Merzenich-Bäckereien GmbH is now in the hands of the third generation of the Merzenich family. However, it was the founder’s grandson Fritz Merzenich who really put Merzenich on the map as a Cologne institution and laid the groundwork for its leading position today.
Fritz Merzenich was only young when he took over the business in 1957 on the death of his father and set about making the family bakery the first address for high quality baked goods. His philosophy of combining traditional handcraftsmanship with outstanding service continues today.
“Our artisanal breads are still handmade in accordance with traditional recipes using only the finest raw ingredients,” says Managing Director Nicole Magiera, who shares the leadership of the company with Peter Otten. “As a result, our handmade bread rolls are slightly more expensive than others in the city, but our customers tell us that they can taste the difference.”
That difference is worth 15 cents per roll and is the price for what are generally considered to be the best bread rolls in Cologne. In contrast to industrially mass-produced rolls, Merzenich rolls are formed by hand and proved slowly over 24 hours to produce a roll with a soft center and wonderfully crisp crust.
The long prove ensures that the flavours are allowed to develop to the full. “There are very few bakeries of our size that still form their rolls by hand,” says Ms. Magiera. “This is something that customers will go out of their way to buy.”
Luckily for customers in and around Cologne, it is not far to the next Merzenich bakery. With 49 outlets in total and six large shops in the town center alone, Merzenich is one of the biggest bakery chains in the city. The greatest concentration of shops is in Cologne itself, but the chain is also represented in many surrounding towns ranging as far south as Bonn-Bad Godesberg and Euskirchen and north to Dormagen.
With two or three new branches due to open this year, the network is still expanding. “As well as adding new branches, we have a continuous programme of refurbishments to existing shops to ensure that standards are kept high. We recently completed work on our flagship store in the city center,” says Ms. Magiera. “We are also considering moving even further away from our traditional base with new flagship stores in nearby towns and cities on the cards. However, growth must be gradual and sustainable. It is important that we do not overextend ourselves and that we can still guarantee that the supply chain can be managed to secure the same quality that the Merzenich name is known for.”
Merzenich is also known for its innovation. It was a pioneer of many innovations that are now normal in the sector. Things like offering standing tables as well as seating areas or sales through a window were all invented by the Cologne-based bakery chain.
“We have had to adapt our services to accommodate changes in the way customers buy our products,” says Ms. Magiera. “One of the reasons the big international coffee chains have struggled to dominate the market in Germany as they have elsewhere is the strength of traditional bakeries such as ours. We already have a strong coffee culture so that independent bakery chains such as ours have not been threatened.”
Merzenich also offers a tempting array of pastries, sweet treats and cakes to go with its coffee specialities. The German tradition of ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ lives on at its sit-in bakery shops and keeps the commercial chains at bay. “Nevertheless, we have to move with the times and try to attract a younger audience with new concepts,” says Ms. Magiera. “We have not done much social media up until now, and this has to change.”
What Merzenich has done is set up an online shop where customers can order their bread for home delivery. It has also installed cashless payment systems in its town centershops. It is also adapting its product range to suit a customer base that is increasingly eating on the go.
“The snack market continues to grow, and we have to cater to this segment with tasty, freshly prepared snack items,” says Ms. Magiera. “For that we require suitably trained personnel in the shops.”
Finding the right staff is a problem across the industry. Merzenich counters it by taking on its own trainees at all levels of its organization. “We currently have eight apprentices and hope to take on 20 next year,” says Ms. Magiera. “We can offer the right people the opportunity to work their way up to managing their own bakery and real career opportunities.”
With 120 employees at its headquarters and annual turnover of 40 million EUR, Merzenich is a good example of how a traditional business can keep up with the times without losing its identity. “Our core values of tradition and craftsmanship are still our core strengths,” concludes Ms. Magiera.