We meet the man tasked with fuelling the 62,000 employees at VW’s Wolfsburg plant
Volkswagen, as with many major car companies, is a vast operation. In Germany alone the firm has six production plants and employs more than 130,000 people. And in order to ensure they’re fuelled to make millions of cars each year, they all need feeding.
That’s a massive logistical challenge, and the man responsible for it is Hern Cordes, Volkswagen’s head of catering. He heads up a department of around 850 people, whose primary mission is to ensure good quality food is available to employees whenever it’s needed.
“We like to take care of our employees,” says Cordes. “Our bosses believe that if we treat them the best, they will be more productive and make the best cars. We aim for the quality of food you’d see in a top London restaurant.”
Volkswagen’s main Wolfsburg plant, which sprawls over 6,500,000 square metres, has more than 62,000 employees. To feed them, the site features 17 staff restaurants, a number of ‘self-service’ shops and even some mobile food vans. The majority of the food sold in those sites comes from VW’s Service Factory, which produced 13,803,370 portions of food in 2017.
With so many staff to feed, and production line workers given precise 15- or 30-minute breaks, getting the food in the right place and the right time is a huge effort.
“To make the plants as efficient as possible, we have to make sure every employee is close to food, beverages and things like newspapers,” says Cordes. “When we’re planning a new plant, we really think about the employees and how they get to food quickly.
“We’re feeding people 24 hours a day, seven days a week and at any time they might want a salad, a fresh juice or currywurst, so we need a really flexible operation.”
That’s why VW developed self-service shops close to production lines, allowing workers to quickly grab refreshments. It’s also why the firm has reworked every canteen to ensure it offers natural light.
The best-known item produced there in the Service Factory is Volkswagen’s currywurst, which has become so popular it’s sold in local supermarkets. It’s also offered in every staff canteen – always offered with chips and ketchup.
But while the currywurst is a staple, the Volkswagen menu has changed substantially in recent years. “There’s been a big change towards vegetarian and vegan food,” says Cordes. “Around 30% of the food we serve is vegetarian. But we always have options: so we have salad, and offer bacon on the side.
“We have one line of healthy food on offer each day, but if you are working hard on a production line you need calories, so we think about that too.”
Cordes says that the firm puts such emphasis on quality that it wants employees to have their main meals of the day at the plant – and the shops even sell portions for staff to take home in the evening. Volkswagen has also committed to subsidising half the cost of all the food it sells.
But the hospitality department isn’t solely concerned with filling the canteens. The department has the contract to provide catering to the stadiums of the VfL Wolfsburg and Eintracht Braunschweig football teams, and works with the events team to plan catering for major Volkswagen events and car launches.
That often includes special food items. “When we launched the Golf GTI at Wörthesee one year, we produced a special black version of our Golf-shaped pasta,” Cordes says.
Cordes’s team is currently helping to plan the catering for next year’s launch of the eighth-generation Golf. While he won’t reveal what’s on the menu, he insists that food is as important to the launch of a new Volkswagen as it is to the marketing of them.
“Food is one part of a big event,” he says. “It’s part of the storytelling. VW is known for quality and service – and not just in cars.”
Autocar was given exclusive access to the Volkswagen Service Factory to find out the secrets behind the firm’s currywurst. Read the full story in this week’s 164-page Autocar double issue.
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