels in the production of its fruit spirits. Instead, the company uses the stones from the fruit, mixed with wood; hot water is produced, which is used to power the distillery. Fruit is purchased from selected farmers in the Black Forest area with whom the company has fixed contracts.

“It is very important to us that we take care of our local region,” Mr. Benz underlines. “Consequently, we make sure that we pay the farmers a fair price for their fruit and, as a result, the whole region benefits.”

In addition to its fruit brandies, Bimmerle’s portfolio also includes gin and rum. A year ago, the distillery introduced its own-brand gin, Needle Gin, which is sold in a very distinctive chemist-type bottle. The gin is high quality and has been very well received on the market.

In its quest for internationalization, Bimmerle has recently formed a cooperation with Cuba in relation to Cuba’s famous Ron Mulata rum. “The raw sugar is grown on Cuba and the rum is produced there. We are the only company in Europe with a contract to sell this brand,” explains Mr. Benz.

While the existing product portfolio is extremely successful, Bimmerle is, nevertheless, keen to continue expanding its product range. The company now has its sights set on the production of whisky.

“We believe that the broader our portfolio, the better our chances on the market are. We are firmly convinced that whisky is the way to go, and we will soon be in a position to begin production,” Mr. Benz points out. “This will, however, take time. If we distilled it today, it would only be ready for sale in 2020.”

In preparation for its anticipated expansion, Bimmerle has invested significantly and, two years ago, built a new distillery in Sasbach where all products are manufactured, proceeded and stored. The firm sells its products through food retail chains, specialist drinks stores and cash and carry outlets, and besides its own brand products also creates private label goods for its customers.

Exports currently make up between 15 and 20% of Bimmerle’s 140 million EUR annual turnover, a figure which Mr. Benz believes can be increased. “It is not easy to sell Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser in Australia,” he laughs. “In recent years, we have increased our exports through the sale of vodka, rum and gin, and we now supply around 40 countries. Our products are particularly popular in Austria, Switzerland, England and Ireland; these are really our key markets.”

With around 80 employees, which increases to 100 for the busy Christmas season, Bimmerle is headquartered in Oppenau where it was originally founded. The production site is located in nearby Sasbach, and the management departments and bottling plant are situated in Achern.

Mr. Bimmerle senior is still involved in the running of the business, and Mr. Bimmerle junior is responsible for the strategic direction of the firm. Mr. Benz himself has devoted his whole working life to date to Bimmerle. “I did a three year business apprenticeship here before leaving to study economics in Düsseldorf,” he reveals. “Afterwards, I reapplied to come back to Bimmerle; I have been here ever since, and was appointed Managing Director two years ago. I am responsible for sales and general management. My personal aim is to modernize the business through the introduction of new products.”

Product development within Bimmerle is very much oriented towards current market trends. “The sales team identifies the latest trends through its discussions with customers,” notes the Managing Director. “These are passed on and we develop the products. A recent example of this in the private label sector was cream liquor, for instance marzipan cream liquor. However, it takes time to develop new products so the time frame from idea stage to getting a product on the shelf is relatively long.”

The fact that Bimmerle never stands still and is constantly focused on extending its range is, Mr. Benz believes, one of its key strengths. “Knowledge is not fixed, we can always learn something new,” he says. “We use our knowledge to react to market trends. We are a mid-sized company which enables us to be very innovative and, above all, flexible. We love developing new products as well as new bottles – the packaging is very important. Nevertheless it is, for sure, the quality of our spirits which sets us apart from the competition. The history, the marketing, and the packaging all belong to a product concept, but ultimately, that product must taste good. We have invested a huge amount in our production to ensure that we are ahead of the market in terms of quality. At the end of the day, the consumer drinks the product, and if it tastes good, he or she buys it again.”

As far as the marketing is concerned, Mr. Benz recognizes that the firm needs to focus more on this as the portfolio grows. Bimmerle advertising can be found in the classic media channels, and it has also established a social media department to raise the profile of Bimmerle brandies still further.

The firm has a clear vision of its future, where exports are anticipated to play a leading role. “My own expectations are set relatively high,” admits Mr. Benz. “We want to continue to serve the German market with gin, rum, and, in the future, whisky and, at the same time, strengthen our export market with these products. Our team is passionate about our work; we see the fruits grow locally and we have the full production chain under control. The job of a distiller is very special, particularly in the fruit spirits segment. We are often contacted by institutes who want to learn from us. Personally, I love the fact that our product is natural. To capture the taste of the fruit and herbs and essentially transport a whole history – that is amazing.”

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