How Poland’s LOTTE Wedel has perfected the art of chocolate making
Only chocolate made with both innovation and passion can compete in today’s competitive industry, and perhaps this is how chocolate giant Wedel has emerged as one of the strongest brands in the Polish market today.
By tapping into the nostalgia associated with the chocolatier, Marketing Director Monika Kolano-Wysokińska says that Wedel is a name which is familiar to every Polish person today.
“I would say the core vision of Wedel is that we want our consumers to feel childlike joy,” she adds, “because that’s exactly what chocolate is about.”
As the oldest chocolate brand in the country, Wedel has won people’s hearts and business for generations since it was first founded in 1851.
Over its rich history, the firm’s passion for the art of chocolate making has been evident. Although the company has grown, it seems the values instilled by founder Emil Wedel are still very present today.
“We have a long tradition at Wedel and today we are one of the most recognised companies in the market,” says Chief Operating Officer Sławomir Kluszczyński.
“Our goal to be the best, most beloved company for our customers is in line with the vision of our parent company, LOTTE Group, as well as our founder.
“When the company was first founded, Emil Wedel looked to hire people with passion, and this is how the company still operates today. We are passionate people who love the product, who love the history of the company, and who act as owners and entrepreneurs so that we can contribute to the company’s history and its present.
“For me, this is what Wedel is about: quality, innovation, being beloved by our consumers, but also the people behind the company,” he adds.
Amidst fierce competition, it’s become important for chocolate makers to be innovative; yet it’s equally important to respect the art behind the craft.
As such, whilst Wedel has brought unique products and methods to innovate the market, it has also championed its legacy – its wafer cakes, for instance, are hand decorated today just as they have been for almost a century.
Striking a balance between the company’s heritage and its contemporary innovation has been key to its success.
When modernising, the Polish firm has made significant investments to maximise its quality, efficiency, process, and product reach.
“Our main target is to produce innovative and safe products and to also ensure the safety of our people,” Kluszczyński says. “Investment is vital for this.
“The second pillar of our investments is consumer need, so we are looking for the new technologies and new innovations where we can be first to market to meet our consumers’ needs.
“Finally, we are also investing in improving our process and efficiency," he adds. “We want to deliver our products in a way where we are maximising our capacity and reducing overhead costs.”
Nowhere can this investment be seen better than the company’s famous factory, which has stood in the Polish capital of Warsaw for over 80 years.
“I think what makes Wedel unique is the fact that that the company has this long tradition and heritage which is seen by our factory, located in Warsaw,” Kolano-Wysokińska highlights.
“The facility has been here since 1931 and we’re still at the same place, producing the same high-quality products.”
Wedel has revamped the company’s historic factory and, in doing so, it has boosted its capabilities.
“This investment was key to promote the growth of our business,” explains Kluszczyński. “We are growing intensively and so investing in our factory was necessary to adjust our logistics capabilities. Part of this investment involved enhancing the production space and also investing in new lines in the factory.”
“We invested in the production lines of some of our most important brands like Ptasie Mleczko,” adds Kolano-Wysokińska. “We invested in the machinery which decorates Ptasie Mleczko with patterns so we could produce limited edition products dedicated to special occasions like Valentine’s Day Easter and Christmas.
“That investment is very important because it will help us to increase our market share in the chocolate-covered marshmallows sector, retain our leading position in the market, and set new trends.”
Championing lean and kaizen approaches to business, Wedel has strived to maximise and optimise the use of its assets. Technology has undoubtedly played a key role in this.
“We're looking at the most modern trends within Industry 4.0,” says Kluszczyński. “We are exploring the use of process monitoring tools and building management systems with a focus on efficient use of the energy and facility costs.
“We are also looking at technologies that can standardise our quality parameters and innovations which are focused on efficiency improvement like automation.”
This innovative perspective doesn’t just apply to the firm’s machinery and facilities, it is also interwoven throughout Wedel’s eclectic portfolio of products.
From chocolate bars and pralines to cookies and Ptasie Mleczko, Wedel’s iconic signature has permeated the chocolate market for decades, anticipating new consumer trends before many of its competitors.
