Nuts are very much in vogue in terms of nutrition, but are only very rarely cultivated in Germany. The company Wallnussmeisterei has discovered a niche – and developed it.
When Vivian Böllersen wrote her master’s thesis on the potential of German walnut cultivation, it quickly became clear to her: There were great opportunities here. She set out on a search and found an idyllic walnut grove with 200 walnut trees in over 30 different varieties in the middle of the Velten Luchwiesen (nature reserve in Velten).
That was in 2015, virtually the hour of birth of the Walnussmeisterei. Its founder counts the cultivation of walnuts as well as consulting and research in this field among her core competences, in addition to the branches of nursery, food trade and processing. In 2016 she won the Next-Organic-Start-up-Award, visibility and networking grew.
An important partner is Ökonauten eG, which is committed to maintaining and promoting small-scale agriculture. The cooperative bought land and leased it long-term and at fair conditions to the Walnussmeisterei, which has been a member of the Ökonauten ever since. For the Walnut Master’s Office this was a “lucky coincidence,” Böllersen says.
Networking is the trump card
The start-up receives valuable help from the Association for the Promotion of Organic Farming (Fördergemeinschaft ökologischer Landbau – FÖL): “It is well connected and has, among other things, already put us in touch with Regionalwert AG,” says Böllersen, with FÖL you quickly get into circles that link you further, it is something like a linchpin, and not only in the search for investors.
For example, a contact to Markthalle IX in Berlin Kreuzberg was established via FÖL. Here, the Walnussmeisterei not only found a new market place, but also experienced an even wider distribution via the affiliated supply company. “I would not have been able to achieve this reach so quickly on my own,” says Böllersen.
But getting the customer’s attention, which may be difficult with other organic products, was no problem for the Walnussmeisterei. “Vegetarian, vegan, raw food, paleo – nuts play a big role everywhere. The demand is so great that I cannot completely satisfy it,” the Tagesspiegel quotes her.
Thus, a niche could be filled and the local market could be served quickly. Initially, this was done via regional direct marketing, but after five years the Walnussmeisterei is now ready to work with the trade.
The art of the right approach
However, not everything went smoothly for the Walnussmeisterei in terms of marketing either, they had to learn that pricing and sales vary greatly from region to region: “In the city, you have to communicate differently, and the distribution channels are also different there than in the country. I was surprised at how differently people go shopping in Neuruppin, Berlin or Lübeck. So we have to adapt our approach in each case.”
Now Böllersen wonders whether this is also the case in questions of financing. Because for the first time bank talks are on the agenda: The company is to be expanded into a processing plant.
“I am very curious,” says Vivian Böllersen. The ability to mediate the cultivation, distribution and processing of walnuts will be in demand here. It would certainly be helpful if the other side knew the practice of near-natural production – or at least was prepared to look at and understand the specific conditions.
Böllersen had to find out how important this is when it came to obtaining permits from the authorities. “I thought I would go there, explain my project and meet with general approval. I wouldn’t have expected that so much would depend on individual personalities.”
What seemed impossible for Böllersen one or two years ago, could now work: Crowdfunding. In this also, communication must be perfect for this to be successful. “We have just a good presence in the public, it feels like the right moment,” Böllersen is optimistic.