Exclusive – Angus Kennedy meets Lareka at ProSweets
One-To-One Exclusive – Without a crazy idea: no that really would be crazy!
Almost immediately after ProSweets opened its doors for the 2018 exhibition, Angus Kennedy made a beeline for Dutch confectionery equipment provider, Lareka B.V. During his discussion with Henk Somers, Director and Owner of the company, the two discussed how ‘crazy ideas’ can become reality, and also explored how and why a window on chocolate bar packaging could drive sales by up to 15%
Henk Somers (left) and Angus Kennedy (right) during their interview at ProSweets
Angus: It’s great to be here at ProSweets and talking with you Henk – I see you as a great and a classic inventor! So, can we start by talking about some of the industry trends impacting your business at the moment. What are you seeing a demand for?
Henk: Hi Angus! Thank you for visiting Lareka B.V. and for your kind words. I look forward to telling you all about our recent activities. To answer your first question, we have seen a very big demand for packaging with windows inside and transparent films, so we modified a lot of machines last year because of this.
Angus: Why do you think people are demanding windows and transparency? Is this some kind of trend? I hear also that now it’s about clear and clean packing and labelling and not so much about clean labelling?
Henk: Yes, this is all a huge trend. When you walk into the supermarket you’re increasingly seeing more and more packaging with windows inside, and recent research shows that sales increase by 15 percent (on average) when you insert a window inside your product – like you see in pasta bags, for instance.
Angus: Is this because people want to see the original product and what they’re buying, along with the ingredients and colour and so on?
Henk: I believe so and sometimes, especially with the new tablets with ingredients and all the other products it’s an interesting thing for the customer to see.
Angus: Surely, people produce a bar with a window before now? What’s the difference?
Henk: Well not entirely, a lot of what we call the ‘multinationals’ don’t have many products with windows inside – generally, it’s only for the bars with whole hazelnuts. There are a few products that have a window inside, but we see it as a trend. And in terms of packaging materials, there is a change from aluminium to biodegradable film – and biodegradable transparent film, which is interesting.
Angus: Are biodegradable films still relatively new to the chocolate market?
Henk: There are not many people using it right now. In Switzerland, some companies are using polypropylene as a replacement for aluminium, but more from a cost-saving perspective.
Angus: Is biodegradable film still quite expensive?
Henk: What we really try to do is to help our customers bring crazy ideas to the market. And then, we always look into the possibilities (instead of what is not possible).
Angus: Ha yes, I like that Henk. Because what we see as a crazy idea today is a very sensible idea tomorrow, right?
Henk: “You have to do something to take attention between the cauliflowers”, as we say here – a good Dutch saying! [both laughing]
Angus: Can you tell us a little more about the new BTB25 machine you have here at the stand?
Henk: We got the idea because sometime early last year, because – within a short space of time – we had close to ten enquiries for an old, slow-speed, refurbished packaging machine. These customers of ours wanted a machine that they were already happy with when it was running at 20 bars a minute.
There are actually some manufacturers packaging by hand – whether it be
in Amsterdam, or Austria, or Germany – and it costs a lot of money. Not only that, but staffing issues are also problematic. Some days, these companies may need ten staff workers to manually wrap the products, but the next day, they might not need anyone at all. This inconsistent nature of employment made it difficult to hire people, so they instead were seeking a machine that could both eliminate this problem, and simultaneously help with different product sizes at the same time.
Angus: I see and the BTB25 is capable of dealing with different sizes?
Henk: Yes, it’s very easy – and you can do a size conversion in just 15 minutes.
Angus: That’s fast! What sizes can it do?
Henk: It can run 25g – 250g bars (approximately), so that, I believe, is double the size range of the machines that are currently in the market now. But we are very different, as the user can do a size conversion in 15 minutes.
Angus: What could that normally be on a bigger machine?
Henk: We have customers who buy a new machine because they don’t like to size convert, because they find it too difficult to do the size conversions. And then they buy a new machine for €400,000 (£350,000) just because they don’t like to do the size conversion – and they can take up to a day.
Angus: What is a size conversion? Is that when you have a smaller bar and you simply wish to change its size?
Henk: Yes, that’s exactly it. So you have made your production run with 150g bars, and then you might like to change it to do a production run of 50g bars.
Angus: And with some manufacturers, this can take up to a whole day. But is it quite easy, and something I could perhaps do? A fool like me. I shall have to have a go in a minute! [both laughing] Is it a nice and simple process?
Henk: Yes! We combined all the difficult parts which have to be adjusted into one box so now you don’t have to readjust it. You just take it out and put it back and you don’t have to readjust anything.
Angus: Does it remember the sizes? If you have a 50g bar production this week, and then you move to 250g next week, does it remember the previous method? Do you have to adjust it manually, or do you just press a button that will remember the size from last week?
Henk: There are just a very few adjustments to be made, and there is a list of instructions next to the machine that will guide you through the process. For example, for 50g bars you have to make a 20mm adjustment, and for the other size it has to be 35mm different, for instance.
Angus: When was this machine officially launched, it’s a lovely idea and machine- I imagine our readers will like this too?
Henk: I sold the first one just before Interpack, as I had a few designs and drawings with me. I sold the second one at Interpack itself, and then the third shortly after the show. I then thought, well let’s build the machine and see if it is working. And now we have the working machines, and now we are tuning up the sales. But it looks very promising.
Angus: Is it selling well, in your opinion?
