The Stiefel family runs the oldest fruit juice press house in “Oberschwaben” (Upper Swabia) in Germany. They mainly produce local fruit, including apples. In order to promote local orchard cultivation, the Stiefel family is also involved in the orchard project of AlpBioEco’s project partner BUND Ravensburg-Oberschwaben (Friends of the Earth Germany, Regional Association Bodensee-Oberschwaben). We spoke to owner Michael Stiefel about his company, the apple production and the orchard project.
AlpBioEco: Thank you for taking the time for an interview with AlpBioEco. Could you please shortly introduce yourself and your company?
We are the oldest fruit juice press house in the region of Oberschwaben (Upper Swabia), we have been registered since 1932 and are currently already in the fourth generation – the fifth is growing up. We produce regional products, everything connected to fruits, from apples up to elder. For us it is really important that we process our fruits on our own. We also have some other products in our assortment, like for instance orange juice, which we of course cannot cultivate here on our own, but those are exceptions. Our main job is to provide the region with really good fruit juices. Contract processing is also an important pillar for us, we process the fruits of regional farmers, who can then market them in their own farm shops.
AlpBioEco: That means you mainly produce fruits from the region?
Yes, that can be said almost exclusively. In percentage terms, the proportion of raw materials that we buy in addition, for example oranges or mangoes, is very small. But here, too, we pay attention to where the products come from, for example we get the oranges from Spain, which is still relatively close and not from anywhere. We get the mangoes from “Welt Partner” in Ravensburg. So, we are definitely trying to find a solid line here. I pay attention to sustainability because I want my children to benefit from it too.
AlpBioEco: How do you process the apples and the byproducts from the juice pressing?
We process the apples to fruit juice in all different variations and types. We put an emphasis on regionality, the raw material for our juices comes to a large extent from a radius of 15 km. Most of it is contract fruit growing, so that the farmers can calculate and we can also calculate. We do not actually go along with the unstable pricing policy, as we want everyone to receive his or her part.
At the moment, we give the apple pomace, the press residues from the production of apple juice, away. That is because the energy prices are so low that it is not worth pelletizing the leftovers and then burning them again – we have already done this and could do it still, but currently it is not worth it. The normal energy prices for wood pellets, oil, etc. are so low that we could no longer work competitively with our apple pomace pellets. When we started the price for heating oil was 90 cents per liter, so it definitely paid off, but as soon as we get below about 60 or 55 cents per liter of heating oil, I can no longer operate it economically. But I always say that this is still to come (again), for example with the CO2 tax – the technology is there, it can be reactivated without any problems.
AlpBioEco: How did you cooperate with AlpBioEco and its project partner BUND, Friends of the Earth Germany, Regional Association Bodensee-Oberschwaben?
In the 1980s, we founded the orchard project with the BUND and four other fruit press houses. Since then, the project has grown steadily and has continued to develop. We have always tried to motivate people through the project to let their orchard trees stand – if they take out the trees they have to be replanted. Accordingly, much higher producer prices have been paid, which back then and still are paid for the apples on the free market, so that it is also worth picking up the apples.
AlpBioEco: Why is the collaboration with AlpBioEco and BUND important and beneficial for you?
It does not help us in monetary terms, but you also have to think about the future. If we do not do anything in that direction, at some point we will not have any raw materials anymore and my children or subsequent generations no longer have a basis to continue running the business. We do this not only in the field of orchards, but also in commercial fruit growing – we pay the farmers based on quality and that is best for everyone. Because only then the farmers can count on a decent payment, and that means that commercial fruit growing, which I find very important here in the region, is ensured as well.
AlpBioEco: What do you wish for the future of the regional apple processing?
I wish that things will continue as before and that everyone will be aware that we live here in a region that could not be more beautiful. And it can only stay that way in the future if everyone works on it. This means that we as manufacturers have a duty, but also the cultivation and, very importantly, the consumer. The consumer decides whether what we do is also rewarded. We are in a rural region here and I do think that it is possible to continue this way of working here. And I would recommend my children to keep doing it too.
AlpBioEco: Thank you very much for the interview!
Owner Michael Stiefel
Photo: Familie Stiefel @ Fruchtsaftkelterei Stiefel