The mechanical engineering industry in Germany seems to have weathered pandemic rather well so far. The increased demand for automation, in connection with labor shortages and an increase in sales of convenience products -due to changed consumption and eating habits in the lockdown and home office- is having a positive effect. We spoke with Schomaker Convenience Technik from Hilter am Teutoburger Wald about the past months and the prospects for the new year.
"In the spring, we were - like everyone else - rather insecure and cautious at first," says Ulrich Blase, who is responsible for sales in Germany. Ricarda Schomaker agrees: "Today we can say that this year was a year of challenges, but we can end it with satisfaction. The order situation is good and we want to fill seven new positions in the coming months."
The company's team adapted well to the new hygiene measures: "In the initial lockdown, many appointments had to be postponed, but these could be made up for by the middle of the year. Currently, a lot of remote support is provided wherever possible so that our technicians don't have to go on the road in the first place. That works very well. For larger, non-postponable projects, our colleagues go out under many conditions and rules," explains Ricarda Schomaker. "For example, before our service technicians enter the manufacturing companies, they are quick tested for Corona. If the results are negative, they are allowed to enter production and carry out work on the machines and systems. After the service technicians come in from the service department, they have to be tested by a doctor in our area."
Herrmann and Ricarda Schomaker at this year's BioFach in Nuremberg
This effort is also necessary because there is a great demand for convenience products in food retailing - and accordingly for the machinery: "Convenience and snack products have seen increased sales with our retail customers; they are up 100% since the beginning of the crisis. This increase has flattened out somewhat, but we still see our customer base as having increased sales by 20-30% compared to the previous year," says Blase. Large kitchens and catering businesses, on the other hand, have had to cut back on most of their investments.
Although the customers and sectors have remained largely the same for Schomaker, their sales channels have changed: "The food retailing sector has gained significantly in importance compared to large-scale consumers," Dennis Schomaker comments. Established companies in the convenience sector in particular are strengthening their position: "In the current situation, it is difficult to build something new. Whether it's a completely new company or another mainstay in the convenience sector. The companies that were already active in this sector and supply the food retail trade directly were able to expand their production in line with the higher demand."
The company is confident about 2021: "We have to wait and see how the pandemic develops and what consequences politics and the fruit and vegetable industry will draw from it. However, we are confident, we can enter the new year with strong growth, making many investments in order to keep pace with the market and servicing our customers well."
Part of this strategy are the new solutions from Schomaker: "At the BIOFACH trade fair in Nuremberg in February, we already presented our new packaging machine, with which various types of vegetables can be packed fully automatically into 100% recyclable paper bags. This solution is particularly suitable for potatoes." In general, we see a growth in the customer base from the potato sector: "More and more producers are showing interest in cooking, simmering and mixing potatoes."
Now, Schomaker Convenience Technik is looking for employees to keep up with the growing demand for the company's machines. Dennis Schomaker: "We are looking for skilled workers in almost every division of the company. From the complete final assembly of the machines and conveyor systems and the commissioning throughout Central Europe, to the strengthening of our new division of conveyor system construction in hygienic design."