Consider: Haribo Goldbears
Turning gummies into gold
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Candy is delicious. BIG candy fan here. Three things that I look for in a great candy experience are: taste (not too sweet, not too sour, etc.), texture (weird, but not too weird), and package size (enough to be too much to eat in one sitting, but not so much that it makes me sick). At some point in life I switched from generic gummi bears to Haribo Goldbears and I’ve never looked back. Since then, I have gone deep on the Haribo product line. I’m a big fan of the Star Mix and Tangfastics, as well as the cola bottles and licorice products. On my “to eat” list are the lemon gingers and some of the marshmallow products. I have tried many premium and discount candy brands, and nobody does it as well as Haribo (except maybe Allan’s Swedish Berries).
Design and Innovation
Husband-wife confectioner teams are becoming somewhat of a theme in Considered. (Ritter Sport was also a husband and wife operation.) In 1920, Johannes “Hans” Riegel started Haribo out of his family kitchen, and his wife Gertrud was the company’s first employee. She did deliveries by bicycle until 1923, when orders got so large they needed to invest in a truck. The company is named after its founder and his home town - HAns-RIegel-BOnn. Using the same logic, Considered will henceforth be known as JAGOTO.
Two years after its founding, Haribo released the precursor to the gummi bear: the Tanzbar (Dancing Bear). Dancing bears were still a fairly common site in Europe at the time. These captured bears were tortured from youth to stand on their hind legs and move when they heard music playing. The Haribo Tanzbar was larger than a modern gummi bear (shrinkflation!) and also squishier because of the use of gum arabic vs gelatin, which is used today. A smaller bear was later released and called the Haribo Teddy Bear.
“Gummi bear” is the generic term, and in 1967 Haribo trademarked Goldbear to differentiate their products. The Goldbear also became the company mascot. They now manufacture over 100M bears per day at 15 facilities all over the world, enough to wrap the world in their delicious embrace four times over. Just as an aside - when did the ability to wrap around the world become a common measure? It is a scale for which a person has no comparison. Let’s go back to the old fashioned “a pile as tall as the Empire State Building.”
The bears come in five fruit flavours - lemon, orange, pineapple, raspberry and strawberry. The flavours are internationalized, so lemon might taste different in North America than in Asia (new excuse to travel!). Haribo also customizes its offering for every country. In France, they sell more marshmallow products like Tagada or Chamallows and sugar-coated candies like Dragibus. In England, Star Mix (a mixture of various gummi candies), and licorice snacks are the number one sellers. In the Scandinavian countries, Matador Mix, a mixture of fruit-flavoured gum drops and licorice are the most popular.
Something I find interesting is that Goldbears eschew traditional relationships between flavour and colour. The green bears are actually strawberry in the US. Traditionally we understand taste to be the combination of touch, smell, sight, etc. In an experiment where wine testers were given white wine coloured red with flavourless food colouring, they were more likely to describe it with traditional red wine descriptors. So what happens with Haribo? How do we manage the cognitive dissonance? My theory is that we eat them by the handful and no one notices.
New candy shapes are drawn by hand and then converted to 3D and milled into plaster molds. The stamps are used to create a negative impression of the candy shape in sheets of corn starch. “Liquid fruit gummi” is then squirted into the corn starch mold, the gummi is dried and the mold is flipped. Out flops the gummi and the corn starch is reused for the next batch. If you want to see the process in action, check out How It’s Made. Oh, and as part of a revamp in 2007 that also added apple flavour, they decided to give the bears smiles.
Idiosyncratic leadership has been the key to Haribo’s long term success. When Hans Riegel Sr. passed away in 1945, he left the company to his two sons: Paul and Hans Jr.; Paul took over production and Hans Jr. the rest.
Hans Jr.’s management style (and lifestyle) were unique. This guy knew how to billionaire. He immersed himself in children’s content to find product inspiration, including playing playstation well into his 80s. He is credited with inventing more than 200 sweets, and establishing a kindergarten at the Haribo factory where the company would test its products.
At the end of the week, Hans Jr. would jump into his helicopter (which he piloted solo into his 80s) and head to his hunting lodge in Austria (ostensibly to keep the deer fed), and every October he would trade the children in Bonn horse chestnuts (locally called “conkers”) for bags of candy. There is some video of it here.
The company shunned consultants (sad for me and my business, Faculty of Change) and rebuked investor interest, even from Warren Buffet. Hans Jr. outlived his brother Paul but never married or had kids. He selected his nephew as his successor, but forced him out of the business in 2006. The ownership shares were transferred to a family voting trust and the company now has non-family management (but still retains full family ownership).
Not all of his products were winners. A 1986 holy family made of jelly was taken off the shelves after complaints from the Roman Catholic church (were they worried about how tasty this body of christ was?). I also found these Haribo butts with ears on Amazon. Too bad they’re out of stock. Recently, Haribo made passport packs that were filled with different Haribo candy types from all over the world.
The Goldbear celebrates it’s 100th anniversary in 2022. I personally am hoping for some limited edition flavours, extra large packages, the works.
Haribo, like other privately owned companies, does not have to submit audited impact reports. They do self-report on their website, but it is not in-depth. In 2017, a German program called “Markencheck” investigated Haribo’s supply chain and found poor, slavery like, working conditions at the Brazilian plantation that supplies carnuba wax to Haribo. Carnuba wax is made by drying and processing palm leaves. It is incredibly labour intensive but is the hardest commercially available edible wax. I remember once when I got caught eating in High School chemistry class my teacher read out the ingredients of the candy that was being eaten and explained how each ingredient would eventually kill me. Telling me that the floors I was standing on were also covered in carnuba wax scared me until I looked it up and discovered that it was harmless and edible. You can’t scare me, Mr. Lawson!
What is more concerning is that Haribo issued a press release saying they would investigate their supply chain but never published their findings. On their website, there is no mention of adherence to any industry standards in their supply chain.
I guess the saying ‘never meet your heroes’ also applies to confectioners. Haribo are, at best, “sharp” operators. They were fined €2.4 million by Germany’s Federal Cartel Office for improperly sharing sales information with rivals. Not exactly the feel-good company story I was hoping for.
The reviews on Amazon for 5 lb. bags of Haribo Goldbears have become an internet destination in their own right. Often making reference to claims that eating too many in one siting can cause gastrointestinal distress, it is some of the internet’s finest creative writing. The most famous belongs to one Jeffrey Lambert. Read it at your own risk.