Nothing greater in life

Ditsch’s extraordinary capabilities in baking every type of pretzel imaginable have helped the century-old company to become a global leader in the pretzel sector

During the first century of its existence, Ditsch has grown into a cultural staple in Germany. It is still extremely common for kids in the country to have their first experience of a pretzel at a Ditsch stand where they can revel in the multitude of flavours they can pick from. Indeed, pretzel recipes differ widely from region to region, but what unites them is Ditsch’s special approach of always serving its baked treats warm, thus creating unforgettable memories for consumers.

“Every day we serve millions of people across Europe, the UK, the USA and Canada daily, and through our Ditsch stores we receive direct feedback which is invaluable to us when it comes to the development of our products,” notes Björn Tiemann, Managing Director Sales & Business Development. “We are entirely focused on the pretzel category, which we still regard as niche even in Germany. Having been making pretzels for the last 100 years, we have become a true global leader recognised for the high quality of our goods, which is being verified day in and day out by our customers. Over time, we have developed a robust structure and have grown strong relationships with our suppliers who provide us with all the technology we need, and this enables us to focus on achieving our ultimate goal – namely, every customer to always want to have another pretzel from us if they have already bought one.”

Innovators in the market

In pursuing this objective, Ditsch has a staunch ally in the shape of its parent organisation Valora. The Swiss retail holding company acquired Ditsch in 2012 and has since actively supported the business; the two sharing the same set of values. Sebastian Gooding, who is Ditsch’s CEO and a member of Valora’s Management, comments: “We are fortunate to have a group behind us that values innovation, teamwork and company culture as much as we do. It also helps that I am part of Valora’s management, so there is always direct communication between the two entities.”

It is to Sebastian’s sheer amazement that a fairly standard product like the pretzel can have so many different recipes. In his opinion, Ditsch’s long-standing experience has allowed the company to understand what consumers from each part of Germany like and experiment with different tastes. “Our two best sellers are the Swabian and Bavarian pretzels, but it really is fascinating how the addition of various types of sugar and salt can create a unique variation of a pretzel.

“To give you an example, in 2019, we introduced a range of pretzel dough pizza products, which has been very well-received by the market. This comes to show that there is a lot of room for innovation in the pretzel market and we pride ourselves on being the very best in this respect.”

Björn adds: “What we are expecting to see in the market, is a greater demand for more convenient products. The pretzels that we serve already have a number of value adds, in terms of them being ready to consume at point-of-sale (POS). They may only need to be heated, but that is all. Given the emerging trends, we have invested in equipment that allows us to make pretzels filled with all kinds of fillings. In fact, we are just about to launch several new versions at Internorga – Europe’s biggest foodservice show – in Hamburg this coming March. These include salted caramel-filled and garlic butter-filled pretzels, whose concept is completely aligned with what people are increasingly looking for.”

Nuances in demand
Germany may well be the Mecca of pretzels, but Ditsch has successfully taken its products far and wide across the globe. Aside from the European business, which is headquartered in Mainz and exports to over 30 countries, including China, Japan, Israel, the UK, France, Canada and a host of other European countries; there is also a separate US branch based in Cincinnati that supplies the entire American market.

“Each market has slightly different requirements,” Sebastian points out. “Some prefer harder pretzels, others like softer better. Then, others still differ in their preferred colour. The important thing is that, owing to Ditsch’s history, we are able to deal with all the nuances in demand, because this has been our day-to-day job for 100 years. It is truly a USP for us that we can manage all the complexity of these requirements to a very high standard and that we can continuously come up with innovative products in a range of formats, thanks to our vast technical capabilities and over 20 production lines.”

As well as running in excess of 200 franchise stores in Germany, Ditsch has also become a trustworthy partner for a number of retailers both at home and abroad. Capable of meeting their needs for new and exciting products, the business has developed items that address existing trends in specific markets. “For instance, in the UK, it is all about making pretzels part of sandwich offerings, while in Germany, the diversity of flavours is key,” Sebastian discusses.

“In all honesty, though, I cannot say that our product development decisions are purely driven by retail or foodservice considerations. Essentially, it is consumers who are interested in the pretzels and we are trying to have an offering that reflects the way people of today live their fast-paced lives, which undoubtedly has an impact on how they consume food, too,” he goes on.

Poised for growth
In order to stay on top of the game, Ditsch also makes sure that it regularly keeps its factories in a shape fit for market demands. The company operates four production facilities, the largest of which is in Oranienbaum (not far from Leipzig). Last year, it built a third bakery next to the existing two to scale up its capabilities further.

“We are certainly open to growing the number of our sites and we have the green light from Valora to expand if our customers ask us to,” Sebastian reveals. “It is likely that we will open a facility in the US, but we also expect to be holding discussions with clients in the next two years for the building of two more sites in Europe.”

Björn continues: “As a whole, the pretzel category is poised for growth. There will be a rise in volumes, but also in the price mix per kilo, as well, because customers request added-value products, which might extend to their packaging, for example, or to include the more innovative types of pretzels like the ones with filling. At the same time, it is harder to find qualified people willing to work in the sector, which brings us, as a manufacturer, to a higher price point than we have been in the past 15-20 years. It is a challenge in itself, but our strong reputation and reliability as a partner are a guarantee for our continued success.”

Sebastian then wraps up: “There are not many companies with 100 years of history that continue to grow and that live and breathe an ethos of innovation and teamwork. We are able to work in a very fast, easy flowing, and open manner, and I genuinely believe that everyone employed at Ditsch enjoys working here as much as I do. We like what we do and, in my opinion, there is nothing greater in life than giving someone a warm pretzel fresh from the oven and seeing people fall in love with our products. On to the next 100 years!”