Co-operation in confectionery: the key to success
1-2-1: Lekos Exclusive
For over 20 years, Lekos has become an important and stable partner for confectionery producers in the European market – Editor, Zoe Deighton-Smythe, spoke with the Head of Sales, Martin Ledl, to find out more.
Designing and manufacturing specialised machines and appliances for confectionery and pastry, the family business, Lekos, has been continuously developing since its foundation in 1994. Martin Ledl, Head of Sales, spoke with the Kennedy’s team about the company’s origins, successes, challenges and hopes for the future as the world slowly comes out of lockdown.
Zoe Deighton-Smythe: Thank you for speaking with me today, Martin. Could you start by explaining what initially drew Lekos to the confectionery sector as a family business?
Martin Ledl: Of course. So, technically Lekos is owned by two families which lead the company together, but we never distinguish the two – we all have a common vision and stick together as one big family.
Both co-owners of Lekos, Mr.František Ledl and Mr.Martin Puci had originally been working in Food Combinate, consisting of four plants (sugar, milk, confectionery and yeast) in our native town Trebišov during socialism. My father Mr. František Ledl studied Electrical Engineering and once his degree was completed, he started to work at a confectionery plant called Deva Trebišov as a Technical Chef and later became the Commercial Director of Food Combinate Trebišov.
Mr.Martin Puci, on the other hand, studied Food Technology and worked as a Production Manager for chocolate masses at confectionery plant Deva Trebišov. At the end of socialism, the start of the 1990’s, many people tried to start their own business in the industry they had started in and this is where the Lekos story begins. František Ledl founded Lekos in 1994.
He was initially designing the machines for confectionery and he was ordering the physical execution of machines at local sub-suppliers. At the time, a lot of confectionery and bakery companies were trying to grow and develop in Slovakia and in Czech Republic and that ultimately provided a lot of work for Lekos.
Step by step, Lekos were a part of various new projects, such as; machines for the production of chocolate pralines with black-cherries, chocolate tempering machines, chocolate enrobing line and bar line as well as machines for the production of muesli bars. Ever since then, Lekos has been growing, extending the staff and the competence in tooling, welding, assembling, electrification and programming.
ZDS: That is a very resilient back story for a family business! What do you think makes the company unique to the confectionery industry today?
ML: I believe that when customers buy machinery from us, they do so based on previous investigations and tendering processes. They analyse a lot of factors which is important for a successful investment and they hand-over a great amount of trust to us by signing the purchase agreement.
We, as a business, behave with liability already against the inquiry, which is soon before the purchasing and I think that is what sets us apart from the rest. Lekos provides plenty of solutions for chocolate moulding, chocolate enrobing and bars manufacturing. From all inquiries, we sort out those which seem to be somehow standard for us and those which are challenging but we believe will be able to manage them thanks to our in-depth experience, trials and our brilliant R&D Centre.
We also never make an offer for inquiry which seems too unrealistic and could potentially cause issues to ourselves and the client – we carefully consider every promise and on top of that, we focus on the project more than contracted.
I think because of this approach, Lekos has been continuously growing without any promotions on international shows and without any advertising until approximately 2011 – we are a success based on our executed projects. We know that good references spread among the confectionery business fast but bad references spread even faster. I think the fact that a one-person company has developed to the current 115 employees plus additional 35 people in our R&D centre, really says all about us!
However, this does not mean that we have never made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes - but it is important that you face each situation head-on and know how to quickly and effectively solve a problem and we sincerely try to manage our everyday responsibilities to have a satisfied customer at the end.
ZDS: That’s an excellent ethos to have as a company. Could you tell our readers more about the Lekos R&D Centre as well as the trials and developments on your industrial bar and enrobing lines?
ML: Certainly. During the last decade, we recognised impressive growth in bar production. People like snacking and eating on-the-go and many producers, either existing, well-established names in the confectionery market, or newcomers with fresh ideas, have all been investing in the production technology for bar manufacturing.
When this trend first became visible, we already owned our small testing and production bar line and we were able to offer this full service to our customers. The full service means everything from recipe development, recipe testing, production of bar samples, up to customisation and installation of complete bar manufacturing technology for them.
But later, hand-in-hand with new ideas and new requirements and recipes from the market and with Lekos natural development, we felt the necessity to invest in our new R&D Centre and our new bar line. We agreed on the investment very quickly and opened our premises with a brand-new bar line in 2018.
