Economy

Haribo confectionery billionaire dies at 90 – five lessons from his incredible business success

Melinda Oliver /

The billionaire head of German confectionery company Haribo, Hans Riegel, died this week aged 90, according to reports.

Famed for its “Goldbear” confectionery, Riegel ran the lolly empire for almost 70 years.

Forbes reports that Riegel had an estimated net worth of nearly $US3 billion.

Haribo’s products, including teddy-shaped Goldbears, Wine Gums and Jelly Babies, all come in distinct packaging and are sold in countless countries.

A Haribo statement said: “With his pioneering spirit, he has created a worldwide unparalleled company and a brand which [has achieved a] fame and popularity second to none.”

In a similar way to billionaire Zara co-founder Rosalia Mera who died earlier this year, there are many inspirational lessons to be learned from Riegel’s business life.

How did the business boom under Riegel’s watch?

Here are five things he did right:

1. Keep it in the family

Riegel took over Haribo from his father, also called Hans Riegel, along with his brother, Paul Riegel, in 1945. Their father had launched the business in 1920, making sugar lollies from his home in Bonn, Germany. Hans senior’s wife Gertrud was the first member of staff in the company. When their father died, the pair had been in POW camps post-World War II. They took over the company upon release. They split their skills, with Hans focusing on distribution and Paul handling sales and marketing. Paul died in 2009.

2. Stick to your niche

Haribo began as a confectionery business, with Hans senior and Gertrud making the first sweets in their kitchen at home. It became famous for its colourful, teddy bear-shaped gum lollies, often referred to as “gummy bears”, and ever since has focused on its core business – offering variety through new colours or flavours. It is also famed for liquorice. Forbes reports that Riegel is credited with inventing more than 200 sweets.

3. Trademark a winner

In 1922 the business launched the Haribo Goldbear – little gold teddy bear-shaped lollies made from fruit gum that were distinct for their sweet taste and cuteness. They were a product extension of the Haribo Dancing Bear, and needless to say they took off. The Riegel’s had the good sense to trademark the name and over 80 years later the product is still going strong.

4. Embrace advertising

The company has never shied away from promotion, but has done so with a clever eye. In 1923 it took the innovative step of fitting a car with advertising signs to make customer deliveries. In the 1930s it created the “HARIBO macht Kinder froh” slogan, which means “HARIBO makes children happy”. In this era it also launched the Teddybear range, which was cleverly named after the 26th president of the US, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.

In the 1960s, its slogan “HARIBO macht Kinder froh” was enhanced with “und Erwachsene ebenso”, which means “and adults too”.

However, one of its boldest moves was in 2008 when it painted two Boeing 737-800 aircraft with the Haribo Goldbear design.

5. Have a succession plan in place

Reports suggest that the Riegel brothers each own half of Haribo, with Paul leaving his share to his heirs. It is reported that Hans established a foundation to represent him in the event of death, so it is expected the family will still retain control of the company.

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