German gummi bear baron Hans Riegel dies at 90
Berlin • Hans Riegel turned little gold bears into a global candy juggernaut.
In a career spanning almost seven decades, Riegel was the driving force that made Haribo’s gummi bears a sugary staple in Germany and around the world, beloved for their bright colors, teddy-bear shape and an earworm jingle that insisted "kids and grown-ups love it so."
The man whose marketing acumen helped make his family-owned company a global household name died on Tuesday at 90. Haribo said Riegel died of heart failure in Bonn, where the company is based. He had been recovering from an operation to remove a benign brain tumor.
From humble early days, Haribo rode West Germany’s post-World War II boom to become a candy giant. The company claims to churn out 100 million bears each day to feed a hunger for jellied treats in far-flung and unlikely places around the world.
"Wherever I traveled in the last few years, the gold bears had already long been there," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a tribute to Riegel’s achievement in making Haribo "a German global brand."
Riegel was the son of the company founder, also named Hans Riegel, who in 1920 set up Haribo — an acronym for "Hans Riegel Bonn." In 1922, his father invented the "dancing bear," a small bear made out of fruit gum that laid the foundations for Haribo’s later success.
The company founder died in 1945. Upon being released as allied prisoners after World War II, Riegel and his younger brother, Paul, set about rebuilding the family firm. Haribo had only about 30 employees immediately after the war but, as West Germany’s economy took off, the number was up to 1,000 five years later.
Paul Riegel, who died in 2009, focused on production while Hans Riegel took charge of marketing and sales — for instance, promoting the company’s wares with the slogan "kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo."
Haribo said Riegel took inspiration from children’s magazines and comics, once saying: "I love children. They are my customers. I have to be informed about what they want to nibble, what they think, what language they speak."
In the 1960s and 1970s, Haribo acquired businesses in the Netherlands, France and Britain; and in 1982, it added a sales office in the United States, setting up Haribo of America, Inc. in Baltimore.
The company also makes a broad selection of other gummy treats, from liquorice to fizzy cola to sour cherries. But none have the cultural pull — or, arguably, cuteness — of the bite-sized bears.
Their worldwide success may have been boosted by the fact that, in 1985, Disney launched an animated television series called "Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears." No direct link to the sweets was ever made, but the cartoons, too, were shown around the globe.
In 2000, the Haribo company was criticized for refusing to contribute to a fund set up by German businesses and the government to compensate forced laborers during the Nazi period. Haribo insisted there was no evidence it had ever benefited from forced labor.
Riegel remained a co-owner of the company and actively involved in the business until the end.
The privately owned company now employs more than 6,000 people, about half of them in Germany, and has 15 production sites in 10 European countries.
Riegel was awarded Germany’s highest honor, the Federal Cross of Merit, in 1994. That was recognition not only of his business career but of his commitment to social issues, such as encouraging the training of talented young people, and sports. Riegel was a passionate player and promoter of badminton.