All of the Haribo Gold Bear gummis sold in the U.S. are shipped in from eight company factories in six different countries.
That changes by the second quarter of 2023, when the German candy maker will bring online its first U.S. manufacturing facility. About 250 to 300 people are currently on site each day building that plant west of Interstate 94 in Pleasant Prairie.
It is among the largest investments in a facility in the 100-year-old company’s history. It also will bring about 400 jobs to southeast Wisconsin for that first phase alone, with hiring efforts already underway. Expectations are high that the plant can be expanded in the future, adding an experience center for visitors and more production lines.
“Even after the factory is built in Pleasant Prairie, we will still have certain fan favorites that will still be imported into the U.S.,” said Rick LaBerge, chief operating officer at Haribo of America. “We launched in the U.S. in 1982, so it’s been an imported product for almost 40 years.”
LaBerge and Herwig Vennekens, the company’s global chief customer officer, spoke in depth about the project from Germany during a virtual interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal on Nov. 11. Here are excerpts from that interview.
Where are you in the construction process in Pleasant Prairie?
LaBerge: “We just completed a very important milestone, which is taking the outside of the structure of both the production facility and the buffer warehouse, and we’ve been able to enclose them completely. That was important as we go into the winter months. This will allow us over the next year to finish all of the work that needs to be done on the inside.
“We are installing packaging machinery, the moguls (machinery) that will make the gummi bears and the gummi products over the next year. We will start test production one year from now.”
Vennekens: “We’ve got 16 sites around the world and this facility that we’re now building is a state-of-the-art facility. We are building a facility that has the latest technology in food production.
“For us as a business, it is one of the largest investments we have made to date, and it is also testimony to the fact that we have had such an enormous, strong and successful development in the U.S.
“We started about 40 years ago in the U.S. and we have organically grown to become the No. 1 gummi in the U.S., and that was already three years ago. For us it is a logical step because the way we operate is we always want to be as close as possible to the consumer and to the customer. We have a de-centralized organization that allows Rick and his team to really make the decisions that are right for the consumer in the U.S.”
What could be built in Pleasant Prairie after completion of this first phase?
Vennekens: “We have really huge expectations for business in the U.S. Yes, we are No. 1, but there is still great opportunity for us as a brand and business to continue our growth. We can very well envisage that we go beyond what we are currently completing. For us, the important thing is the quality of our product and also the quality of the work environment we create in our facility, so we want to take things step by step. But we really envisage a future where we are able to do more than what we are currently constructing.
LaBerge: “We purchased just shy of 140 acres and we created a master plan that allows us to take the facility we have and expand and add additional moguls.
“We would add different types of technology because we make products that are extruded, we make products that are made in a starch mold, or we would just add additional packing and production equipment to make even more product.”
Will there be possibilities for factory tours for the general public?
LaBerge: “In this master plan we have a vision of adding a Haribo experience. We have other production facilities that have different Haribo experiences, everything from museums, to places where you could buy products or taste new products. With this initial phase, we’ve been focused 100% on getting the production facility up and running.
“What you’re asking is very logical and it’s right in the DNA of our brand. Obviously we would do it in a way that would live up to our brand image and be a safe and entertaining environment. It is part of the master plan, but I don’t want to set false expectations. It’s not Day 1. We have to make gummi bears on Day 1.”
Why did Haribo’s site search for a facility concentrate on the Midwest, and how was Pleasant Prairie selected?
LaBerge: “I talked a lot about labor, workforce, shared ethics and shared values, that was factor No. 1. Factor No. 2 was support of the local community.
“The welcome we have gotten from the local community has just reinforced why we picked Pleasant Prairie. We need local suppliers. Obviously it’s demonstrated right now with the construction crew and the individuals who are making the production facility. Even after we open the facility, we are going to need local suppliers and local resources.
“The location, ultimately the product will go to our distribution centers, and we have distribution centers on the East Coast and West Coast. The location in the middle part of the United States is ideal because we want our product to be very approachable. We are in distribution from a movie theater, to Walmart, to a 7-Eleven, all across the United States. The Midwest location is ideal on the map.”
Read more at the Milwaukee Business Journal.