Interview with Prof. Claus Hipp, head of the German baby food producer HiPP

Prof. Claus Hipp: “My motto? ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.’”

“Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself” - this famous ‘Golden Rule’ is the motto of Prof. Claus Hipp, head of the German baby food producer HiPP. To him, this motto means much more than just the treatment of people. It also includes the treatment of the environment. With a strong belief in sustainable farming and the undiscovered reserves and resources of nature, HiPP has become the world’s biggest producer of organic raw materials. European Food Journal (EFJ) talked to Prof. Hipp about the company’s research into ecological farming practices and the company’s ambitions to reactivate the forgotten resources of nature.

Prof. Claus Hipp is the face of the company’s famous TV advertising campaign, guaranteeing top quality for all HiPP products

European Food Journal: Prof. Hipp, you represent the third family generation running the company. What would you say were the most important milestones or developments that made HiPP what it is today?

Prof. Hipp: Yes, we have been in the market for a long time now. Our family used to make beeswax candles and gingerbread. My grandfather, Josef Hipp, laid the foundation stone for our company in 1899 when he started to produce special flour for children’s rusks. As his wife had problems nursing their twins, my grandfather had the idea to produce infant cereals made from hand-ground rusk and milk. Soon, his rusk flour became a regional success. It was sold in black and yellow packages. In 1932, my father Georg transformed the small family enterprise into a company. In 1956 he commenced industrial production of baby food in cans. Soon, he expanded the range and in 1959 the first ‘Gläschen’ (glass jars) were launched. Another important milestone was a meeting with the Swiss doctor Dr. Hans Müller, the pioneer of our modern organic agriculture. He inspired my father to produce fruit and vegetables in an ecological way. Since 1956, all raw materials used for HiPP products have been produced on organically cultivated land. When I took on the management of the business in 1967, I continuously improved the idea of organic farming. In the beginning, we had to visit the farmers and convince them of our vision. Today, we draw on a network of around 6,000 contract farmers and are the world’s biggest processor of organic produce. To cut a long story short – we have always been committed to top quality and organic production. We respect nature.

From left: Claus Hipp took over the family enterprise in 1967 and represents the third generation of the HiPP family; here with his son, Stefan Hipp, who is already involved in the management of the company together with his brother Sebastian

European Food Journal: There is a famous TV advert showing you on a plantation saying: “I vouch for our quality with my name. What was your motivation for this advert?

Prof. Hipp: We are responsible for our products. In order to ensure a stringent quality chain, we carry out innumerous quality controls, starting with our farmers, continuing via production and ending with bottling and packaging. If there is a crumb in the swimming pool – we will find it. But there is much more to this slogan. We believe that organic farming is a must in order to ensure a healthy future for coming generations. Therefore, we are continuously conducting research into sustainable agriculture from soil treatment through to packaging methods.

Previous generations of the HiPP family produced wax candles and gingerbread; here a picture of the old family café

European Food Journal: Could you give us some examples?

Prof. Hipp: Wildlife conservation and organic diversity are key issues on our agenda. We look after rare animal and plant species which have to be conserved in order to protect diversity and make organic farming possible. Unfortunately, their importance is not yet widely recognized. For example, we have a special eye on bees. Today, around 83% of our foodstuffs depend on the work of bees. Honey is just a by-product but the pollination of the plants is crucial for many products. At our own farms we provide a healthy environment with good conditions for all pollination activities. Another example is the growing of Benjes hedges. The hedges attract many rare bird species which are already under protection and threatened with extinction. Also, we have extended grasslands where we give plants a chance to grow and blossom. We have around 38 different types of grass. Conventional farming only has six. Earthworms are important for well-balanced farming, too. They aerate the soil and decompose organic matter to improve its quality. We believe that soil quality is the best answer to climate change. Also, we research into natural breeding. Swiss studies have found that cows that are fed conventionally, with grass and hay, live longer than high-performance breeds fed with mixed provender. Therefore, they are at least equally profitable.

European Food Journal: Apart from your own agricultural activities, do you also try to communicate your know-how and create a lobby for these natural resources?

