A talk with Mr. Nils Obermann – Managing director at Unitas
Following the recently-completed acquisition, Mac Baren is now responsible for manufacturing and distributing the products of Planta, a historic tobacco manufacturer headquartered in Berlin, which has been offering pipe smokers the highest quality products since 1956.
By joining Mac Baren’s portfolio, Planta blends will soon become available again. Our goal is to develop these products while maintaining Planta’s traditional flavour and implementing innovations that combine the skills and know-how of the two companies’ master blenders in order to offer consumers the best possible experience.
In this interview, Nils Obermann, head of Unitas Tobacco, the company responsible for distributing Planta products in Germany, shares with us why and how Mac Baren made this acquisition and will take us through the history of a brand which for decades has been synonymous with quality for pipe smokers.
Nils is a young and enthusiastic manager who has taken on the mantle of the project that his grandparents started and, subsequently, his father and aunt continued.
Planta’s story since its inception
“My grandparents founded Planta in 1956. They came from another tobacco company, so they had all the necessary skills to set up a new one. At the time, Berlin was the perfect city to move to in order to open a company because the conditions were very favourable.
My grandparents started from scratch, with just one product, then expanded by acquiring other brands. The company expanded so much that it became a leader on the German market.
As we all know, over the years, a series of laws were introduced to limit where or when pipe smokers could smoke. This led to a change in the pipe tobacco market and made it necessary to devise strategies to expand the product portfolio in order to continue growing.
Planta started to make acquisitions. One of the companies that joined the Group was called Unitas which, at the time, only produced rolling tobacco.”
The second generation and family tragedies
“As time went by, my grandparents handed the reins of the company to their children, my father and aunt, who showed commitment and dedication to their parents’ project.
Unfortunately, however, Planta was marred by a series of tragedies which have had a significant impact on the company’s recent history.
My father passed away in 2009 and the leadership he and my aunt shared disappeared too.
In 2015, we were hit by another tragedy – my aunt died leaving my grandfather on his own to manage the business.
That very same year, I joined the management team and my grandfather made it immediately clear that I was going to have to take on the duties and build a future for the company, even though, at the time, it was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2016, my grandfather passed away, leaving my cousin Lukas and me at the helm of the company. As we say here in Germany, I had to dive into the cold water ( “ich habe ins kalte Wasser springen müssen”) quite quickly, carrying this enormous responsibility wasn’t easy. But here I am, full of hope for the future and happy about how things are developing.”
The hurdle of TPD2 and track&trace
“After TPD2 (the new European directive which regulates tobacco products) came into force, requiring that all products containing tobacco become traceable, we immediately realised that our company alone could never have met the requirements without compromising production and generating a profit at the same time. We were sure that we were doing things the right way, with the same commitment as always, but we were just too small to survive given such restrictive legislative constraints.
We realised that we needed to look for a “broad-shouldered” partner so we could continue the legacy of our grandparents and parents. From the get-go, Mac Baren felt like the right partner to achieve our goal.”
The partnership with Mac Baren
“I am convinced that Mac Baren has the vision and means to be the last great pipe tobacco manufacturer in the world. When we started collaborating, I saw with my very own eyes just how much passion and commitment the Mac Baren team had dedicated to this acquisition, despite the fact that it too was going through a rough time due to track&trace.
I’m happy to see that things are getting better day after day, but this has also been possible because we and Mac Baren communicate openly and share the same core values.
Over the last few months, I never felt like the leader of a company that was entering a bigger world and was going to be cut out, nor that Planta and Unitas’ history and tradition were going to be wiped out. On the contrary: it was clear to me that Mac Baren wanted to give us the chance to develop our products to the max and thrive once again.
Proof of this is the fact that Unitas will continue to exist and I will remain at the helm. The “new Unitas” will be responsible for the distribution of Planta brand products in Germany, but not only that: we are working to offer our clients products which are 100% personalised from the blend to the packaging.
The “new Unitas”
“I was born in a family immersed in the world of tobacco. Tobacco was always present. Over dinner, we’d talk about the company and I remember that, during celebrations and on occasions when everyone gathered at our house, we’d set up the “Planta Corner” with a series of blends and pipes available to people who wanted to smoke.
Tobacco is my culture, my passion and my tradition. My grandfather and father made me understand how important it is to offer consumers the highest quality products and this is what we want to continue to do with Unitas and Mac Baren.
The transition took about nine months. In this period, many smokers struggled to find their favourite products because there were many occasions in which we were out of stock. I’d like to thank all the smokers who continued to seek us out and choose our blends, and I’d especially like them to know that we are putting a lot of effort into ensuring that our products are available in as many sales points as possible.
It took us nine months to complete the transition stage and this has not only been due to bureaucracy or administrative matters. My priority has always been keeping the quality of Planta-packaged products high, because this brand is synonymous with excellence for pipe smokers and I do not want this to change.
This is why we have worked closely with the Mac Baren team, providing them with all our product recipes and details pertaining to tobacco and where to find them. This work has been done for each of our blends and has taken time to complete.
However, it was the only way to ensure that smokers would continue to appreciate Planta products and this is the most important thing for us”.
A niche service for loyal customers
“In addition to distributing Planta products in Germany, Unitas offers retailers the chance to have their personalised blend manufactured here at the Berlin factory delivered right at their sales point.
The minimum order required for this service is currently 5kg of product per year, but ultimately, we’d like to raise this to 20kg.
At our headquarters in Berlin, we can make many different types of blends and we can also create personalised packaging.
To conclude, we’d like to say that we are always open to suggestions and requests our clients may have. We’d like to be a reference point in the pipe tobacco industry once again and I believe that our efforts combined with Mac Baren’s strengths will allow us to achieve this goal.