Does Audible have credible competitors
- Roy Hörner solves problems. The microbiologist comes when his customers are in a mess. Whether salmonella, dioxin or asbestos in food: after twelve weeks, he and his colleagues from the SGS Institut Fresenius introduced a control system at the manufacturers so that this no longer happens to them. And customers can trust them again. The Fresenius Food Laboratory Institute, which Hörner heads, is the largest of its kind in Europe. What is measured here is considered reliable among friends and foes.
The credibility factory in Hamburg-Bergedorf is an inconspicuous brick block. The testers like to work in silence. For 40 years her company has offered to advertise with its own seal after the test: an oval, a tick and the words "Regular Quality Control Institute Fresenius".
Hardly anyone suspects the effort behind the simple logo. And yet it seems to work: Ferrero has been around with Nutella for 40 years, brands such as Capri-Sonne, Rügenwalder Mühle and Kikkoman Soy Sauce rely on the effect of the name Fresenius. The institute has nothing to do with the health company of the same name. With its 760 employees, it has been part of the Swiss SGS Group, the largest testing company in the world, since 2004. SGS certifies everything from wastewater treatment plants in cruise ships to children's toys. But hardly anywhere else is so much checked, tested, monitored and certified as with food. The Institut Fresenius had a turnover of 73 million euros in 2010.
Karl Tack has had the seal for six months. He sells the simplest product in the world: mineral water. It is bottled straight from the source. Tacks Rhodius works cannot be overlooked. "A warm welcome to Burgbrohl" greets the visitor at the entrance to the village, next to a Rhodius mineral water bottle is shown. Tack runs the family business Gebrüder Rhodius with 400 employees in the sixth generation. The work occupies the mountain slope of the Brohl valley between Remagen and Koblenz. The rise of this inconspicuous water from the Eifel, the transformation from deep water to fine mineral water exemplifies the effect of the Fresenius quality seal. More on that later.Obstacle course to the coveted stamp
In 1845 Carl Remigius Fresenius was appointed professor of chemistry and physics at the Agricultural Institute in Wiesbaden. Because there was no laboratory, he founded the "Chemisches Laboratorium Fresenius Wiesbaden" three years later. Even back then, he sought to get in touch with companies that would pay to test their products for financing purposes. The first big order in 1849 is the investigation of the mineral water of the Duchy of Nassau. Fresenius developed the first method for the detection of soda, made spectral analyzes of various types of water and checked them for radioactivity. From then on, the springs used these values to advertise their medicinal water without having to pay for it.
The grandson of the institute's founder, Remigius E. Fresenius, finally came up with the idea of turning the institute's controls into a business and offering companies a test seal. And so it all started with Nutella in 1973. The only competitor to be taken seriously was the CMA seal of approval. Since then, the signature of Professor Fresenius on the Nutella jar has guaranteed independent controls. The dark cream has what it takes to cause nutritionists nightmares, but it has not been a Nutella scandal in the past 40 years. Instead, the seal is emblazoned on the jar and is now larger than the brand name: It is embossed in the Nutella lid.
Even if it looks like this - the quality mark is not an award, but a service. Anyone who wants to use it ends up with Anke Teichgräber first. She is responsible for the seal at the Institut Fresenius. "Our customers apply," she says. She goes through an eight-page checklist with all interested parties, which records which components of the product fall under which standards. Then Teichgräber likes to say her sentence, which should make many marketing people flinch. "We particularly test for claims." If freedom from additives or the positive effect of magnesium is promised on a package, that must also be true. It makes it clear that all statements will be checked. Many interested parties drop out after this first phone call.
The employees of the mineral water bottler Karl Tack were not put off. But that was only the beginning of a testing odyssey: Fresenius tested the source, examined the factory, analyzed the color of the labels and the seals on the bottle caps. In the end, the testers knew more about his water than the family entrepreneur.
In fact, the Fresenius stamp is a kind of straitjacket for companies. "The customer has no say in what we test and what we leave out. We test independently," assures Teichgräber. The institute even has the right to recall a product from the supermarket.
Most of the time, the collaboration fails when the recipe is disclosed. "That's where you hit the nerve. A lot of people don't want to or can't go along with it," says Teichgräber. From the production of raw materials to the store shelf, the product is scrutinized. The manufacturer bears the costs. The seal council meets at the end. Only then is the seal contract. It can take up to two years for a product to bear the seal of quality. To date, it can only be found on around two dozen products that many consumer advocates have gripped their teeth on. The Fresenius Check seems to be the best manslaughter argument in the food industry.
The quality of food is not easy to determine. Experts agree: the quality of our food has never been as high as it is today. But every scandal leads to opposite impressions. BSE, nitrofen, dioxin, acrylamide, rotten meat and Ehec are the nightmares of the industry. Organizations such as Foodwatch, the magazine "Öko-Test" and the consumer advice centers are strengthening this mood. You benefit from the need for orientation. And seals have the almost uncanny power to give even nutritional sins credibly tested quality.