“We have our traditional portfolio that is targeted towards consumers that have loved Wedel for years, but we are also introducing new products that are targeted towards younger consumers that prefer sweeter tastes,” explains Kolano-Wysokińska.
“We have also seen how strong the health and wellness trend has become, both in Poland and abroad,” she adds. “This is a great opportunity for Wedel so we have tried to tap into this trend by creating a new bitter chocolate range (80% cocoa solid), for example, which has a higher content of cocoa and is a natural source of magnesium.”
Regardless of the product, however, one thing remains consistent at Wedel – its quality. Only sourcing high-grade cocoa beans from Ghana, Kolano-Wysokińska adds that it’s this superior taste which makes Wedel a national favourite.
“The quality is hard to beat,” she says. “Our customers have high expectations and so quality is always a top priority for us. For example, when it comes to cocoa, we only source cocoa from Ghana. No compromise. This means our customers can depend on the quality of our products.”
This appreciation for quality and innovative mindset is in keeping with Wedel’s parent company, LOTTE Group.
With a shared strategic vision, the Korean-Japanese conglomerate has invested in the chocolatier’s brand and capabilities to help unlock its potential.
“We are very proud to be a part of LOTTE Group because the two companies complement each other,” notes Kluszczyński.
“They both have similar visions, they both are beloved companies and they are both very focused on innovation. We feel that our owner understands the potential of our brand and after only seven years of cooperating together, we see that this partnership has been very fruitful.”
The chocolate industry is a challenging one to be in with growing competition, capacity constraints, and cost pressures more prevalent than ever.
Wedel has deftly tackled these challenges, carving out its own pioneering path in the Polish market and setting its eyes further afield through its growing international export operation.
“We see plenty of opportunities, both in the domestic market as well as in the export market,” Kluszczyński says. “Looking only at Poland, especially last year, we saw tremendous growth with the Polish confectionery market growing 7%.”
“I’d say the export market is also becoming more and more important,” adds Kolano-Wysokińska. “We export to over 60 countries worldwide, with regions like the UK, USA and Canada being our most important markets.
“Russia is definitely a market that we would like to explore further as it has similar tastes to the Polish market.”
Keen to cement the company’s brand, Wedel also has its own retail spaces in the market.
The Polish firm is proud of its rich history and heritage and nowhere is this manifested better than these exclusive chocolate shops. With around 27 retail sites and additional franchises, these chocolate shops provide a unique experience for Wedel’s customers, bringing the chocolatiers vision of ‘childlike joy’ to life.
“Our retail sites are perhaps at the foundation of our business,” Kluszczyński says. “You can see the magic behind the company and it brings you back to your childhood because you can smell the chocolate, you can see our pralines being made, you can drink our chocolate and get special products for special occasions. It's something really special.”
Marrying the company’s innovative thinking and renowned brand, Wedel has gone from strength to strength through the decades. Kluszczyński says this success wouldn’t be possible without the company’s passionate team.
“We have over 1,000 employees and we are still growing,” he says. “There are many development opportunities for our employees. We aim to grow our own people by trusting them and giving them ownership of their tasks.
“We create an environment which promotes a passion for improvement, a passion for delivery and therefore people stay with us for many years. We are proud to have such dedicated and engaged employees at Wedel.”
Now, looking forward to the future, the chocolatier plans to continue the company’s legacy, by championing the tradition of the past yet embracing change.
“We are a very dynamic company and I think in the next five to 10 years Wedel will be a very different company in many aspects,” Kluszczyński says. “We want to continue to be the most beloved company in the Polish market but we also want to expand and grow in other markets.
“Today, we are also focusing on improving our margins, cost base and production capabilities,” he continues. “We will also need to transform our supply chain and enter new product categories to support our growth. This all has to be in line with our strategy to develop our brand and get better premiumisation in the market.
“We definitely will have to be brave and embrace change,” he concludes. “Many of the changes in front of us will transform what we have inherited from the past but Wedel’s strength lies in how we continuously improve, innovate and challenge the market.”