Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:38 pm
The top sponsors of the past two Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce All-Member Meetings have mostly been well known companies – with names like Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, J.P. Morgan Chase, Aurora Health Care and the Milwaukee Bucks.
But among those names in 2017 and 2019 was Haribo, the German gummi bear maker planning to build its first U.S. production facility in Pleasant Prairie.
Haribo also had a presence at German Fest in Milwaukee this year, helped with the renovation of a “Tween Center” at the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, and recently signed a 10-year partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
Since Haribo of America originally announced its plans in 2017, the company has been working to create relationships in the community before starting to build its Pleasant Prairie facility. Lauren Triffler, senior communications manager for the Rosemont, Illinois-based company, said Haribo has received a warm welcome.
The Parkside partnership is at least a $300,000 commitment from the company that provides funding for renovations of athletic facilities on the campus, along with support for UW-Parkside Foundation need-based scholarships.
“We really want to be part of the community,” Triffler said. “We don’t want to just be a factory producing gummi bears and not really letting people know who we are and what we value as a company.”
Among those values is quality, which helps explain why a factory that, when it was first announced, was supposed to begin construction in 2018 and production in 2020 is now on track to break ground next year.
“One of our most important values is quality, so that’s not something we sacrifice,” Triffler said. “If that means it takes more time, then we’re going to do that, because we want to make sure our factory is set up for success to produce top-quality products for consumers. We want the best materials. We want the best machinery. So if that means the timing shifts a little bit, then we’re going to do that, versus rush, rush, rush, just to produce. We never sacrifice quality.”
Triffler said the delay is also partially a result of the opportunity the company has in establishing its first U.S. production facility.
“I think we had one original plan and then once we got into the community and we started thinking about all we could do, it started to become a bigger build,” she said. “We started to think about things like, what if we did an immersive experience? And so that added more time. I think we just really want it to be the best that it can possibly be, so when you start adding and adding, that takes more time.”
The originally announced plans called for a 500,000-square-foot facility to be located in the Prairie Highlands Corporate Park, west of I-94 between Highways 165 and 50. The company, which is eligible for $21 million in state tax credits, selected the site over seven options in Illinois because of its affordability, visibility from and proximity to the interstate, utility costs, proximity to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, workforce and land costs.
The project has grown to also include elements to help expose consumers to the Haribo brand, including a retail store, promotional areas and a museum. It will have around 450 employees after the first phase of construction, and more than 1,200 at full buildout.
Triffler said that in Europe and the United Kingdom there are plenty of ways for consumers to interact with the Haribo brand.
“In the U.S., that doesn’t exist yet. We don’t have standalone stores. We just have our retail partners,” she said.
The idea is for the Pleasant Prairie facility to be a place where consumers can try products and learn about the company history, its values and how products are made.
“It gives people something to engage with, versus just getting the bag and thinking ‘this is delicious’ and maybe it leaves their mind,” Triffler said.
While Haribo has 100 years of history in Europe, the company has only been strategically investing in the U.S. for around five years.
Establishing a U.S. factory will make products more readily available to consumers. Haribo currently imports all of its candy for the U.S. by boat from facilities in Germany, Brazil, Turkey, France and Spain.
“We don’t want to sacrifice freshness at all, but there’s always a time delay,” Triffler said. “The time will already be drastically improved … it doesn’t mean we’re not going to import anymore, because we are a global company, so the markets support each other, but having production in the U.S. is really going to be huge for us as a business.”
The Pleasant Prairie project is Haribo’s first build in the Americas and Triffler acknowledged there have been some adjustments as the company adapts to different sourcing partners and regulations.
“I think we’re all on a learning journey,” she said, noting the company’s global head of production Arndt Ruesges has been brought on to oversee the building and operation of the facility.
Even as the company focuses on developing a clear plan for its operation and establishing community connections, it is hard to not draw comparisons to Foxconn, the other major project in the area also announced in 2017. If nothing else, it would seem the attention and resources dedicated to the mega-project in Mount Pleasant could have delayed Haribo. Asked about it, Triffler said the company has remained focused on its own project.
“We’re definitely focused on what we’re trying to do while also becoming part of the community,” she said. “We want to ensure that people know we’re there to stay and we are going to be there. It’s just a matter of the timeline, but we have never wavered on our commitment to be there.”
Triffler added that the company continues to refine its plans for exactly which candies it will produce in what volumes at the Pleasant Prairie facility.
“When we have certainty about what we’re going to do then we’re going to start, so we’re still on track for the groundbreaking next year,” she said.