Germany-based Vollherbst Labels to SA clients: ‘We are here to help’

As wineries around the world are battling the fallout of COVID-19 – its physical and political manifestations in the form of social distancing and government-imposed lockdowns – Vollherbst Labels sees the novel pandemic as a catalyst for innovation.

German-based Vollherbst Labels had its fair share of hardships: the family-owned company was founded in 1921 during one of the bleakest times in history. While the world was still reeling World War I’s many adverse effects, further devastation came with the dreadful Spanish flu of 1918 which, as the Coronavirus, wreaked havoc around the world.

It wasn’t an easy time to be positive, hopeful or creative. However, in 1921, it was an unquenchable lust for life which resulted in Franz Anton Vollherbst starting a new, innovative print and label company at a time when the world was making its way from the trenches. It would not be the last time Vollherbst Labels and its clients faced turbulence. The company also navigated World War II, and today, nearly a century after its birth, Vollherbst Labels is navigating yet another crisis.

Managing crisis in the modern age

This same resilience is still at the core of the Vollherbst family, who today pride themselves as prominent supplier of highly refined labels for multiple clients in the beverage and luxury food sector globally. These very industries have been hit hardest by COVID-19 as government-imposed lockdowns severely hindered market trade.

“When our clients are suffering, we are suffering,” says Matthias Vollherbst, fourth-generation Vollherbst to hold position as owner and CEO of Vollherbst Labels. This suffering, says Matthias, is not necessarily financially as Vollherbst’s commitment to their winery partners stretches far beyond mere “supplier obligations”. “We are really dedicated to the success of our winery partners, and therefore we are emotionally involved. It is difficult for us to see them suffer. We all have to be courageous and we particularly wish our partners courage and persistence.”

In South Africa, this “suffering” has been especially pertinent. In late March, government announced a total ban on local wine sales during its Level 5 lockdown period. At the time of writing, South Africa was nearing its third month of its national lockdown, with the country’s wine producers facing an increasingly challenging future. “The main goal for us now is to support our clients in this difficult situation – and this goes beyond label printing. We must understand their situation and how we can help them solve problems. Some clients haven’t had any sales for months. For every situation, we offer unique solutions to ease the burden during this difficult time,” says Matthias. These solutions include extended payment terms, cost-effective downsizing options and specialist label trials to find suitable solutions. “Really as much as we can to help our brand owners to come out this crisis as strong as possible.”

This complete lockdown also affected trade between Germany and South Africa, says Matthias. A production of labels completed before the lockdown, and shipped from Germany to South Africa were stopped ‘in transit’ – but these have in a meantime been delivered to respective brand owners who needed it for exports, as well as for stock readied for the lifting of the ban of alcohol sales on 1 June 2020. “Luckily in Germany we have been able to produce throughout the pandemic, without losing as much as a shift. This means that all the ordered labels have already shipped to our clients in SA.”

Streamlining internal processes

Although Germany also endured a lockdown period, it was much shorter. Vollherbst used this “recess” to improve and strengthen the company’s performance. “It gave us more quality time as a team as we were less rushed. We have noticed how our team has developed and found innovative ways to approach their daily tasks. Online meetings are now the norm, print jobs are organised from home, the use of paper has been reduced, and automatic calculation tools have been implemented. A lot of the steps we have taken the last weeks would’ve normally taken months, or even years. A lot is possible if one is willing to try.”

With emotional, physical and professional pliability, Vollherbst is geared towards a post COVID-19 era. “We have to rethink what we once perceived as being ‘normal’. We believe COVID-19 can help the industry to take better care of each other – not only after oneself, but also after employees, partners and even competitors.”