Prof. Hipp: We make an example of our own farms and invite farmers, scientists, business people and students to visit them to get an idea of what sustainable agriculture can be like. We also collaborate closely with the University of Hanover and the Technical University of Munich, Weihenstephan. Of course, we communicate and try to raise people’s awareness of sustainable farming.

Prof. Claus Hipp’s grandfather invented a special flour for children’s rusks. Later, he started to produce infant cereals made from hand-ground rusk and milk

European Food Journal: Besides your approach to sustainability – I’m sure most consumers do not know about your research activities – why should people buy HiPP instead of private label products?

Prof. Hipp: Because they know who we are. They might not know exactly what we do and how much we invest in building a healthy future, but they have greater trust in our products than in those of our competitors because they know us. They know the faces behind our brand. People like to trust people they know. Also, we are specialists in baby food and draw on centuries of experience in the market. Last but not least, we are a family enterprise. We act according to sustainable values. We are not obliged to shareholders or investors who want to see profit increases every year.

European Food Journal: What are your most important business fields today?

Prof. Hipp: Baby food, baby care and food for older children. Our squeezable fruit pouches, for example, are quite popular among school-age children. Our baby care products are quite new. Babies are our business and it is an obvious next step to move into neighbouring fields to offer families our guaranteed HiPP quality for their babies. The care products complement our product assortment perfectly.

European Food Journal: What are your most important markets at present? What about Germany?

Prof. Hipp: Of course, Germany is still our key market. Yet, the market is suffering from the constant decline in the birth-rate. Per-capita consumption keeps growing, but this is not really true for baby food. Babies can only eat until they are full. There are many interesting markets abroad, in Europe as well as overseas, especially in the East. There is a strong backlog demand for organic food. Russia offers promising perspectives, as well as Asia. But currently, we are still focusing on our neighboring countries.

European Food Journal: How do you reach your customers? What are your most important marketing channels – what about online media?

Prof. Hipp: Of course, we have an online marketing mix, too, and recognize the growing importance of social media and online platforms. However, TV advertising is still the most relevant channel for us. You know, in the morning when the family has left home and Mum does the household, she switches on TV and sees our ads. This way, we are part of her daily routine.

Baby food filled in glass jars is the company’s core competence. In Germany, carrot-based purées are a bestseller
HiPP transformed its Ehrnsperger Hof into a model plant where people can learn about organic farming methods
Recently, the company added baby care products to its portfolio. Of course, all care products meet the company’s high quality standards, too
 

European Food Journal: Anni Friesinger is your new testimonial for squeezable fruit pouches. Is sports your new trade channel?

Prof. Hipp: Our products are consumed by many top athletes. Our products are easy do digest and the athletes know that they have more power when they easily digestible foods.

European Food Journal: You have been in business for almost 50 years now. What about the fourth generation of the HiPP family? Is it already on board?

Prof. Hipp: My two sons Stefan and Sebastian are already active in the company and part of the management. I am proud of them and at some things they are better than I am. In addition to good education, I have tried to pass on my passion for the business to them. I think I have succeeded in doing so and I am sure that they will stay true to the fundamental values of our company. Therefore, it is easy for me to delegate and to entrust them with responsibility.

European Food Journal: Prof. Hipp, please give us some words of wisdom from your experience as an entrepreneur.

Prof. Hipp: Work hard and follow the principle ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself’. This principle does not only include people, but nature, too.

European Food Journal: Prof. Hipp, thank you very much for this interview.

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A trendsetter in the health food sector

The German Reform movement, which started in the middle of the 19th century and promoted a more natural way of life that rejected meat and espoused ecological farming methods, vegetarianism and homeopathic medicine, lives on today in the form of the Reformhaus. A fixture on the German high street, the Reformhaus is a form of health food store that stocks a mixture of health and wholefoods, natural cosmetics and responsibly farmed produce. Serving the specialist Reformhaus, organic food and health food sector with an extensive range of products is wholesaler Claus Reformwaren Service Team GmbH.

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European Food

Food Special 2016

In this issue: Futura Robotica S.r.l. - End-line technology at its best / Erik Thun AB - Dine at the captain’s table / Spendrups Bryggeri AB - Drinks at the heart of the occasion / Skanem AS - Smart labelling solutions

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