DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Hans Riegel, the man behind Germany’s Haribo confectionery and much-loved gummy bears, has died aged 90 from heart failure, his office said on Tuesday.
Riegel spent almost 70 years at the helm of Haribo, which was founded by his candymaker father in 1920. From a small firm struggling with the shortages of post-war Germany, he built it into a world famous brand exporting to 100 countries.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Riegel had made Haribo such a global brand that “wherever I travelled in recent years, the gummy bears had arrived long before me”.
Haribo, short for Hans Riegel Bonn, came to epitomize Germany’s highly successful Mittelstand - the small, actively-managed firms which make up the backbone of the economy.
Fruit-flavored gummy bears were originally called dancing bears, inspired by the performing brown bears that once appeared at circuses and fetes. The fierce expression on their jelly faces was replaced with a smile in a 2007 makeover.
The Bonn-based candymaker employed 6,000 people in 15 sites worldwide. According to Forbes, Riegel had a net worth of $2.9 billion, putting him at no 32 on Germany’s richest list.
“I work because it makes me happy, and I have no reason to deny myself that happiness,” Riegel said in a interview in 2010.
Riegel underwent a successful operation earlier this year to remove a brain tumor and his death came unexpectedly.
Haribo gave Germany its most famous advertising slogan, promising to make kids and adults happy. Sachets of its sweets are ubiquitous: doctors keep them on hand to placate crying children and hotels place them on pillows to treat guests.
“Thank you Hans Riegel, for making our lives sweeter!” fan Kilian Muth posted on the Haribo Germany facebook page.
Additional reporting by Matthias Inverardi and Kirsti Knolle; Writing by Alexandra Hudson in Berlin; Editing by Stephen Brown