The baking industry is currently facing many challenges, among other things when it comes to the availability of raw materials. In the following interview, IREKS Managing Director Dr Mathias Warwel gives insights into the various investments we are making in order to be a reliable partner for bakeries.
Dr Warwel, when looking out of your office window here, we can see that construction is underway again. IREKS invests, also and especially in difficult times. What construction sites are currently being worked on?
Dr Mathias Warwel: There is a lot of construction going on, numerous large and small projects are being implemented! A very important one: the silo expansion of the baking ingredients division. This is one of our major projects, with the aim of ensuring a secure supply of raw materials for our baking ingredients production and thus being able to guarantee our customers at all times that we are able to deliver without restrictions, even in challenging times. According to plans, the expansion will be ready for use in the course of 2023. If you look a little further behind, you can see our baking ingredients production. A lot is happening there, too. We are in the process of replacing bagging equipment that has done its job. We have also invested a lot in our special technology and replaced important elements. In fact, the plant is being continuously updated. By reacting early, you reduce the risk of a breakdown situation.
So this is mainly about creating more raw material supply and production security. But we also do a lot to stay innovative and break new ground, don’t we?
Dr Mathias Warwel: We are currently pushing ahead with the topic of sourdoughs. In this connection, we have a whole range of measures being implemented. Not only with a view to increasing our production capacities, but also with the aim of producing completely new types of dried and liquid sourdoughs. Of course, we also have a number of measures beyond the actual production. Two of them deserve special mention: the new construction of our Technical Centre and the expansion of our Baking Academy.
So not only many new buildings, but also a lot of new inspiration and support. For the employees, however, it means changes in their working context and a transition full of challenges.
Dr Mathias Warwel: You are absolutely right, it was and is a challenge for the staff. The measures would not have worked if everyone had not cooperated so fantastically. I would like to take this opportunity to praise all colleagues! In the last few years, we have all found ourselves in an exceptional situation due to corona. The supply chains were completely disrupted and the supply of raw materials was challenging. It is courageous to strive for changes in the production area, especially in these times. But it is important to have this courage. Only in this way can we be an absolutely reliable partner for our customers at all times. We planned all the measures on the very long-term, starting with the fact that we procured raw materials in advance and significantly increased our stock of finished products in order to be prepared for the construction-related restrictions in the production area. This worked out very well, partly because the staff accepted extra shifts. A real team effort by the raw material procurement, quality assurance, production and sales departments! In the future, the employees will benefit from this. Especially with the silo expansion, we have even more possibilities to reduce physically demanding activities. For example, more raw materials can be obtained directly in bulk form from the silo vehicle and no longer have to be managed by the employees from raw material containers by hand.
Looks like the effort was definitely worth it bringing advantages for employees and customers alike! I think it is also a special feature of our company that this customer orientation can be found in all areas.
Dr Mathias Warwel: No matter what we do, we always ask ourselves: Is there a benefit for our customers? And if we answer in the affirmative, then the question of whether we should make an investment is already settled. Of course we do it in that case! The baking industry has had to go through a lot in the last two or three years. It starts with the lack of skilled workers in the bakeries and the many corona-related restrictions, continues with the energy and raw material costs and in the course of inflation certain reluctance to buy on the part of the end consumers can be observed these days. Many problems burdening the bakeries. We at IREKS see it as our task to have our customers’ backs. With us, bakeries do not have to worry about products not being ready for delivery or that the quality is not right. We are not only helpers in times of need, but also bring innovations into the bakery.
The security of raw material supply is and remains a very big issue. We have also heard about investments that are intended to further develop existing solutions. What role do investments in the expansion of our value added chain play?
Dr Mathias Warwel: We have been active in the agricultural trade for a long time and have recently strengthened the value-added chain of our basic raw material, grain, by acquiring our own milling business, EICHENMÜHLE. With this, too, we want to give our customers security when it comes to raw material supply but also to food fraud! A concrete example of this are spelt products. Hulled spelt grains are almost indistinguishable from wheat grains, even for experts. Unfortunately, it is therefore not possible to completely rule out the possibility that spelt is being stretched with cheaper wheat. Baking businesses always have a certain degree of uncertainty, since in the event of a food inspection they cannot know whether the spelt raw materials they have purchased are really 100 % spelt. Many of the suppliers of spelt, for example mills or manufacturers of baking ingredients, certainly act with a good conscience and the best of intentions, but they do not have the possibility to make sure of it. We go one step further. On the one hand, we want to be analytically certain. For this purpose, we have acquired a very modern technology, the digital PCR, with which we examine every spelt raw material, every flour, every coarse grain to see whether it is 100 % spelt. On the other hand, we have taken the entire value-added chain into our own hands. From the selection of the seed, to the contract cultivation, the collection of the goods and the processing, so that we can provide bakeries with just this security.
It shows very clearly how much is behind each product! Finally, one word that has accompanied us in recent months due to the many uncertainties is resilience. How does IREKS create more resilience for both themselves and their clients?
Dr Mathias Warwel: Resilience has become a widespread and much-used term in recent years, and rightly so. Almost a vogue word! But you have to say, it is exactly what has driven us as a family business for decades. We have this farsightedness, this calmness and also the confidence to make high investments that do not pay off immediately, but provide a more than solid foundation so that we do not lose our balance even in stormy times. We know our strengths and are absolutely confident that we can help our customers through these times as a safe anchor. That is the most important thing!
Dr Mathias Warwel has been a member of the Management of IREKS GmbH since 2017 and is responsible for the area of “Quality Management”. As a graduate chemist, he is responsible for the production of baking ingredients, quality management, the technical divisions as well as the IREKS Baking Academy and the research and development department.