Gummi Bear Marketing Magnate Hans Riegel, 90
Hans Riegel, who with his brother transformed a company founded at their father’s kitchen sink in Germany in 1920 into a global brand after World War II, is being remembered today as a marketing genius who made Haribo’s principal product — Gummi Bears — a warm-and-chewy global treat for kids and the adults who pay their dental bills. He died in Bonn at 90 yesterday from heart failure while recovering from an operation that removed a benign brain tumor.
“I love children. They are my customers. I have to be informed about what they want to nibble, what they think, what language they speak,” the divorced and childless Riegel reportedly said. The company motto is “Kids & Grown-ups love it so, the Happy World of HARIBO.”
Haribo — derived from [Ha]ns [Ri]egel [Bo]nn — was born in the despair of Germany following WW I and rose again from the rubble of WW II. Riegel’s father, also named Hans, became the sole owner of a confectioner he had earlier been given partner status in when he was 27, according to a company history, and he set up shop in a house in Kessenich, a suburb of Bonn. “The starting capital consisted of a sack of sugar, a marble slab, a stool, a walled-up stove, a copper kettle and a roller.”
The Dancing Bear, which was created out of fruit gum in 1922, later became the Gold Bear, the company’s first hit. Popular licorice products followed in the ’30s, as did the slogan, “‘HARIBO makes children happy,’ which in German, ‘HARIBO macht Kinder froh,’ has an easy nursery rhyme jingle to it,” the website tells us.
After Hans died in 1945, his wife (and first employee) Gertrud kept the company — hit hard by raw material shortages — running until sons Paul and Hans were released from American POW camps in 1946. Paul focused on production; Hans, Jr. became the marketing and promotion ringleader.
“The Gummi bears that we know and love today were ‘born’ in 1960, and the line was expanded to include Gummi worms and many other items, according to the company website,” reports Rene Lynch in the Los Angeles Times. “(They are called Gummi candy on the bag, and their formal title is Gold-Bears, according to the packaging, but everyone, of course, calls them Gummi bears.)”
They were first exported to Britain, Sweden and Austria in the 1970s, Melissa Eddy reports in the New York Times, then “[Hans] took them to the United States in 1982, setting up Haribo of America in Baltimore. They also expanded their assortment, which now includes 200 different products, although none have proved as popular as the Gummi bears. Among them are fruit gums and jelly candies in a variety of shapes (bottles, snakes, frogs, Smurfs, cherries) and flavors.”
The extent of the worldwide expansion was noted by German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who tells the Associated Press’ Geir Moulson, “Wherever I traveled in the last few years, the Gold-Bears had already long been there.”
Once the Gummi Bears made it to these shores, they “rapidly became a cultural phenomenon, even inspiring a Disney TV series: ‘Adventures of the Gummi Bears.’ Vanessa Wong points out in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. ‘Chewy Gummi Bears Spawn a Gummy Mania,’ read one San Francisco Chronicle article from 1988 that mentioned Haribo competitors making gummies shaped like Garfield and the Care Bears, as well as Dungeons & Dragons-themed candies.”
Riegel was also remembered yesterday as a shrewd businessman who frequently held his tongue in cheek.
“In June in 1986, Hans Riegel told one of the jokes for which he had become well-known,” Alexander Demling writes on Spiegel Online International. “The Haribo CEO told a reporter he had just swallowed Maoam. All Riegel had to do was wait a second for a question in response: ‘The candy?’ ‘No,’ he answered triumphantly. ‘The company. It was a lot of fun — they used to be a competitor.’”
Brother Paul died in 2009. Riegel was a 50% co-owner of the company that now employs about 6,000 people worldwide and was “actively involved in the business until the end,” the AP's Moulson writes.
After Paul’s death, “Hans established a supervisory board shared by both halves of the family and dictated that his foundation would represent him after he passed away,” Alex Morrell reports in Forbes. “The company is thus likely to remain controlled by the Riegel name that founded it more than 90 years ago, even if the relatives don’t inherit the riches,” which are estimated to be a bit shy of $3 billion.