Convenience: The long-term trend

The declared goal of the Bell Food Group is to continue to grow in the convenience sector. The division already accounts for around a quarter of the group sales. And since the industry continues to boom, it still offers a great development potential. The new manufacturing plant in Austria will further strengthen Bell’s market position in this segment.

While housekeeping was still a full-time job for earlier generations, today practical aides relieve people of many tasks. While the programmed washing machine or the smart robotic vacuum cleaner do the housework, their owners can do other things. Accomplishments that have played a decisive role in shaping the current lifestyle. Another area in which things are now much faster and more comfortable than they used to be is nutrition. Modern convenience products make preparation easier or can be consumed immediately. They are thus perfectly suited to the changing circumstances in which less and less time is left for cooking and more people eat outside the home.

The Bell Food Group recognised the signs of the times very early on. From 1913 Bell was already producing ready-to-eat canned meat and sausages. In the 1930s, Bell was one of the first companies ever to offer so-called «catering products», i.e. prepared meals, salads or sandwiches, in its butcher’s shops.

Other members of the Bell Food Group can also look back on a long tradition of developing convenience foods. Hilcona, for example: started in 1935 with canned food, the Liechtenstein company opened up a whole new market in the 1980s with fresh pasta products. The Hügli convenience story also began in 1935 with the invention of the first industrially produced stock cubes. And Eisberg has already been around for more than four decades, during which the company has made it easy for its customers to eat healthily with crunchy freshness in a bag.

With the merging of these companies, the Bell Food Group has continuously strengthened its presence in the high-growth, high-margin convenience food sector in recent years and further expanded its presence in European markets. Today, the entire group sells more than 180,000 tons of convenience products. This means that it ensures around a quarter of the group sales in this segment.

The Bell Food Group’s product portfolio has achieved better range and depth in recent years as a result of its expansion. The range now extends from meat products to sandwiches, pasta and salads to soups, spices and desserts. The product groups can be classified in different ways. One of them is the shelf life. The Bell Food Group distinguishes between long-life products such as soups, spices and sauces, fresh products such as pizza and pasta and very fresh products such as fresh-cut salads and vegetables. Another differentiating feature is the degree to which the food is prepared. Designations such as «ready to prepare», «ready to cook» and «ready to eat» or «ready-to-use», «ready-to-heat» and «ready-to-eat» indicate the extent to which the food still has to be processed before the customer can enjoy it.

When developing new convenience ranges, Bell Food Group companies are always very close to current trends. Whether superfood ingredients, new cooking processes such as slow cooked or authentic products that look like handmade - the Group’s innovations are always tailored precisely to the wishes of its customers.

One focus is on the food service sector, where new concepts are in demand due to a shortage of skilled workers and efficiency enhancement programmes. Canteens in hospitals and schools, for instance, are already increasingly focusing on the use of ready-to-eat meals that need only to be warmed up on site. Bell companies can help shape the future in such «kitchens without a cook» with innovative convenience solutions.

The Bell Food Group keeps on being committed to achieving further organic and acquisitive growth in this segment and to expanding its leading role throughout Europe. A milestone in this regard is the launch of the new Eisberg manufacturing plant in Aus-tria. In addition, the opening of a site for fresh convenience food in Germany is currently being examined in order to increase activity on the German market.

The Bell Food Group is thus continuing the pioneering spirit with which the founding generations built up the company and will continue to benefit in the coming years from the great potential that the Group now possesses with its wide-ranging competencies.

Hügli: The all-rounders

The latest member of the Bell Food Group is one of the largest suppliers of long-lasting convenience products in Europe. In nine manufacturing plants in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, the UK and the Netherlands, the versatile range is created, which includes soups, sauces, stock cubes, seasoning mixtures, hot and cold liquid sauces and dessert products. The company supplies professional out-of-home catering with tailor-made concepts and the food processing industry with semi-finished products. Hügli also offers ranges for end consumers under its own brands and as private labels. In line with current developments, this includes natural food and health food store products.

Eisberg: The salad specialists

For more than 40 years Eisberg has been inspiring with fresh-cut salads, vegetables and fruit. Today the company is one of the leading suppliers of convenience salads in Europe and number one in Switzerland and Eastern Europe. Eight extremely modern production plants in Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Romania and, most recently, Austria manufacture the high-quality products. Many customers find a rich variety in large containers, from classic iceberg lettuce, the company’s eponym, to fruit, salad and vegetable blends, all the way to fresh-cut potato slices. In the retail trade, Eisberg also provides conscious enjoyment with the three crunchy salad varieties «Green Picnic», «Green Time» and «Green Gourmet». With its constantly growing range of salads and fruits to go, Eisberg is responding to the trend of being able to consume healthy meals anywhere and at any time.

Hilcona: The Pasta and Vegi Experts

In the 1980s Hilcona started its triumphal advance through the supermarkets and became the epitome of fresh pasta in the refrigerated shelf. In the meantime numerous other product groups belong to the assortment. For example sandwiches, salads, ready meals, muesli or the new «Hilcona Water». Hilcona is also positioning itself as an innovative vegi expert by setting up its own competence centre for vegetarian products. In the food service segment, Hilcona also convinces its customers with unusual variations that are designed for easy preparation in restaurants and canteen kitchens. The high-quality ready-to-cook, ready-to-prepare and ready-to-eat convenience products are produced at three specialised locations in Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The commissioning of a production site in Germany is also planned for 2019.

Bell: The number one in meat convenience

With its comprehensive range of meat convenience products, Bell shows how versatile this food is. As early as 1913, Bell began manufacturing tinned meat such as juicy ham and liver pâté. In the 1930s, so-called «Traiteur goods» such as sausage paths or ham tops were added. In 1971, the Swiss revolutionised cooking with their Quick products. The quick process greatly simplified the time-consuming preparation of pork neck, beef tongue and various pork hams and extended their shelf life to 40 days.

Today, convenience fans will find a great product range going from roast ham and chicken nuggets to salad toppings and small snacks to be consumed on the go. The Bell Professional range also offers convenience articles tailored to the needs of Food Service customers. For both target groups preparing the products requires either little or no effort at all.

State-of-the-art competence centre for convenience products

In September 2017, the ground-breaking ceremony for the most modern production plant for fresh convenience products in Europe took place in Marchtrenk, Upper Austria. Eisberg is building four halls with production and office space on the 24,000 square meter premises. Over the next few weeks and months, a total of 19 lines will gradually start operations here. Eisberg is creating around 250 new jobs in order to serve them and for other tasks such as administration or development.

Marchtrenk’s location in the heart of Europe is convenient due to its proximity to numerous Bell Food Group sister companies as well as to growers and regional suppliers. «Good cooperation with local Austrian producers is particularly important to us with regard to the supply of raw materials. Here we would like to expand existing partnerships and enter into new cooperations,» says Franco Mühlgrabner, Managing Director of Eisberg Austria. Finally, surveys show that the regional origin of the products is an important purchasing criterion for Austrian consumers.

But not only the customers in the Alpine country will benefit from the new location: for the first time in the history of the Bell Food Group, several Bell brands will be united under one roof in Marchtrenk. These include salad, fruit and vegetable products for Eisberg, snacks and mueslis for Hilcona and poultry convenience for Hubers Landhendl. Bell Germany is also relocating the production of meat convenience products from Bad Wünnenberg in Germany to the new loca-tion.

The Marchtrenk plant is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. A high degree of automation and a specific hygiene concept guarantee maximum efficiency, quality and safety. «The innovations from research together with the use of the latest technology and industry 4.0 allow us to operate with high efficiency on the market and set new standards» explains Franco Mühlgrabner.