"Soap has seen a Renaissance"
Ms. John, how long have you been working at CREMER, and how did you start out here?
I started at CREMER 21 years ago as a wholesale and foreign trade trainee. Back then CREMER OLEO was still called “Oils and Fats” and was a department within Peter Cremer GmbH.
After my training I really only planned to stay for one or two years to gain some work experience. That turned into more than 20 years (laughs).
What functions have you taken on at CREMER OLEO since then?
First I spent a few years in order processing. Then I was invited to become Product Manager for soap noodles. At first I wasn’t sure I could handle it. But if somebody asks you to do something, you take a look at it. I jumped in at the deep end and have been in the position for 13 years now.
What’s soap made of, anyway?
In our case soap consists primarily of vegetable oils like palm or palm seed oil. It can also be olive or coconut oil. Traditionally soap was made of animal fats. But the trend has been towards plant-based and vegan products for a long time, and nowadays most soaps are made with plant-based oils.
What countries do your raw materials come from?
The palm-based soap noodles come from Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, we offer an organic palm oil version from Colombia. That’s also where our organic glycerine is made. For special customer requests and palm-free products we source soap noodles from Greece. Our shea butter comes from Africa, mainly Ghana and Burkina Faso.
What’s a soap noodle, and what is it used for?
Soap noodles are basically finished soap pellets our customers use to make bar soap. They have only to add their own scent and perhaps color, mix it, press it, and the soap bars are finished. Our soap noodles account for about 95 percent of the soap, the rest is packaging and marketing.
Demand for solid soaps and shampoos has risen sharply."
Who are your customers?
We have a very wide range of customers, from big, well-known manufacturers to small soap makers and family-run businesses. We supply our products to customers around the world. Some buy thousands of tons of raw materials a year. Others just need half a pallet. It’s especially rewarding to see small soap makers grow past the garage stage to become sizeable companies. Those are our most loyal customers, because often we’ve been with them from the beginning.
How is CREMER OLEO’s customer assistance organized?
We have offices around the world that serve their various markets. Our colleagues in Singapore take care of Asia, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Peter Cremer North America (PCNA) works the US and Canadian markets. In West Europe we serve customers from Hamburg, but also have a colleague in France, since the French market is particularly important for soaps and cosmetics. Peter Cremer Central Europe s.r.o. in Czechia serves the East European market.
What current challenges do you see on the soap market?
Since I’ve been working in this business, I’ve seen solid soap get more and more pushed aside by liquid soap. But that has been changing for a few years. Soap has seen a renaissance. Demand is rising for products that are as natural as possible.
Another trend is coming in on top of this. Since movements like Fridays for Future have been more in the public eye, it’s no longer just about what’s good for us, but also about how we can act sustainably, save resources, and protect the environment.
How do trends like this affect your business?
Demand for solid soaps and shampoos has risen sharply. Bar soap needs very little, sometimes no, packaging. It’s also very high yield and can be used up all the way.
Today’s solid shampoos aren’t regular soaps that make the hair dull, but mixtures of plant-based and synthetic ingredients. To meet the rising demand, together with our partner in Greece we’re launching a product range in this category right now. This is another part of our portfolio, which is largely unique on the market. In addition to the classic products from Asia, organic products from Colombia, palmfree products, and shampoo bases,
What’s a typical working day like for you?
Last year I mostly worked from my home office, due to the corona pandemic. Communication with customers or vendors is by e-mail or telephone. In addition to customer inquiries there’s a lot of internal communication, be it with the colleagues in Singapore who are in contact with our Asian suppliers, with the Operations team to discuss transactions and issues, with Quality Management, or with Marketing, often about new projects.
Before corona I traveled frequently to meet customers and vendors. There were also trade shows where we were either attendees or exhibitors.
Our soap portfolio is largely unique on the market."
You’ve been at CREMER for over 20 years. Did you have the chance to meet the founder, Peter Cremer?
Oh yes! Peter Cremer was no longer taking an active part in the business when I started my apprenticeship. But he often came by to check on things.
Can you remember any special encounters with him?
Yes, there was one particular time that I won’t forget. We trainees would often man the phones during lunch break. One time Peter Cremer came up to me at the counter and asked me to call his wife at home and tell her she could put the potatoes on. I was very taken aback and scarcely dared do it. But I called his wife, who turned out to be very nice and easy to talk to, and she thanked me for the call. She acted like it was the most normal thing in the world.
What was it like being a trainee at CREMER?
Just as today, the trainees were indispensable. But back then I had neither my own PC nor internet access. We were supposed to go through all of the departments of the company. But that didn’t happen. My first stint was with the Oils and Fats department. The day after I moved on to the next department, the phone rang. It was Oils and Fats. They said, “we need her back”. And so back I went (laughs).
As a trainee back then you knew everybody. Today we’ve grown so much that from my home office I don’t even know all of my new colleagues at OLEO.
I can't pass a soap shelf without looking."
What three things do you like most about your job?
First, the variety. Although I’ve mostly worked in the soap noodles business for 20 years now, it never gets boring.
Second, the trust. I was given a free hand right from the beginning. At CREMER you’re an entrepreneur within the company. That means you can organize your department autonomously and independently. I can make most decisions on my own without having to get permission or check back with anybody.
Third, the flexibility that CREMER gives me. Flexible work schedules and mobile working are a huge help when you have a family. I worked one day a week from home even before corona. All of that is possible here.
Speaking of at home, what soap is your personal favorite?
My family and I only use bar soap and solid shampoo. Since I bring so much product in from customer visits, we use all kinds of different soaps, whatever’s in the house at any given moment. But we did switch to bar soap when we started washing our hands a lot due to corona. The kids especially were getting red, dry hands from the liquid soap.
That has gotten much better since we started using bar soap. Apparently other people have found this to be the case as well, because the demand for our soap noodles has risen tremendously since the onset of corona.
Cross your heart: What’s it like to go through a drugstore?
That really is difficult (laughs). When I stay in a hotel or go through a store I first always check what soap they have there. I look at the ingredients to see if they use animal or plant soap noodles, who the manufacturer is, and whether they’re a customer of ours. I can’t pass a soap shelf without looking!