Jochen Brüggen & Dr. Carsten Mahn: Well-connected – foodRegio, the food industry’s successful cluster

North Sea crabs, cottage ham, Lü­­be­­cker marzipan and “Rote Grütze” (red ber­­ry sauce) are just some of Schles­wig-Holstein’s specialities that find their enthusiasts through supermarket shelves around the world.

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The food industry is well established in the nor­­thernmost federal state. As consistent as the con­­tinuously high quality of its popular brands, like Campbell’s, Hawesta or Langnese honey, for example, it is less susceptible to fluctu­­ations of business activities than other branches. In the year 2008, the sector even grew so much that turnover rose by ten per cent in comparison to the previous year; equal­­ly, the number of employees in the food processing companies rose by 2.3 per cent to a total of almost 16,000. With this, the industry lies above the coun­­try’s average and counts towards one of the most important branches around the state. But also specialized service providers and suppliers such as, for example, special machine construction for the food industry, the packing in­­dustry and logistics companies all count towards the exemplarily networked infrastructure of the sector and contribute to its positive figures. Yet there is no advancement without in­­no­vation potential. Therefore, re­­search and development has laid the foundation for success.
With their “direct line” to food manufac­­turers, higher education and re­­search in­­stitutes see to it that the term “re­­search in the ivory tower” remains a foreign word and that companies can count on technical equipment and com­­petent advice where product development and innova­tions are concerned. All in all, connections are close-knit in Northern Germany. The fluid transfer of materials, service, in­­for­­mation and know-how are deciding success factors, which hold a strong say in the performance of the sector.

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foodRegio food network
Demanding consumers, changing func­­tions of food, concentration processes in trade and shorter product life cycles are just some of the many challenges that the food industry sees itself confronted with. Each company can handle it with their own personal strategy. Yet, an­­other tactic has proven itself:

The magic word is “networking” and it is the motto that, a large portion of the local companies of have taken up the cause for. Active networking be­­t­­ween all cooperating members within the supply chain pays off. Networking also encourage growth and com­­petitiveness and raise yet unused production potential.

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With its roots in Lübeck, foodRegio, the network of the food industry in the North of Germany, counts as a positive ex­­ample of an active cluster within Ger­­many’s food industry. The Ministry of Science, Eco­­nom­­ic and Transport also takes this view and is preliminarily support­­ing the cluster at Northern Ger­ma­ny’s largest location for the food industry until 2011. The network, which was founded in the year 2006 by the company families Brüggen und Junge, currently counts 28 members. These are largely established manufacturers of food products as well as also machine and plant builders; research and higher edu­­cation in­­stitutes have also been included. In nine work groups of around 150 employees from the member companies, cooper­­ation is actively created. Here, particular at­­­tention is paid to the field of “process innovations”. This is a further field, which concerns all participants and guarantees a company to remain future-oriented. In meetings, the players concentrate in a practical way on concretely implemented projects, which lead into fast results.
Among other things, in cooperation with research and higher education institutes inter alia, the work groups can already notice added values in the fields of logistics, education and qualification as well as production optimization.

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Projects with added value
Measurable successes for the compa­nies within a concrete period of time offer participants added value that can count on. An example from the area of energy management: over a duration period of half a year, Lübeck University of Applied Sciences investigated the energy flows of six member companies. The results were presented in a conclusive analysis; energy saving potentials were shown for all companies, particularly in the areas of compressed air optimization and the usage of waste heat. Equally successful and therefore cost-efficient, was a project realized in cooperation with the Lübeck Uni­versity of Applied Sciences regarding a joint distribution logistics system. The university specialists began by establishing the potential of a joint lo­gistics approach in the distribution of the foodRegio companies and then brought the logistics together. Through the im­­plementation of the analysis results, savings could be made in one area of up to ten per cent of the original costs.

Investing in the future
A factor that should not be underesti­mated and which also counts towards the field of process innovation is the sustainable investment in well-trained employees.
In this way, qualification measures for pro­­duction employees could among other things be developed in cooperation with IHK that were specially adapted to the needs of the food industry. Particularly for the youngsters and school-leavers, a cinema spot was produced the handing out of trainee muesli bars, billboards and take-away cards, brought ones attention to the broad spectrum of training jobs in the food sector. The set-up of a new stu­­dy course at Lübeck University of Applied Sciences has proven to be an outstanding result of the active network cooperation. The “Bachelor of Food Pro­­cessing”, which unites the specialized components of economics and mecha­­n­­ical engineering with food technology, was newly established. The study course can be completed as a combined study, which means it takes place concur­­rently with a training as, for example, a specialist for food technology or also, how­­ever, after the successful completion of a professional train­­ing in the food in­­dustry. The curriculum was formed through a foodRegio work­­ing group for personnel development, which transported the needs of the companies to the university of applied sciences.

JochenBrüggenThe 1963 born author completed his stud­­ies in industrial engineering at the Tech­­nische Universität Berlin. He accompanied his studies as the project manager for the establishment of a cereal works in Lü­­beck. He has been the authorized signatory at H. & J. Brüggen KG since 1994, which he has headed as liable partner since 1998. Jochen Brüggen is the chairman of the board of directors of foodRegio e.V..

 

DrMahn_modThe 1947 born author began his career with a degree in agriculture and food sci­­ences. Following his PhD, he headed the de­­part­­­ment of product development and qua­­lity assurance of a frozen foods manu­­fac­­turer in Bremerhaven. He transferred to the com­­pany J.G. Niederegger, Lübeck, as tech­­nical head in 1978, where he to­­day holds the position of factory man­­ager. Dr. Mahn is the vice chairman of foodRegio e.V..