Innovation is about establishing a culture of change. For Gary Gottenbusch, a Certified Master Baker who has dedicated his life to baking, these are words to live by. Formally trained in Münster, Germany, where his father and grandfather studied baking and achieved master status, Gottenbusch now serves as CEO of a leading pretzel company, Ditsch USA, LLC, which traces its roots to 1919. That’s 100 years of pretzel making experience.
This year, Cincinnati, Ohio-based Ditsch USA is coming out in a big way with the introduction of retail ready pretzels: pretzel bites, mini sticks, dinner rolls, pretzel buns, individually wrapped and 1.5-pound party trays. These are pretzels for the masses, and only authentic Bavarian pretzels — crispy on the outside, soft inside — make the grade.
“We make pretzels the way we always have — with only five ingredients,” Gottenbusch says. “We are bringing the classic shape and the same taste profile. It’s about flavor, but ultimately it’s about making it scalable.”
Craft at scale has been a mantra shared by artisan bakers like Gottenbusch as they seek to bring great-tasting and authentic bakery products into more mainstream channels, so they can be enjoyed by all.
Coming from the rich traditions of pretzel making in Germany, Gottenbusch understands the importance of culture and dedication to product excellence. Ditsch USA is targeting the experiential factor. “How do we replicate the experience of Oktoberfest in the United States?”
“Now we are expanding pretzels into different applications — small pieces for grab and go, like popcorn,” says Gottenbusch, recognizing that snacking is a trend that most certainly will continue to grow in the United States.
It’s true that consumers are giving themselves permission to enjoy indulgent snacks, according to a 2019 report from The NPD Group. Their permission to enjoy savory and sweet snacks is the result of the wellness-driven acknowledgement that balance is the key. Brands are supporting their consumers’ quest for balance by offering snacks that walk the line between health and indulgence, like portion-control packs, thinner versions, or nutrient-enhanced savory and sweet snacks, according to NPD’s Future of Snacking report.
“The role of snack food is changing in different ways in reaction to Americans’ desire for balance, portable snack foods, and holistic wellness,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “It’s no longer about depriving yourself of something you enjoy eating. Today it’s about giving yourself permission to eat indulgent snack foods in moderation.”
At Ditsch USA, pretzels are baked at the Ohio baking plant, flash frozen, packaged and delivered to stores across the country. The pretzel packages then go directly to the store shelf, conveniently. Customers can reheat or enjoy right out of the bag.
“Our challenge is to be skillful in the way we go to market,” Gottenbusch says.
“There are small pretzel makers opening, but no one can do the quality at the high level and volume we’re capable of doing with our German partners.”
A history of innovation
In the 1800s and 1900s, several generations of the Gottenbusch family worked as artisan bakers. One such Gottenbusch, poised to run the family bakery in Münster, ventured to America to deepen his skills instead. His name was Wilhelm, and in Cincinnati he stayed and fell in love. In 1963, Wilhelm’s new dream, an American dream, took hold. He, along with wife Gloria, opened Servatii, an artisan pastry shop that would go on to become one of Cincinnati’s most beloved.
Years later, Wilhelm’s son Gary, then 18, ventured across the Atlantic Ocean to deepen his skills. Returning to Münster, his ancestors’ home, he apprenticed at an esteemed 150-year-old bakery. It was there where Gary became spellbound by the centuries’ old art of pretzel making. He soaked up the wisdom of his brilliant but demanding masters.
Gary Gottenbusch took what he learned and for nearly the next four decades perfected Servatii’s pretzel-making craft. Out of this, in 2016, a new brand was born: Pretzel Baron, holder of patents, winner of awards, in-demand supplier of artisan pretzel products nationwide.
In early 2017, Pretzel Baron joined sister company Ditsch as a member of the Valora Group, the world’s leading baker of artisan pretzel products. Ditsch’s pretzel-making roots also run deep. In 1919, master baker Wilhem Ditsch founded a bakery in Mainz, Germany. Later, thanks to son Heinz’ famous “pretzelmen,” who in white clothing strolled the cobbled streets and restaurants of the city, demand for Ditsch’s artisan pretzels soared countrywide.
Presently, Ditsch is one of the largest pretzel manufacturers worldwide and operates more than 200 pretzel stores in Germany and more than 60 pretzel stores in Switzerland, according to the company.
The union of Pretzel Baron and Ditsch, now called Ditsch USA, is a union of artisan pretzel-making royalty, one that thrills Gary because “it elevates the excellence of pretzel making in the US.”
At the same time, Ditsch USA is determined to create more than simply the world’s best pretzels, he says. Ditsch USA is a company determined to create a more memorable pretzel experience. Pretzels build bridges — from generations to generations, from young to old, from Europe to the United States.