About our

Company

For 35 years, we have been producing coffee, tea and spices the organic way. Find out more on how our company operates here, where you will also learn how a small organic shop developed into a medium-sized family business. The interview with the management team covers employees who think outside of the box, guiding principles in a hectic world and why you should never tell half-truths.

Who we are

Since 1979, we have been producing coffee, tea and spices that we buy direct from source.

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All raw ingredients are 100% ecologically grown. We are convinced that this discerning form of agriculture is a prerequisite for high-quality, natural food. However, it’s about more than that: with every product sold the number of fields being ecologically farmed becomes greater. We are thus promoting a form of agriculture that understands how to preserve our natural resources while producing foodstuffs of exceptional quality. Our customers value these dual benefits, trust in the way we work and have thus made us the market leader in the specialist organic trade. The fact that confidence and above all creative energy are needed to achieve things is something that we already know from our pioneering days. This drive, which turned the small Lebensbaum organic shop into a medium-sized business with over 140 employees, continues to spur us on. Now, our aim is to be a pacesetter in sustainable business operation. No matter how innovative they are, new ideas bear fruit only when all stakeholders are jointly involved in their testing and implementation. We therefore work together with our suppliers, staff, services providers and customers in shaping the entire value chain in line with sustainable principles. Business economics understood in this way creates lasting value and is beneficial for everyone involved. Putting all modesty aside, we like to call it the business economics of the future.
 

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Where we come from

One day in summer 1979, company founder Ulrich Walter went to the organic food shop in his small town of Diepholz. He needed carrots, bread and perhaps oat flakes as well. By the time he came out, Ulrich Walter had bought the whole shop. How did it turn out that way?

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There was a sign in the window saying ‘Closing Down’. The proprietor was in a hurry. He wanted to go and see Bhagwan in Pune. Ulrich said to him on the spur of the moment: “Take the sign back down, I’ll take on the responsibility.” Together with his wife, the social education worker initially ran the shop as a side-line. They relocated it into a renovated half-timbered building in a central location and added on a café. It regularly hosted cultural events and exhibitions. As time went by, the work involved became so great that Ulrich gave up his job in the municipal youth centre. The social education worker became a retailer and the latter quickly became conscious of the absence of any organic coffee, tea or spices. Ulrich Walter realised immediately that this state of affairs affected not only his own shop and set about organising production of the wares that he and fellow retailers lacked.

Bush pilots and Egyptian pharmacologists

In a VW camper van he drove all over Provence in search of herb farmers. Bush pilots flew him to hidden coffee plantations in the high valleys of South Mexico. Then he heard of an Austrian, who was reportedly growing herbs in Egypt. Ulrich Walter wrote him several letters, but received no reply. Finally, he flew to Cairo. The herb farmer turned out to be an urbane Egyptian pharmacologist. In the desert they became friends. Since then, Dr. Abouleish has been growing herbs for Lebensbaum on his Sekem Farm.

From organic shop to producer

The Walters continued to run the organic shop for a few more years. However, their main focus was increasingly on the production of coffee, tea and spices under the brand name Lebensbaum. In the 1980s, Ulrich Walter developed the Lebensbaum synthesis of green core business and absolute focus on quality. He had coffee, tea and spices grown organically, thus promoting a form of agriculture that understands how to preserve our natural resources and at the same time produces foodstuffs of exceptional quality. By the early 1990s at the latest, it was becoming clear that with his product philosophy Ulrich Walter was striking a chord: more and more consumers were questioning a food products world that was increasingly getting itself tangled up in the dilemma arising from food safety scandals and cheap prices. With Lebensbaum they felt well looked after and even went on to make Lebensbaum market leader.

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A talk with our management

“We say: ‘so what! We can’t change the world alone – we need fellow campaigners to do that’.”

At first Dr. Achim Mayr and company founder Ulrich Walter appeared to be in a hurry, but they soon settled into the mood for conversation ...

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Jan Kühn (J.K.): Why does a medium-sized pioneer in organic products hire ­a corporate manager at the executive level?

Ulrich Walter (U.W.): Because you can learn about organic food, ­but have to bring professionalism with you. In addition, we do not deal directly, but indirectly ­with the effects of corporate groups. So it is sensible to have someone in the firm who knows how things work and what makes people tick within those companies. That wasn’t a prerequisite, but rather a nice ­side benefit. 

J.K.: Let’s turn the question around: why would a corporate manager move to a medium-sized firm? 

Dr. Achim Mayr (A.M.): Well, in a corporate group, you don’t tend to have nearly as much room for decision-making than is ultimately the case in a medium-sized operation. In an international corporate group, you are bound by­ global framework conditions. And if, like me, you want to do your work well and with passion, then you have to be able to react quickly and flexibly – that’s rarely possible in a large company. Back then, I also had to conduct­ a great deal of restructuring, which comes with various negative implications for ­employees. At some stage, you have to ask yourself whether that work actually makes you happy or not, and whether, at the end of your working life, you can still look at yourself in the mirror.

Maren Walter (M.W.): Yet that kind of work is ­well paid.

A.M.: Absolutely, but now I want to use my professional life to leave a positive legacy. In the last few years of my­ time as a corporate executive, I practically had a permanent­ seat on a plane. I was often jetting back ­and forth between individual production facilities several times a week. So it became increasingly clear to me that this wasn’t my future. That’s why I took some time off for the first time in 2003 to fulfil a dream from my youth: to take a Jeep down the Pan-­American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

After that, I worked as an independent ­consultant. I ended up at Lebensbaum quite by accident. A friend told me there was a medium-sized­ enterprise in Diepholz that was restructuring its international purchasing, and that they could do with a little help. 

Read the whole interview here.

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