Herwig Vennekens

Marketing Director, Haribo UK & Ireland

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE


Herwig Vennekens, Marketing Director, Haribo UK & Ireland

Career to date:

2007, Senior Managing Director, Haribo
2002, Commercial Director Northern Europe & Director Business Development Europe, McCormick
1999, Managing Partner, Wuertele & Partner
1988 - 1998, Assistant Brand Manager to Marketing Manger Europe, Procter & Gamble

Creativebrief: Please can you outline your career to date.

Herwig Vennekens: If I go back to my teenage years, I got interested in advertising and in how companies develop their products and then go on to tell the world about it. It was this curiosity in advertising that led to me to study marketing and business administration at the University of Manheim in Germany as I became more interested in how this form of communication impacts on wider business. From here, I joined Proctor & Gamble in brand management and worked across a variety of different product categories, on food, fruit juices and medicated confectionary. I worked on some of the largest brands in laundry and cleaning, such as Ariel and Lenor before I ended up in the position of being a marketing manager for the Vicks brand in Europe.

That was essentially where I learnt the reality of marketing. I spent about 10 years at P&G and then I became a commercial director northern Europe and then later business director for McCormick. It was those two roles that gave me some really good hands on experience in terms of top management. From there I moved to Haribo. I became a Managing Director and Director for Marketing and Strategy when I joined, and this is now more than 10 years ago.

Creativebrief: Why did you join Haribo? What first attracted you to it?

Herwig Vennekens: For me, Haribo is unique and it’s a very iconic brand. It’s a brand that has an amazing appeal on an international level. As a teenager or even a child growing up in Germany, I was very familiar with the brand. It’s one of those brands that is fantastic in terms of the way it is positioned and portrayed. The other aspect why I joined Haribo was that it’s a family owned business, it’s an independent business and it’s a company that has a very strong set of values attached to that. Having worked for Procter & Gamble which is one of the largest FMCG companies in the world, having worked for McCormick which is also a publicly owned US based company, it felt like a very interesting challenge to join a family owned business that is in this case headquartered in Germany.

“On a higher level [the client agency relationship] is quite straight forward. You need a high degree of openness and trust and also respect for what all parties can bring in terms of added vlaue to such a process."

Creativebrief: In your role as Marketing Director at Haribo UK & Ireland, what’s your primary focus?

Herwig Vennekens: In its basic terms, the primary focus is to ensure that we understand what the needs of the consumer and the customers are as well as the environment in which we operate, which as we all know is undergoing some quite significant change on many different levels at the moment. I’m someone that believes that marketing is fundamental to the success of a company. If you understand the needs of the consumer and you’re able to meet those needs, you will always have a successful business. That is quite important for an entire organisation and company to realise.

Creativebrief: Is there a piece of work that you’ve done at Haribo over the last few years that you’re particularly proud of?

Herwig Vennekens: We created a few years ago the TV campaign Kids Voices, which we developed in the UK and have been using with much success and a lot of positive consumer response. Over the last 12-18 months we’ve seen that campaign go global. It is now being aired in almost a dozen countries around the world. The interesting thing is and it’s a very rare occurrence for a food product in my view, that we’ve won awards internationally. We’ve seen the campaign work for the brand almost to the same degree that it did in the UK where it was originally developed for. The reason why it does work is because it encapsulates the fun and enthusiasm that people sense when they enjoy the product. And it’s based on a universal consumer insight. It’s a very good example how, if you do find a universal insight, you find that this insight has a very good chance of travelling.

“I'm someone that believes that marketing is fundamental to the success of a company. If you understand the needs of the consumer and you're able to meet those needs, you will always have a successful business."

Creativebrief: What do you think makes a successful client agency relationship?

Herwig Vennekens: It is terribly important to start off with a very good understanding of the consumer and insight. I deeply believe in the value of that and it is quite important that everybody involved in such a project is fully aware of it, understands this and is able to work with it. On a higher level it’s quite straight forward. You need a high degree of openness and trust and also respect for what all parties can bring in terms of added value to such a process.

That is very easy to say, and it’s very generic but I do honestly believe that this is the most important element of a successful relationship. The element of trust of course is earnt over time or as a result of various different projects. But you equally have to make sure that you can continue to have a very open dialogue so sometimes clients need to challenge agencies and vice versa and you have to have the kind of relationship that allows this to happen. It’s also important that this exists across the various roles within the agency that are connected to your project as well as on the client side. So, it’s not just between the client on one side and the agency on the other. It’s also across the teams that are on each side of the table.

Creativebrief: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Haribo?

Herwig Vennekens: There are two challenges undoubtedly that come to mind and the first one is not unique. The first one without a shadow of a doubt is the discussion around Brexit. We’ve invested nearly £100 million in a new additional state of the art production facility three years ago which created 180 new jobs in addition to the 550 that already existed. Obviously, that’s a huge responsibility that we have to our employees and their families. It is very important that whatever may happen does not interfere with our intention and plans to keep on producing the quality sweets that we are already making in this country. There is a lot of uncertainty which also every producing company in the UK will sense so we are not an exception in that respect.

The other one is closer to home because I think again the entire food and drink industry are facing significant challenges in the context of health, from obesity and sugar. Whilst these issues are complex and there are lots of contributing factors that impact on obesity, there is no doubt that the calories we consume play a major role within that. That is an issue as a manufacturer of food products that we also face. Haribo is quite uniquely positioned because we’ve always made sure that our products are marketed as a treat. We’ve always made that very clear. The top selling products that we currently sell, they are in comparison to the market 20% lower in terms of sugar content and we’ve just recently launched a new product which has 30% less sugar in comparison to that. Without a doubt that is a big challenge and it is one that we regard as an opportunity at the same time.

“Creativity and the ability to understand what people think and then to translate that into great new ideas be it product or communication ideas, to me that is really what [marketing] is all about."

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for Haribo?

Herwig Vennekens: In connection with that challenge I mentioned there equally lies opportunity because I think that the vast majority of consumers enjoy a treat now and then. There will always be a demand for those kinds of products and that gives us the opportunity to make sure we can continue to gain their trust and can continue to develop our brand and our business within that market. For us the direction of travel is to increase our market shares, so we are in a leading position within the market in which we operate. In comparison to the rest of the market we think we have a good range of product and pack sizes that should allow us to continue to grow in the years ahead in view of those challenges that are there.

Creativebrief: Looking outside of the industry, who or what are you inspired by on a personal level?

Herwig Vennekens: I’ve always been fascinated by art and music and design and the people within that industry in terms of how they go about effectively changing the way that people think and feel. This never stops to amaze me how those very creative ideas touch people.

There is a painter called René Magritte who is very well known for surrealist paintings. A lot of his work that he created a number of years ago, in today’s world still looks modern and provocative. I find it inspiring that people come up with those ideas and they continue to be relevant. Many years later, they do not look out of date or they don’t appear to be disconnected. I find it also very inspiring for the work that we do because I think that marketing is based on a broad variety of skills. Creativity and the ability to understand what people think and then to translate that into great new ideas be it product or communication ideas, to me that is really what it's all about.

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