The Centre is executed following HACAP standard and we also have an IFS certification and positioned our testing kitchen for the preparation of muesli mixes, protein masses, raw fruit masses and caramel. Furthermore, there is a complete bar production line consisting of slab forming, equalisation, caramel forming, cooling, slitting, spreading, guillotine and complete chocolate enrobing line and flow-pack packaging section. All of our trials, developments and production processes within the R&D Centre, are operated by the staff which is 100% competent in confectionery.
Customers with a strong background in the confectionery business look for the opportunity where they can perform industrial trials, especially when their production lines are utilized. We also have customers who take a chance to have their new products developed in our centre before they will receive and install our new bar line. All of this enables us to continuously improve our new machines and to deliver complete services for our customers in the world of snacking.
Moreover, we have found the Centre useful for those who are interested in new chocolate enrobers, cooling tunnels or tempering machines. Customers come in with their products and we perform trials of enrobing, tempering their chocolate masses, and so on. Especially in the case of a specific project, we organise wet factory acceptance trials of our new machines there. There is free space dedicated for further extensions with chocolate moulding equipment, which is now effectively utilised for trials of new machines with the product before the dispatch of machines to the customer. I think this definitely makes Lekos a unique supplier.
ZDS: It certainly does! Are there any particular challenges you face when producing these types of bar lines?
ML: There will always be a challenging aspect as the production of processing lines is a very complex package of materials and operations. Our great benefit, though, is that we are self-sustainable in all phases of the project. We are buying only basic materials, hollow electrical cabinets and special components for machinery and electrical installation.
Starting from the receipt in our warehouse, the production of our machines and lines all happens under one roof. We dispose with tooling sections where on the most modern CNC turning and milling stations, we create all the machinery components. Part of the workshop is specialised for welding and we cooperate with Slovak Welding Research Institute in order to maintain the highest quality of all our frames, vessels, etc. All machines and processing lines are physically assembled and tested before excursion to our clients and we perform either dry tests or wet tests depending on the nature of the project.
There many inputs from various sides, for sure, and the lead times could be affected by possible delays of basic materials and basic components. Furthermore, we have to constantly take care of the condition and capacity of all our departments and workshops. The whole process can be more demanding due to the fact that we are willing to customise our solutions for specific needs of our customers and to apply changes even during the project. But the fact that we are a family-owned company with simple and direct managing structure and are self-sustainable in the production process, enables us to be flexible and to minimalize the risks as much as possible.
ZDS: Excellent – do you have a particular case study example that you’d be willing to share?
ML: Of course – I can think of one from a couple of years ago, when we decided to make an enrober that would make the life of our customers easier during changeovers. The old enrobing machines had the execution which required minimum of one complete shift for the cleaning during change-over times between different chocolate masses.
We eventually built our first new concept with interchangeable chocolate baths and wire mesh conveyor units approximately four years ago. Since that time, we continuously improved and fine-tuned many small things, which all together brought a great opportunity to make the change-over times significantly faster and safe for the products. Along with that, we applied learnings from some of very challenging projects, such as full enrobing of biscuits on speeds up to 10 meters/min.
Today, we have our newest model of chocolate enrobing machine, which is dedicated to confectionery and bakery and suitable for a line speed of up to 10 m/min and developed to make the change-over time in 30-60 minutes.
ZDS: Have there been any difficulties for you as a company in the midst of COVID-19?
ML: It hasn’t affected our production too significantly – the Slovakian government applied restrictions immediately when the first positive cases were confirmed, but even before the government restrictions were announced, we applied internal regulations, for example face mask, body temperature control, disinfection and we reorganised shifts in our workshop in order to reduce the amount of workers on site at once.
Traveling and personal meetings were naturally reduced but the fact we equip our machines and processing lines with hardware for remote service, we were able to support our customers either with start-up of installed machines or with a warranty and post-warranty service. As soon as traveling started to be possible again, we organised all necessary steps to enable installations under a special regime.
ZDS: That’s really good to hear – and after celebrating 26 years in the industry, what do you hope for the future of Lekos?
ML: It’s a really great feeling to stop for a moment and look back to the past and summarise plenty of moments, experience and we’ve work done so far. This might sound unbelievable, but 26 years ago, nobody had any official plans! My father and all of his eventual staff members, just wanted to do the job they enjoyed doing and even today we do not try to plan too much for the future.
The company has a certain responsibility towards the customers, for sure, and against the employees and our region, we constantly have a goal to continue in development and improvement - Lekos definitely has the basis for further growth and space for expansion as a new generation is born. But we do not stress too much from set values and time horizons, we rather let life to lead us on…