Big on a small scale
It all started with a kitchen stove andordinary cooking pots. Fruit spreads were produced from fresh berries. They were so delicious that the „beerenbauern“ (berry farmers) soon built a little “jam house”. Since then,they have already expanded their production capacities twice.
„With other companies, I’m often their smallest customer. But Waldner took my concerns just as seriously as if I had been the king,“ states Thomas Bertelshofer, one of the three Managing Directors of the „beerenbauern“.
Thomas Bertelshofer knows something about engineering. The mechanical engineer worked in the automotive industry for 17 years until he decided to move into the organic farming sector. Together with his wife Birgit, a trained nurse and graduate agricultural engineer, he leased 0.2 hectares of land to grow strawberries almost 25 years ago. From the outset, the couple worked in accordance with the Demeter biodynamic guidelines and processed some of the crop into fruit spreads: „70 percent fruit, 30 percent sugar, a little freshly squeezed lemon juice – all from Demeter cultivated fruit, plus natural apple pectin as a gelling agent,” explains Thomas Bertelshofer, summarising his basic recipe. It is specially adapted to each fruit variety and still fundamentally applies today – as does the principle: “We only make what we like ourselves. Only top quality.”
Demand is constantly rising
People loved the taste of the fruit spreads, our recipes became even more refined and the pots a little bigger. Soon, our private kitchen equipment was no longer big enough to produce the fruit spreads. Even the little “jam house” that the “beerenbauern” built in their garden in the Upper Franconian town of Ebermannstadt in Germany and equipped with a catering stove, quickly reached its limits. „We produced up to 300,000 pots of fruit spread in a four-shift operation each year within these 50 square metres. That wasn‘t going to work in the long run,“ says Thomas Bertelshofer. The time was now ripe for a larger production facility and a professional cooking system. The „beerenbauern“, who had now been joined by the viticulture engineer Christian Batz as the third managing director, therefore built a new and significantly larger jam building in 2011 with a kitchen, storage, shipping and office space.
Their confidence was confirmed
After buying a larger cooking facility, which had to be second-hand for financial reasons, Thomas Bertelshofer had started looking around – always on the premise that the high quality of the fruit spreads had to be maintained. Another entrepreneur gave him the crucial hint that a pilot cooking system was available to buy from Waldner. Thomas and Birgit Bertelshofer drove to Wangen, looked at the system and bought it without testing it. „If we had done a test run, we would have had to have thrown away around 150 kilogrammes of fruit spread,“ reports Thomas Bertelshofer. He didn‘t want to do that. Instead, he relied on his own judgement as a mechanical engineer, teh company’s good reputation and the feedback from business partners. The “beerenbauern” only put the machine into operation once they had got it home to Ebermannstadt. Raspberry jam was the first thing that they bubbled up in the boiler. As a vacuum cooking system works with low pressure, the delicate berries do not have to be heated as much. And oxygen is excluded, with the benefit that there are no oxidative processes. „We were amazed by the taste and colour,“ says Thomas Bertelshofer. „It was then that I knew: we had done the right thing. We were able to increase our capacity tenfold and improve on our quality instead of just maintaining it.”
Many Demeter-quality varieties
Although the trio of managing directors managed up to 16 hectares of fruit and berry-growing land at their peak, the harvest no longer produced the volumes they needed. „That is why we have always worked together with reliable Demeter farmers to supply us with their fruit,“ says Thomas Bertelshofer. Today, the extensively cultivated area still covers about five hectares: in essence, it consists of a large meadow orchard, a quince garden and bee meadows. The company’s focus is on the production of around 25 different fruit spread varieties, which are available throughout Germany in whole food stores. In addition, there are 10 to 15 types of fruit preparation for small farm dairies and for the Schrozberg dairy farmers’ cooperative. Ten employees look after the production and filling of fruit spreads, packaging, labelling and shipping.
A second system for capacity expansion
At the beginning of 2020, a second production line was set up in the little “jam house”. The heart of the system is once again a vacuum cooking system from South Germany. Thomas Bertelshofer did not consider anything else. „I am very satisfied with the first system. The machines run every day and give me no cause for concern. The new system has the same features and components as the first. So I don‘t need to worry about spare parts. What is more, loyalty and reliability are factors that matter to me. I know I can trust Waldner,“ states the mechanical engineer, adding with conviction: “Never change a winning team.“