Marjoram has been cultivated in Saxony-Anhalt for 125 years. With its favourable conditions, the region surrounding Aschersleben is considered the “Herb Cupboard of Germany". Majoranwerk Aschersleben is the biggest business of its kind in the federal state. But new businesses are also opting to settle in Saxony-Anhalt: “Frischemanufaktur", for example, has set up in Halle, where it is working on its healthy and sustainable "Obstlaune".
The company Majoranwerk Aschersleben (MAWEA) is the biggest supplier of herbs in Saxony-Anhalt. On a site which is more than 1,400 hectares in size and within a 50-kilometre radius around the town of Aschersleben, thyme, savoury, oregano, basil, fennel and cumin are all cultivated. Yet the cultivation of one herb predominates: marjoram. It is its constituent parts, including essential oils, which have made the plant so valuable. It has been grown for 125 years around Aschersleben in Saxony-Anhalt – known as the “Herb Cupboard of Germany”. “The concentration of natural ingredients in our herbs is double that of herbs from other regions," explains Jörg Overkamp, Managing Director of MAWEA. This is because of the particularly favourable conditions in the region: the black soil in the arid region of the Harz foreland. Mediterranean conditions so for Mediterranean plants. In addition, the structural development of agriculture has had a positive effect: large areas such as in Saxony-Anhalt enable large batches.
The herbs are cultivated exclusively for the further processing industry – meat processing businesses, for example. The pharmaceuticals industry uses MAWEA products for the production of tea. The herbs are also used as an additive in animal feed products, in which they are marketed as a “flavouring” but have been proven to have a performance-enhancing effect. It is since the intake of antibiotics has been restricted that farmers have appreciated the positive effect of the herbs to a particular degree. “This effect has proven especially strong in poultry,” explains Jörg Overkamp. In this respect, Carvacrol is valued as an ingredient – especially in oregano – for its antibiotic, antifungal and insecticidal properties. The dried herbs are supplied to customers throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, described marjoram as a symbol of bliss. The Greeks and Romans used the herb as a medicinal plant, and it was for such purposes that it was cultivated in Germany until around the year 1900. Subsequently declared to be a culinary plant, until the 1950s, it was the most widely-used kitchen herb in Germany. And even today it is almost impossible to imagine most home kitchens in Germany without it, although its regional popularity varies – in the north for example, marjoram is used much less than it is in Bavaria, for example.
The cultivation of marjoram on the border of Harz region has a long tradition, it has been grown here since 1890, when it was cultivated in small garden plots. The first factory-scale unit was established in 1906, and by 1919, the Aschersleben operations accounted for 95 percent of all the marjoram supplies in Germany. The business continued to grow, before it was expropriated in the GDR-era, which was followed by the creation of a nationalised enterprise and an agricultural cooperative. "During the communist era, the cheaper herbs were grown for domestic use, while the high-quality products such as marjoram, mint and lemon balm were sold to the West," explains Jörg Overkamp. After the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the GDR, although there was a change of ownership, the production of the herbs went on as normal. "MAWEA didn’t experience any difficulties." Jörg Overkamp says that this was due to the high-quality nature of the products, whose name is highly regarded in the industry. And this was despite its high prices, as after all, the company is considered the “Mercedes of the suppliers”.
Saxony-Anhalt doesn’t just do dried, however, it also does fresh! A new business start-up has made Halle (Saale) its home: “Frischemanufaktur”, a company which turns fresh fruit into fruit salads. Although this is nothing special in itself, with the addition of vitamin C and potassium, the fruit stays fresh for longer. The natural protective atmosphere allows it to last for up to ten days.
The company was established by Jenny Müller in Munich. The post-doctoral marketing expert spent many years travelling as part of her work, during which she often found herself eating "to go" products, including fresh fruit which was of varying quality, as she repeatedly found out. And it usually only lasted for a short time. That proved to be the impetus for her business idea: to establish a company which stands for good quality and less waste – and throughout Germany. Jenny Müller was quickly joined by some like-minded helpers: a food scientist and a designer.
Under the name of “Obstlaune” (fruit moods), two varieties of fruit salad are currently available from “Frischemanufaktur”: the detox mix, a more acidy green variety consisting of pineapple, apple, kiwi, pomegranate and green grapes. And the sweet, red immune power mix, consisting of mango, red apple, blueberries and pomegranate. “Both varieties are available throughout the year. At present, we are in the process of creating seasonal fruit salads. In the summer, another variety should be available, with pineapple, coconut and peach," explains Jenny Müller.
Currently, the healthy snacks are delivered only to offices in and around Munich, but that is set to change soon. The small business is currently waiting for its retailer certificate. Talks with the Rewe Group about supplying its supermarkets are already underway. The “fruit moods", which are packaged in small screw-top jars, are manufactured near Munich. “In the medium term, we want to relocate our production to Saxony-Anhalt," says Jenny Müller. Above all else, the start-up conditions there have been excellent: funds for research and development have been provided by the federal state and an office was located in the Technology and Entrepreneur’s Centre (TGZ) in Halle. It is there that the cooperation with other start-ups has already begun to bear fruit: work with a 3D printing company is underway on a new form of packaging.
But Halle has another powerful location factor: "its excellent students," says Jenny Müller. Five working students and one trainee work at the “Frischemanufaktur", with different academic backgrounds in the fields of food chemistry, psychology, political science and business informatics: the best starting conditions for a fresh idea!
Author: Anja Falgowski