Henk: If you are packaging 75,000 bars by hand, then it is already worth investing and switching to this machine. The 75,000 bars are provided via the production of 1,500 bars a week. The customer that bought the machine will not be using it every day, and they will produce their product and then do their packaging on one day, and then move on. It is ideal for people that have 75,000 – 2 million pieces per year, and will prove an interesting machine. And when they are producing more than that, they should go to the more old-style packaging machines.
Angus: Very clever Henk and another classic invention from the real inventor! So, tell me about your origins, and how you started. What were some of things you got started on, and the things that you have got going for Lareka – and what you’re known for at the moment.
Henk: You know we started out making cigars…
Angus: Yes! I remember at Interpack, I wanted to smoke a cigar from you to look important, but I don’t smoke…
Henk: So, we started as a central maintenance department of the biggest cigar factory in Europe, and when the cigar business went down we started looking for other business. We went into cigarettes and then from the mid 1990s, into chocolate. We first started overhauling chocolate packaging machines for SIG machines.
Angus: Do you still do that now?
Henk: Yes, it’s still there. And we can make a big difference compared to the bigger companies [that we compete with] because we are much more flexible and creative. So if there is a marketing guy with a crazy idea, we help them get it produced; and then we can discuss with both he and the production guy to transform the crazy idea into a workable and producible product.
Angus: What we’re talking about here is bar wrapping, but I can see hollow shapes on your stand here too – can Lareka also assist with that type of packaging?
Henk: Yes, we do bar wrapping (which is the majority of the business at the moment), but we’re also one of just two companies in the world that can do hollow figure wrapping too.
Angus: They’re quite special these hollow figures, aren’t they?
Henk: Yes, they are quite special, and it can be quite difficult, because you have to wrap the aluminium without tearing open the aluminium around the Easter Bunny or the Father Christmas figure. We were the first ones to make a 3D scan of the product and then produce the bars with 3D milling. But it’s a very niche area.
Angus: So, we’re at the show and its quite early days yet, but what are you expecting at ProSweets 2018? What are you and Lareka looking for?
Henk: Normally we go for exhibitions and say the target is collecting new prospects, as we can always look back later in the year and say that we sold more machines than we would have if we’d not been here. I really expect to sell some machines here at ProSweets, especially the new BTB25 – it’s quite a hot topic at the moment.
Angus: I can imagine you will! It looks fairly unique to me – I don’t think I’ve seen anything else like it on the market.
Henk: No, and it’s really following the trend of the ultra premium bean-to-bar manufacturers; their businesses are growing double digits in the US and Europe and they are doing very well, but until now, there had been very few options for them, other than doing their packaging by hand. So now we have a nice solution for them.
Angus: So, going back finally to the window packaging which is quite interesting, because I haven’t seen that many chocolate bars with windows. Where does the window go? Does it go on the edge, or in the middle… or doesn’t it matter? Is it just how the film is made?
Henk: Take your own bar that was made to coincide with the launch of your book, Angus.
Angus: My best-selling chocolate bar! It’s free at the moment to anyone that buys my book, Bittersweet. Have to get them to buy it somehow! [Both laughing]
Henk: You can imagine there could be a window on the front, and then your face is moulded on the chocolate looking out.
Angus: That’s a great idea – and a crazy idea!
Henk: That’s really the basis of our existence; that there are no crazy ideas, and we like to help people with creative ideas and help them come to life. And help to make products for people who’ve been told “you’re mad” and think they can’t make it.
Angus: So, you come and talk to Henk, and it’s not so mad after all, right!
Henk: No, no!
Angus: That’s very interesting, but is it more complicated or slower to get this window in?
Henk: It’s a good question asking where the window should be [on the packaging], so if someone from a marketing department has an idea, it’s good to get us involved – because we know the machines very well, and we thus will know where it’s a nice position to make a window. There are some positions where it is not possible to make it a window, because depending on the specific machine, it may end up damaging the paper or whatever, and it will be difficult. And that’s where you need the combination between technique and marketing, and then you can make crazy ideas thrive.
Angus: What about the investment for one of these? If somebody was making 8,000 bars per week, for instance, how long would it take for them to get their money back?
Henk: If you calculate wrapping a bar by hand, it can take from 90 seconds to two minutes. You can calculate what the price is just for wrapping, and if you wrap the bar by hand, you will also not get it to look as aesthetically-pleasing as a machine-wrapped bar either.
The payback is that by making 75,000 bars annually, you will have paid off the initial cost of the machine in three years or so.
Angus: If it takes two minutes to wrap the bar by hand, how long does it take for the machine to wrap it?
Henk: It can wrap 25 bars per minute, so one every two seconds or so.
Angus: And by the time a person could wrap just one, the machine has done 25. That’s a big difference!
Henk: You can imagine if you are producing 200,000 bars a year, suddenly receiving a big order one day may mean that staff numbers on the production floor may have to go up (and the down on quieter days). So, one day, you may need ten people for wrapping and nobody to be required the following day. Again, this can make it difficult finding staff to work these types of hours. But with the machine, you have just one piece of equipment wrapping all the bars as and when required.
We have customers that sell their chocolates at €5-6 for 70g – really nice products, too – and even with the manual packaging, they are earning money. But they cannot grow, because they cannot find the people to wrap by hand.
Angus: What final message would you give to people visiting Lareka here at ProSweets this year?
Henk: We want to help our customers to attract consumers to their products, and by converting crazy marketing ideas into technical solutions.
That’s really the basis of our existence; that there are no crazy ideas, and we like to help people with creative ideas and help them come to life.
Angus: It’s crazy not to be crazy [both laughing] so thank you Henk for a fascinating insight into your world of packing. I am sure this machine will be very popular.
Henk: My pleasure to talk with you.