In Hamburg-Bergedorf, Hörner's employees not only measure fat, sugar and vitamins in food. The institute searches for ash and dioxins, pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, polycyclic hydrocarbons, nitrosamines, solvents, phthalates, acrylamide and 3-MCPD esters, allergens and insects, preservatives, colorings, sweeteners, alcohol, amino acids, coumarin, Nitrite and nitrate, after melamine, veterinary drugs and radioactivity. Horns could extend this list indefinitely. He and his colleagues are looking for dangers that consumers do not yet suspect and manufacturers do not yet know about.
For horns, the quality of a food is a measurable scientific parameter. And it has a value close to zero: "Quality is also about not finding anything disruptive," he says. Fresenius' service is to guarantee this credible "nothing". For industrial mass-produced goods - which can score so little with what is inside - the "free from" quality is the better quality promise.
Mineral water is interchangeable in many ways. There is no indication why one should be better than other "little waters", as Tack likes to call foreign competitors. Belief in the quality of its own product is only 35 years old, even at Rhodius. It wasn't that long ago that they let the water run unused into the Brohlbach. At that time Rhodius only used the carbonic acid of the spring to produce white lead. The water was superfluous: sewage.
The company's boss Manfred Rhodius, Tack's father-in-law, brought with him the license to bottle Pepsi in 1958 from a trip to the USA. This is when they use the water from the spring for the first time. Rhodius became one of the biggest Pepsi bottlers. 16 years later they started selling their water themselves, pure, especially in cans. "My father-in-law was an honest businessman. He underestimated the potential of the Rhodius mineral water brand. He didn't want to take more money for the water than for the Coke," says Tack. So the Rhodius started out as the cheapest water from the supermarket. But the medium-sized company soon realized that it would not get very far with this strategy. "We can only survive through quality that the big ones can't," says Tack today. "Quality is our strength."
An interchangeable sentence, it is almost defiantly in the Rhodius company philosophy. What qualities can water have? For Tack, quality means that its product is regional and is offered in returnable bottles. "No international corporation can take that away from us because we cannot be copied."
There is danger from elsewhere: other local manufacturers could dispute Rhodius' market share, after all there are many mineral springs in the Eifel. That is why Rhodius decided ten years ago to focus on quality as a sales argument. They submitted the water to tasting competitions. And were screened by Fresenius. It was about 151 milligrams of magnesium per liter and above all the purity, the credible "nothing". The Rhodius mineral water has now had the seal of quality for six months.Can water be organic?
For a long time, seals were frowned upon under mineral springs. When the entrepreneur Franz Ehrnsperger started sticking an organic seal on his water with Lammsbräu, the competition criticized him. Tack also had reservations about the seal at the time, because how can one mineral water be more organic than another? "I actually expected that we would now be criticized more for the quality seal," he says, "but instead we were appreciated."
He has the ascent document in front of him in a yellow envelope: the contract with the Fresenius Institute. It's a thick pile of paper. The costs of each individual analysis are listed in detail. The fun costs medium-sized companies a five-figure amount each year: from taking samples at the source to examining the bottles and closures, from quality control to concealed purchases in the supermarket. That's a lot of money. And yet an amount that is worthwhile. "When you think of Fresenius, you think of neutrality and independence," says Tack, "that underpins our credibility." For Rhodius, Fresenius is the rise from canned water to quality water. The medium-sized company has a long-term niche in the higher-priced shelf segment. And he must justify the higher price in a credible manner. The mineral water may still be the same as it used to be from the can, but today it costs about four times as much as the cheapest water in the supermarket. It is a small miracle from the Eifel. Tack is proud that he did it.
In production, the empty PET bottles whiz overhead. Filling is almost completely automated. 20,000 bottles an hour, 350,000 bottles a day. Tack stands under the bottles and thinks about the emergency. He expects bad news. Because Tack suspects: The better analysis methods are both a curse and a blessing. With every finer method, the mineral water bottlers find out what is in tiny traces in the water. And the proliferation of plastic bottles has created entirely new problems for mineral fountains.
Suddenly, Tack has to deal with the acetaldehyde content of its PET bottles. Hormones from drugs and degradation products from pesticides also contaminate more and more mineral springs. At some point, Tack is certain, man-made contamination will also reach its source. "A zero state will not be possible in the long term as long as there are people on earth." Then he wants to be the first to know the values.
Back to Hamburg-Bergedorf. "We're not nutritionists," says Hörner. And: "We do not test a philosophy, we do not test health. We certify quality." There are even dietary supplements that carry the seal. In every corner of the laboratory there are fragments that are reminiscent of well-known products from the supermarket. In a row with large buckets, chocolate cream is diluted. Food samples sprawl everywhere in Petri dishes. What grows on some of these agar culture media could warn a manufacturer. Or fall into ruin. There have been no recalls for a quality seal product, says Hörner. And even if he did, he wouldn't admit it. Even if you ask him about his latest alarming finds, he is silent. It is a telling silence. He lets his gaze wander through the laboratory to see whether telltale traces have prompted the question at that moment. The Fresenius Institute finds everything.
But it is not the press that finds out, but the customer. -
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