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Two entrepreneurs who have been successfully selling contract-filled energy drinks and other “smart beverages”, especially abroad, have purchased the Überkinger company, one of Germany’s most tradition-steeped mineral water bottlers.
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In the Swabian spa of Bad Überkingen, something quite out-of-the-ordinary has happened: two entrepreneurs who have been successfully selling contract-filled energy drinks and other “smart beverages”, especially abroad, have purchased the Überkinger company, one of Germany’s most tradition-steeped mineral water bottlers. They did this actually so as to install there a new canning line for their own trendy brands, marketed by their IQ 4 YOU firm. But if you do have a renowned brand like Überkinger in the portfolio you bought, then you should definitely make use of it, concurred the two managing partners, Christian Becker and Stefan Tönnesmann, so they promptly started a relaunch campaign for this water.

The newly designed loft-style offices in the former workshops on the second floor as spacious as they’re minimalistic; the atmosphere is much more reminiscent of a think tank than the management of a mineral water bottler. This is where new beverages are thought up, new packaging strategies and new marketing scenarios. This is also congenial to Christian Becker, who since 1995 with his company IQ 4 YOU has been developing and marketing his own beverages, but until now had never actually bottled them. He comes from a food and beverage wholesaling background, and started his career by taking over a new large filling station in Landsberg am Lech more than 20 years ago. When what is meanwhile the world’s biggest energy-drink brand made its debut on the market in 1994 (initially only available in Austria), the entrepreneur was thrilled, indeed inspired by this idea. In his filling station, he was a witness to daily confirmation of consumers’ huge demand for this novel type of drink. He began to import Red Bull and its competing brand Flying Horse, and to supply them to discotheques in Germany. But he was only just getting started. Back in 1995, he came up with an energy drink he’d developed himself, “Vodka Energy”, which – as you can guess by the name – had an alcohol content and was contract-canned in a Bavarian brewery. Christian Becker carved out a market for his energy drinks, for the variants both without and with alcohol, in the Middle East, and initially had the cans contract-filled in Austria, and as from 2007 at a German mineral water producer.

From two million to 70 million cans in five years

It was at this mineral water firm that he met his present business associate, Stefan Tönnesmann, who was the technical manager there, and who had previously worked in the spirits industry for 17 years. In the meantime, sales of the IQ 4 YOU beverage range had been steadily climbing, from two million cans in 2007 to an impressive 70 million in 2012. Slowly but surely, the time had come when it was proving problematic to have the quantities ordered actually delivered on time. In addition, IQ 4 YOU was likewise having some of the drinks contract-bottled in PET and in glass. This was why Christian Becker, together with his new business associate Stefan Tönnesmann, decided to look for a production facility in Germany, not least because the “Made in Germany” label was an particularly important consideration for them with a view to the export markets. It was more or less a coincidence that their ultimate choice fell on Überkinger, with company premises of 80,000 square metres and an indoor area of over 30,000 square metres: “We’d actually been looking for something a bit smaller”, explains Christian Becker. But the facility boasted multifaceted options for further development, ideal access to the motorway and to a close-by container terminal for export consignments, plus an existing intra-facility infrastructure – and it was up for grabs at a price in the single-digit millions. The new proprietors took possession of the plant on 15 February 2013. “If you were to build it all form scratch, it would take up all of your time. What’s more, it would take years. As it is, we lost no time in getting PET glass and cans all into our own hands”, comments Stefan Tönnesmann. “So it was definitely the right decision.“

New line rated at 52,000 cans an hour

Even though IQ 4 YOU had not yet installed a canning operation when the plant was taken over in February, the company obtained the requisite quotations immediately, and took a relatively swift decision in favour of Krones. Especially as the majority of the machines in the existing PET line rated at 32,000 containers an hour and in the 40,000-bph glass line were in fact from Krones. “The canning line was erected on a “just in time” basis. 50 trucks turned up, and 30 fitters installed it with incredibly calm professionalism. You could see they knew exactly what they were doing”, reminisces Stefan Tönnesmann. The new canning line, rated at 52,000 cans an hour, went into operation in mid-September 2013. “The line was running smoothly right from Day One”, continues Stefan Tönnesmann. “We’re very satisfied with it.”

It has been equipped to handle 150-, 200- and 250-millilitre slim-cans, plus 250-, 330- and 355-millilitre sleek-cans, and 250-, 330-, 500- and 568-millilitre classic cans as well. Pallet by pallet, a lift takes the bulk cans from the raw-materials store on the ground floor to the first floor, where the complete line has been installed. A Pressant Universal 1A bulk can depalletiser unloads the cans from above, layer by layer. On this elevated level, a bulk conveyor with a spacing feature passes the cans first into a Cantronic empty-can inspector, and then into an inclined rinser, which takes them down to the filler infeed’s level while simultaneously rinsing them. IQ 4 YOU opted for a volumetric Volumetic VODM-C can filler with a Ferrum seamer. After that, a Checkmat inspects the cans for the correct fill level by means of x-rays, before they enter a single-deck LinaFlex pasteuriser, standing upside down, so that the higher pressure prevailing inside the pasteuriser is able to reveal any leaks. Downstream of the pasteuriser, the cans are conveyed through a Linadry drier, after which they are passed through yet another fill level inspector, this time a Checkmat. To complete the process, they are once again dried in a Linadry.

Multifarious options for an ultra-varied range of end-of-the-line packs

Absolutely dry, accurately filled and guaranteed without any leaks, the cans are now ready for packing. The two non-returnables packers, a Variopac Pro TFS and a Variopac Pro WT, offer multifarious options for this purpose. The TFS model produces 18-can or 24-can trays with or without film, plus four-can, six-can and eight-can packs. The WT model places these small packs on trays without film when and as needed, or packs loose cans in wrap-around cartons. The finished end-of-the-line packs are prepared by a Robobox layer-forming unit for being palletised on a Modulpal. Once complete, the pallets are wrapped, and then labelled and date-coded by a pallet labeller. This means they have now arrived at (and been registered in) the plant’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. What’s more, a production data acquisition system from Krones monitors and documents the entire line. “When you’re filling large quantities, it’s particularly important to have the production data involved available, so you can track and easily reconstruct not only the goods flows concerned, but also the line’s properly functional status”, is Stefan Tönnesmann’s firm conviction.

As the last step, a lift takes the pallets down to the finished-goods store on the ground floor. The line is supplied by a Contiflow four-component mixer, which can produce a huge number of different products. This machine is the Krones interface to the existing syrup kitchen, which has been upgraded to the latest state of the art and supplemented to include a water treatment system.

Überkinger was synonymous with bottled water

It’s true, this high export figure has gone down a bit, to about two thirds, with the take-over of the Überkinger mineral water company. But IQ 4 YOU now has a new product in its range: mineral water. The brand was given a radical revamp, relaunching it with a fresh, uniformly structured visual appearance. IQ 4 YOU added the 1.5-litre and 0.5-litre PET bottle, plus upmarket 0.75-litre and 0.25-litre catering-trade bottles with wide neck and hot-foil-stamped, self-adhesive labels to its range of container variants. By taking over Überkinger, the energy drink producer IQ 4 YOU has definitely moved up a league.


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