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Ökoring: new building and sustainability raise the company profile

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Shortly before the new building in Mammendorf to the west of Munich was to be inaugurated with a party on 19 May 2012, the man at the helm died. Robert Dax, the founder and driving force behind the company, passed away on 9 May 2012. However, the management of the regional wholesaler – 20 years old next year - had for a long time been the responsibility of Thomas Börkey-Biermann and Christoph Weigl. With new building, a firm commitment to ecological, social and economic values and a united team, Ökoring, the wholefood wholesaler in the south of Germany, is well prepared for the future. The investment it has made in sustainability is reflected in the common welfare economy balance sheet that the wholesaler drew up for the first time in 2011. (Picture: The extension to the old company building creates a lot of space for loading and dispatching lorries)
When a key figure in a firm is no longer there, a redistribution of functions inevitably takes place. “The redistribution process doesn’t worry me because we’ve got a good team and, in Christoph Weigl and Thomas Börkey-Biermann, we’ve got two managers who together with Robert Dax were in charge of the company over many years,” says Karin Romeder, who is head of marketing and has been with the firm since 1993. Like the company itself, next year she celebrates her 20th anniversary. (Picture: The longstanding management team at Ökoring)

In1999 Ökoring moved from its first location in Allach, in the north of Munich, to the business park in Mammendorf (see our earlier report), 40 kilometres north-west of Munich. Here the regional wholesaler experienced strong average annual growth in turnover of 12 % to 38 million euros in 2011, with the result that for some time every corner of the warehouse and administrative building was being used. New shelving and new chilled rooms kept being added on to cope with the growing product range but, after taking over the wholesaler Zaich & Woar in Nuremberg in 2010, extending the premises became imperative. There is still an intermediate storage facility in Nuremberg, but Mammendorf is the main locus of business. The new building was planned before the takeover.

“An extension was long overdue,” says Thomas Börkey-Biermann. “It’s amazing how long we managed in such a restricted space. Our employees deserve a lot of praise.” In the middle of July 2011 came the ceremonial groundbreaking on the site of the new building. In May 2012 the fresh food logistics got underway. The interior of the offices, the conference and social facilities and the canteen on the top floor is still not complete. With the new buildings, partly on the company’s own land and partly on leasehold land, Ökoring has expanded its area from almost 2,000 m² to 5,300 m². In addition, they have the Ökoring empty packaging and waste disposal logistics (1,200 m²) that are operated by the firm Andreas Hantzschmann (picture on right). “This complete separation has many advantages. We may well be one of the first wholesalers to introduce this kind of separate system,” says Christoph Weigl. They are also proud of the innovative environmental technology in their new warehouse. The initiative was principally the brainchild of the late Robert Dax, who was intimately involved in its development. Implementing the project became the job of his son who works for a firm specializing in geothermal energy. (Picture from left: Thomas Börkey-Biermann, Christoph Weigl, Karin Romeder and Jan van Ooijen are optimistic about the future)

The new warehouse has been planned as cold storage (sandwich construction method) and is equipped with a cold pump. A circulation system with two extraction wells and two return wells provides the basic cooling. The heat from the cooling process is used to heat the old buildings and the offices. If too much heat is produced, it can be sold to the operator of the empty packaging and waste disposal logistics. The old buildings are already equipped with environmentally friendly technology and operate with energy-producing and energy-saving systems – a photovoltaic installation that delivers a quarter of the energy used, LED lights and computer-aided management of electricity. Naturally, Ökoring uses only eco-electricity. In total, all these measures save 138 t of CO2 a year. For comparison: it takes a tree a month to compensate for 1.1 kg of CO2. (Picture: Fruit and vegetables are core commodities for Ökoring)

The labyrinth of cold storage rooms in the old building has been replaced in the new building by a clearly organized series of chilled cells that provide optimal conditions for the various product ranges. Jan van Ooijen (picture on right), who works in the field service dealing with fresh foods and is affectionately known as the “Flying Dutchman”, is very happy with this solution because it emphasizes Ökoring’s expertise in fresh foods, that constitute 70 % of the company’s turnover. Thomas Börkey-Biermann explains: “Because we have separate facilities for receiving deliveries by articulated lorries carrying fresh produce and by smaller lorries sent by direct suppliers in the region, plus the sophisticated system of cool boxes, it has become much easier to handle and check the quality of the roughly 300 pallets that arrive here every day.” Christoph Weigl adds with a grin: “The 120 Ökoring employees benefit from the new building’s clear layout and the pleasant working atmosphere, even though the logistics staff have had to get used to the longer distances.”

Karin Romeder too is full of praise for the congenial working atmosphere. “At Ökoring people are very cooperative.” She explains that setting up the common welfare economy balance sheet (the concept of Christian Felber) has helped to create cohesiveness within the firm. Ökoring was one of ten pioneer companies to set up a common welfare economy balance sheet for 2011. A team of eight people from different departments produced the balance sheet for Ökoring. “We were able to make use of some results of work done on the code of practice drawn up by BNN (Organic Processors and Traders Association), but in the process we changed a few things – for example we switched to a more environmentally friendly printer,” says Romeder. (Picture: Ökoring team at BioFach 2012)

Employee involvement in the form of financial participation rights and using an alternative bank for business transactions were positives that were already in place. Other things on the credit side when it came to drawing up the balance sheet were the inclusion of suppliers by means of an annual award for the best producer, promoting open pollinated varieties, the regional organic initiative “Ich mag´s bio” (I like organic) in collaboration with Kornkraft Naturkost or support for the foundation Bio für Kinder (organics for children), that helps to convert kindergartens and school kitchens to organic. Cooperation instead of competition is the Ökoring motto and it fits perfectly in the common welfare balance sheet project. (Picture: The office team receives orders even on Saturday afternoons)

The fact that from the outset Ökoring has had a regional focus and has concentrated on very personal customer service also featured on the positive side of the balance sheet, so that nearly 700 of the possible 1000 points appeared on the common welfare account of the company. Karin Romeder sums up: “It will certainly take some time for the common welfare economy to become well known, but some customers have talked to us about it and have shown their appreciation. The process was very interesting for us and has got things moving across all departments. We’ve been able to increase our understanding of one another, and we have grown together more strongly. We shall continue with both the BNN code of practice and the common welfare economy balance sheet.” (Picture on right: Over the years, supplying the catering trade has been built up, and the proportion of fresh food has expanded. Supplying kindergartens, school kitchens and gastronomy now accounts for 18 % of turnover).

(Picture: Interface of the old and new buildings)



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