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Sonnentor: Excellent Sustainability

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The tea and herb specialist in the region of Austria known as the Waldviertel is not just a business success but also outstanding in terms of sustainability. Last year, the company received the Austrian climate protection prize, saved among other things 286 tonnes of CO2 and was the first company to draw up a common welfare-economy balance sheet. A packaging re-launch is scheduled to be completed by the autumn of 2012, with the aim of raising even higher the already very high volume of recycling and communicating this endeavour to end-consumers on the packaging itself. (Picture: The new electric cars are a further step in the direction of sustainability)

The latest recognition of Sonnentor’s commitment to sustainability was the international Sustainable Entrepreneurship Award (SEA) that it received in May 2012 and shows it belongs to the ten most sustainable of 150 businesses. But far from resting on their laurels, they are already going further down the sustainability path. (Picture: In the entrance area visitors are welcomed by a statement of one of Sonnentor’s guiding principles)

The list of the self-imposed standards that Sonnentor practises in the spheres of ecology, economy and social responsibility is impressively long and is being constantly added to. You see this clearly in the common welfare report and in the relatively recent commitment by the company to the still new Common Welfare-Economy (Gemeinwohl Ökonomie) movement. Sonnentor’s founder Johannes Gutmann got to know Christian Felber’s idea of the common welfare-economy and was very enthusiastic about it. That’s how Sonnentor became one of the pioneer companies that helped to develop and test the balance sheet model in the initial phase. In 2011, the company drew up a common welfare balance sheet for the first time.

"We’re not just putting our measures into practice after the concept of sustainability became fashionable," Manuela Seebacher insists. "The concept is rooted in the company philosophy that has expressed the fundamental values of Sonnentor since 1988 and we’re constantly striving to optimize our products in such a way that we achieve the best for our customers and the environment.” Seebacher works at the company headquarters in Sprögnitz and is responsible for public relations. Working together with a number of colleagues, she produced Sonnentor’s first common welfare-economy balance sheet.(Pictures: Visitors can see for themselves sustainability at many points in the company: inner yard with pond, charging point for electric cars, screen with current energy balance)

Over the last 24 years much has changed at the company headquarters in Sprögnitz. A flagship company has evolved that likes to seek direct contact with its end-customers. Over 30,000 visitors now come every year to the remote little village of Sprögnitz in the Waldviertel region to look round Sonnentor. The spring festival alone attracted 3,000 people, with many enjoying the family-friendly atmosphere, the play area (picture) and the herb garden. The visitors could find out about the firm or buy company specialities in the big Sonnentor shop (picture below on right). The cafe too (picture below on left), that joins on to the shop, is designed to cope with a big rush of customers, with room for a whole coach load of visitors. These visitors to the herb village are only a small but nevertheless important part of Sonnentor’s customers. They spread the message by word of mouth – in the German-speaking countries, at least – and they create the positive image in line with the slogan “Da wächst die Freude” – joy grows here. (Picture below on left: The Sonnentor café – the food pleasure centre – adjacent to the store in Zwettl)

To promote the company’s image it also has a presence on Facebook (15,500 fans within three years), comprehensive info material on teas and herbs, a customer newspaper and not least Sonnentor’s own four shops and nine franchise shops in Austrian cities, Munich and Tokyo. Another Sonnenstor store will be launched in the late summer in Vienna, supplementing the existing shop in the Landstrasser Hauptstaße (pictures below). The new store will be in downtown Vienna, not far from St Stephen’s Cathedral. A franchisee has been running a store in the Stachus-Passagen in Munich since May 2011 (see our earlier report).

The most important arm of Sonnentor’s business is, however, exporting. The biggest market by a long way is Germany, with the German specialist trade accounting for around 50 % of the 75 % share of exports in the total turnover of 24.7 million euros. When the financial year 2011/2012 ended in March the company recorded growth of 6 %. Sonnentor products are listed by wholefood and health food retailers across all the German-speaking countries. The firm Claus Pural, for example, extended its range in the spring from 80 to 300 products.

The next most important export countries in terms of turnover are Switzerland and Italy. The drivers of growth are currently Japan and Eastern Europe, each with a growth rate of 40 %. Sonnentor is well prepared for new countries receiving their exports: in-house, they are already producing their labels in 22 languages. “It gives us a lot of flexibility and we can respond fully to the needs of our export partners,” says Manuela Seebacher. Soonentor exports to about 50 countries. A part of the export strategy is having an exclusive importer and permanent contact in each country who can communicate the Sonnentor philosophy authentically to the retail trade. (Picture: From the warehouse in Sprögnitz products go all over the world)

Fundamental to authenticity and the firm’s philosophy are ethically correct and, as far as possible, regional sourcing of raw materials as well as packaging the products by hand (picture). “Filling by hand has to do with our tradition, but also we want to create as many jobs as possible in the Waldviertel region where there are few economic opportunities,” Seebacher explains. In this they have succeeded: with 140 jobs, Sonnentor is one of the biggest employers, and 90 % of the employees come from the immediate vicinity. “Filling by hand goes back to Granny Zach, whose knowledge of herbs played a crucial  role in helping to create Sonnentor’sproducts. Whole dried flowers and leaves, for example, can only be put into bags by hand, and a knock-on effect is the low CO2 balance of our products, says Seebacher.

As well as teas, herbs and spices, Sonnentor now has a large number of food items and beverages in its product range that comprises around 700 articles.Sonnentor is never short of innovations: new tea mixtures, biscuits and packet soups are being prepared for the autumn. At the moment, they are paying particular attention to the packaging that in future will meet even higher sustainability standards than ever before. 80 % of their packaging is currently recyclable, and the 16 % that is glass and metal is a good figure in the sustainability assessment. “It’s now a question of eliminating the remaining 4 %,” Manuela Seebacher points out. Cellulose foils are to be replaced by degradable foils from renewable raw materials, and pictograms will help customers identify which foils are degradable. (Picture: New pictograms for degradable packaging)

Alternative business models have always been an important issue for Gutmann, and this is the reason why he wants to continue widening his company’s profile. In 2013, the firm celebrates its 25th anniversary. Gutmann’s services to business were honoured in October 2011 with the award of the Ernst &Young prize “Entrepreneur of the Year”. Also, company founder Gutmann represented Austria at the election of the “World Entrepreneur of the Year” in June 2012 in Monte Carlo. (Picture: Award of the prize “Entrepreneur of the Year” in Vienna 2011)




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