COLOGNE, Germany – For 90 years, Engelbert Schlechtrimen’s family has been making wheat sandwiches, rye bread and chocolate cakes in this West German city. Next month they will shut down the ovens for good, because they can no longer afford the increase in energy prices due to the Russian war in Ukraine.
Schlechtrimen’s grandparents founded the bakery in Cologne before World War II. The 58-year-old took over the business 28 years ago from his father and turned it into an organic shop that uses traditional recipes and bans chemical additives in the oven.
However, even these innovations won’t save him from closing the family business – consisting of a bakery and two shops employing 35 people – after nearly a century. He is a victim of a European energy crisis led by Russia’s cuts in natural gas used to heat homes, generate electricity and power factories.
The resulting increases in energy and electricity prices have crushed businesses already grappling with rising other costs as inflation rises.
“We have been juggling multiple crises at the same time for some time: job offers, shortages of staff, closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, extreme increases in raw material costs, and now the explosion in energy costs and the further increase in personnel costs” Schlechtrimen said this week.
He indicated that material costs have increased by 50%. And «now there is also the crisis of energy costs. So far we have only seen an increase of around 70%, because we heat the ovens with diesel. Four times the price is to be feared ».
Schlechtrimen tried to save energy wherever possible, but it was not enough to compensate for the rising costs.
It also raised the prices of its products to cover its spikes in costs, but customers, who are also tightening their belts with rising inflation, have stayed away and turned to discounters that sell manufactured baked goods. industrially for less money.
Eventually, the Cologne baker had to admit that he is no longer making enough profits to support his business.
Schlechtrimen isn’t the only baker struggling to make a living in Germany these days. Small family-run bakeries across the country have a hard time covering their costs.
“Many companies in the bakery industry are concerned about how they will turn out in the coming months. They are facing a tsunami of costs, “said Friedemann Berg, CEO of the German Confederation of Bakers.
“We would like to see a financial bailout for our bakeries, with the federal government providing aid to help our businesses effectively, quickly and unbureaucratically,” Berg said.
The German government announced this month an additional € 65 billion investment in a new round of measures aimed at alleviating the sting of inflation and high energy prices for consumers.
But for people like Schlechtrimen, help may come too late.
Kirsten Grieshaber and Pietro de Cristofaro contributed to this report from Berlin.