A few days ago, Elmar Westermeyer received a letter which, he says, gave him goosebumps: "As a new customer, I would like to express my thanks to you …" he reads out. The letter writer's husband has been waiting for a donor organ for some time, Westermeyer reports; and now, since the corona pandemic broke out, the couple couldn't leave the house at all. So they decided to "try frozen food". And Eismann, the frozen food delivery service that Elmar Westermeyer runs, "gave excellent and appropriate support". In addition to goose bumps, the writing new customers also left something tangible and tangible with the Eismann boss: an order for more than 200 euros.
The escalating corona pandemic is a delicate matter for the frozen food service from Mettmann: On the one hand, Westermeyer, in conversation with WirtschaftsWoche, is careful not to give the impression that his company is the winner of the virus situation: "The crisis is a difficult one Situation, it's about the health of our customers and our employees who contribute to the supply of the population. " But on the other hand, the enormous limitations of public life naturally play into the cards of his delivery service business model: And so the company recorded a sales increase of 59 percent last week; online sales even rose by an incredible 400 percent per week. Westermeyer comments cautiously: "Especially in rural areas, people are now learning to appreciate the alternative of a delivery service. There are not many here who can offer contactless food delivery. We now see the necessity and the opportunity to be able to represent what we stand for and what we can do. "
Eismann can use good news. The company has shrunk continuously in recent years: Of the 196 million euros in sales in Germany in 2014, around 163 million euros have remained. The decline is even more dramatic if one looks at the total sales of the internationally operating Eismann Group: this halved almost within a decade, from 603 million euros (in 2008) to 322 million euros (2018).
Westermeyer describes the decline as being "more in a defensive position" in the end. However, he emphasizes, earnings before taxes were always positive. The 43-year-old, on the other hand, has had a steep climb: starting 16 years ago as a trainee at Eismann, he has been the new managing director since last year. Initially together with the long-time company manager Frank Höfer, since this year as sole boss. And he is now attacking: Eismann, Westermeyer announces, should finally grow again. Originally only planned for 2021, there was already "gratifying growth" in Germany in the first quarter of 2020 – even before the Corona outbreak in March.
Direct sales market is growing
As old-fashioned or even old-fashioned as Eismann's concept may sound – drivers are rattling off house residents, handing out brochures and frozen vegetables, taking orders – the market is growing, in two ways. On the one hand, the products: from 2010 to 2018, the frozen food segment grew by 29 percent to almost 15 billion euros. Frozen breads (fastest growing by 47 percent between 2008 and 2018) and frozen pizzas (32 percent growth in the same period) grew the most.
On the other hand, the type of distribution is also growing: According to a market study published in autumn by the University of Mannheim and the Federal Association of Direct Sales Germany, direct sales companies in Germany generated total sales of 17.66 billion euros, a minimal increase of 0.23 percent compared to the previous year. In the past ten years, however, annual growth has averaged around five percent. Florian Kraus from the University of Mannheim justifies this with a consolidation of the industry: Direct sales have been repositioned in recent years: "Flagship stores were opened, the online sales party was launched and the multi-channel sales were expanded – investments whose fruits will soon be harvested. " Grocers only play a subordinate role in the direct sales association.
The European market leader for frozen food delivery services is Bofrost from Straelen on the Lower Rhine. The family business has poached again and again at Eismann, most recently Bofrost took over Eismann companies in Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. And Bofrost employs all of its drivers; Eismann, on the other hand, works exclusively with independent sellers. However, table leader Bofrost also had to accept a moderate decline in sales after years of growth: Within Germany, it went from EUR 730 million (2017) to EUR 713 million (2018).
However, there are also turbulent times of ownership behind Eismann: the company changed hands several times. Most recently, the Dutch financial investor Gilde Buy Out Partners acquired a majority stake in the Eismann group founded in 1974. Since 2018, the Dutch have been desperately looking for a buyer for the shrinking company; But the buyers' interest was said to be low, the "Lebensmittel-ForexNews.onlineung" heard. Even under pressure from the banks, Gilde finally handed Eismann over to Cornelius Treuhand Holding from Frankfurt in July 2019. Ex-Eismann boss Frank Höfer still owns around nine percent of a parent holding company.