HORTICULTURISTS LIKE IT COLOURFUL.
HAWITA technoplant is one of the leading producers of plastic plant containers. The company in Vechta (Germany) develops and produces articles for professional and private gardeners and has been counting on moulds from Otto Hofstetter AG for the last 20 years. Factory Manager Jens Berkensträter explains the benefits of this choice and throws some light on the peculiarities of horticulture in the interview.
Technoplant is a part of the HAWITA Group. What is the main field of activity of this group of companies?
The HAWITA Group is active in various areas of horticulture. The mother company HAWITA produces soil substrates and runs different operations in Eastern Europe and Germany. At a first glance, maybe, plastics don’t fit in. Looking at the distribution structure, however, they make sense. The customers to be approached are the same, and the wider the range, the more points of contact come up. If you don’t get a foot in the door with soil substrates, you might succeed with the plastic articles or vice versa. HAWITA is an old-established enterprise. Last year the group celebrated 25 years of existence, but some of the companies within the group are 80 years old.
What are your markets and where do the customers come from?
Germany is clearly our main market, but we also pushed exports quite considerably in the last years. At present, the HAWITA Group supplies even to customers in China and technoplant has been securing orders from the United States for 15 years. Europe, however, is clearly our core area.
How is technoplant set up organisationally within the HAWITA Group?
In principle, HAWITA is always sitting in the boat as well. technoplant hardly ever appears on its own and doesn’t have own distribution channels. Marketing and distribution are centrally organised over corresponding offices within the group.
«we spend considerable energy
on finding innovative ways.»
How many people does technoplant employ?
Our permanent staff is 25 people. However, our business is subject to strong seasonal fluctuations, which is why we employ up to 45 people in peak periods. We usually generate about 80 per cent of our annual sales in the first half of the year. Temporary workers pack and load our products during the busy phase when the new gardening season slowly starts to announce itself.
What is the biggest challenge in the production of pots?
We cope with this to a major extent also thanks to Otto Hofstetter AG. It is decisive for the top quality of our products that the wall thicknesses remain constant and that the moulds stand up to the high pressures and strains. A further challenge is the machine’s engineering to guarantee that the cavities for the thin walls are correctly filled with the suitable plastic material.
Which are your key products?
The hanging baskets of HAWITA technoplant are very well known and popular in the market. The plant pot business, on the other hand, is still relatively new for us. We only got a foothold in this segment three years ago. Our range comprises, among other articles, balcony boxes, herbal boxes, decorative pots for indoor applications, trimming aids and the cultivating and transport pallet “Palettino”, which is a returnable transport and cultivating system for horticulturists.
Which technical speciality within your product range would you call the absolute innovation?
In view of the very high share of material cost in our products, we attach the greatest importance to the lightest possible weight of each article. The thinner the wall – without impairment of the stability – the cheaper we can produce. This is why we spend considerable energy on finding innovative ways to further reduce the wall sections in order to save plastic material.
How do such innovations materialise?
It’s best if I explain this with an example. Some time ago we had the replacement of an injection mould on the agenda. The question was whether an overhaul or a new procurement would be more sensible. While a comprehensive overhaul of the mould costs less, the properties of the articles produced with it stay the same. With our goal of constant improvement we decided in favour of the, at first sight, perhaps more expensive solution. The result is that we can now produce with a new mould which allows us to decisively reduce the wall thickness once more.
«We CAREFULLY watch the
developments in the area of
Assuming that time to market is a success aspect also in your business, how long is the process from the first idea until serial production starts?
This always depends on the circumstances at Otto Hofstetter AG. The better the availability of the development specialists, the shorter the implementation process. We reckon with a total duration of about half a year on average.
In what direction will the market develop?
Easy-care products enjoy an ever higher demand and the colour spectrum is widening. So far, we produced in 60 different colours, from classic ones such as white, terracotta, green, anthracite and black right to fashion tones of blue, purple, pink, red and orange. Orange alone comes in 10 shades. We are very flexible and react quickly to any of our customers’ wishes. You satisfy individual requirements. How much design freedom do you allow your customers?
Our supplies comprise primarily the articles we market and distribute. We do market research to keep the range up to date. In this way we find out what is already in demand and what the customers want in future. On this basis we develop new articles all the time and introduce them to the market. If the reactions to our new creations are positive, we invest in the design and manufacture of new moulds.
The ecology and active protection of the environment matter to the HAWITA Group. This is evident, for example, in the returnable transport and cultivating system you have developed. What further measures have you taken in this direction?
A careful use of resources is very important to us. Before we invest in machines, we check their energy consumption. We also devote ourselves to returnable solutions in horticulture. We already launched a pioneering product with our “Palettino” 20 years ago. Such solutions are highly interesting from an ecological point of view. The capital effort, on the other hand, is clearly higher, which explains the somewhat hesitant acceptance in the market.
Plant-based plastic materials have been a current topic recently. What are your experiences in this respect?
We watch the developments in the area of alternative materials carefully. To date there exists no genuine substitute for the traditional materials for plant containers. The prices for near-natural raw materials are clearly higher, which affects the end price negatively. A trend which the market is unlikely to accept in spite of the increasing environmental consciousness.
Where do you foresee possible applications of such plastics and in which direction are developments going?
Alternative materials have a certain potential, by all means. In this regard too, we try to be very flexible and close to the customer. We discuss all developments with the market participants and determine whether or not a change or extension of our range of products makes sense. We then act depending on the feedback.
«we wouldn’t have been a
customer of Otto Hofstetter AG
for two decades if the overall
package wasn’t right.»
As an innovative producer, you are undoubtedly open to support in the translation of your projects. To what extent can your mould partner Otto Hofstetter AG assist you in this area?
We can count on supportive contact partners in Uznach if something ever happens. Our cooperation with Otto Hofstetter AG goes back to 1998. There are good reasons for this. Moulds offering a high availability are essential to us. This is guaranteed with the injection moulds of Otto Hofstetter AG. The price could be in another segment, of course, but we wouldn’t have been a customer of Otto Hofstetter AG for two decades if the overall package wasn’t right.
The total number of moulds has grown to 20 since your first order. What do you like about Otto Hofstetter AG?
Roughly speaking, we buy a mould each year. Reliable, dur-able and robust moulds are essential for a specialised supplier of injection-moulded products like us. We must be able to count on a strong performance at all times. Moulds manufactured by Otto Hofstetter AG provide us with exactly this quality.
In what areas could the people in Uznach improve?
It would be great if they could eliminate the customs barriers and halve the prices and delivery times. But, joking apart, I don’t have any concrete advice. They should do what is a must for any operation, of course: advance constantly. On the technological side, Otto Hofstetter AG has already caught up substantially in the last years.
A brief outlook: What is the biggest challenge to be met in the years ahead by HAWITA technoplant on the one hand and the branch of the industry on the other?
There are several challenges: The cost of electricity, the bur-eaucracy and the administrative effort are increasing all the time. Competition is becoming stiffer, too. We are increasingly facing questions of material, and the returnability issue will stay with us. Protection of the environment in general will remain a topic. Peat is a constant discussion point in the production of soil substrates. For years already, we’ve been relying increasingly on alternative basic substrate materials such as green compost, bark humus, wood and coconut fibres, and we keep testing further alternatives to save the valuable peat. As you can see, we’re unlikely to run out of tasks in the near future.
Many thanks for the discussion, Mr Berkensträter, and best wishes for your continued success.