Family, Friends, Partners Mourn Reinhold Stöver’s Passing
Reinhold Stöver, the founder of Agrarfrost GmbH & Co. KG, died after a long illness in Aldrup at the age of 79 on October 19, 2017. The farmer turned industrialist, who built Germany’s most successful value-added frozen potato products company, is survived by his wife Waltraut, three children and numerous grandchildren. His funeral will take place on October 27, 1 PM, at Alexanderkirche in Wildeshausen.
Mr. Stöver started the agribusiness, which developed into a world-class potato processing enterprise that today employs approximately 700 people and generated sales of more than EUR 260 million last year, at a 43-acre hectare farm taken over from his parents near Bremen in Aldrup/Wildeshausen, in the Lower Saxony district of Oldenburg. The year was 1961 and he was just 23 years old, with an agriculture education behind him and a field of dreams to fulfill lying ahead.
After taking part in a study trip to the United States in 1967 and experiencing the nation’s booming burger and fries-driven fast food industry as well as learning a thing or two about American potato cultivation techniques, he returned home with a head full of ideas and commercial ambition. Assembling a five-person team, the visionary entrepreneur took the leap into the food processing business by acquiring second-hand french fry manufacturing equipment. The purchase was financed by the sale of his small herd of dairy cows, which was considered a risky move at the time. The gamble paid off, as 600 tons of spuds were transformed into fresh pommes frites that fetched DM 200,000 in sales revenue during the first year of operation.
By 1968 direct deliveries of chilled fries were being made to customers in Germany’s growing gastronomy sector, and a year later potato salad was added to the range. Since french fries go well when dipped into ketchup or mayonnaise, Mr. Stöver began packing and distributing such condiments in 1970. A year later he opened a meat processing factory to make bratwurst and other kinds of sausage.
Meanwhile, as demand for potato products grew, harvests from the family farm were no longer sufficient to meet production needs. Therefore he started to contract with local farmers, each of whom was required to adhere to strict growing procedures. This was the beginning of the development of a sustainable integrated potato propagation and cultivation system designed to maximize output by guarding against potentially harmful threats to crops and protecting the environment. The bountiful result during a good season nowadays amounts to 60 tons of spuds harvested per hectare, compared to a worldwide average of just 19 tons.
It was in 1972 that Mr. Stöver got into the frozen food business in earnest, employing 120 people to produce and sell french fries under the newly launched Agrarfrost label. The following year factory output increased to eight tons of finished product per hour, and by 1975 the company was making 100,000,000 portions per annum with exports going as far afield as Australia.
A decade later, by then ranking as the biggest producer of frozen french fries in Germany, Agrarfrost became a supplier to the McDonald’s chain of quick service restaurants. That important business relationship, which has enabled the company to grow from strength to strength, remains solidly intact today.
In 1989 Weser Feinkost, a Syke-based producer of fish delicacies and dressings, was brought into the Stöver Group.
Not much more than a year after the political reunification of Germany during October of 1990, following the fall of the Iron Curtain that had divided Eastern and Western Europe for 45 years, the company began producing potato products and chips at a state-of-art plant it built is Oschersleben (near Magdeburg) in the former DDR. Agrarfrost invested some EUR 115 million in the project, which included farming and seed potato production, creating hundreds of new jobs in the process.
In 1997 turnover reached DM 700 million in potato product sales, exclusive of fish and meat specialty items. By that time meat production volume had risen to 5,000 tons.
In 2006, the Stöver fresh foodservice operation was sold to REWE Großverbraucher-Service GmbH, and Weser Feinkost was purchased by a Dutch concern, as Agrarfrost opted to focus entirely on further expanding its frozen potato products business.
Having run the company successfully for almost four decades, in 2007 Reinhold Stöver handed over management responsibility to his son, Eike, who had been active in the family business and groomed for the top leadership position for many years. At his side is brother-in-law Manfred Wulf, who has served as managing director of Agrarfrost since December of 2003.
Today the group processes approximately 550,000 tons of tubers into high quality potato products each year. In addition to french fries, the wide range of value-added clean label offerings includes mini hash browns, country wedges, rösti (potato pancakes), croquettes, pommes duchesses, klösse and other novelties.
Some 200 contracted farmers till 8,000 hectares of fields in Germany’s fertile Verabrbeitungsgürtel potato belt to produce top quality tubers that are transformed at Agrarfrost factories into nutritious and delicious frozen potato specialties bound for retail, foodservice and industrial markets worldwide. From seed breeding and planting to cultivation and harvesting, the complete growing process is carefully controlled by the company’s agriculture engineers. In 2014 Agrarfrost became the first German potato processor to be certified in accordance with the ZNU sustainability standard.
The company recently celebrated its 50th anniversary during a special ceremony in Aldrup attended by approximately 600 guests from around the globe, among them VIPs including former German President Christian Wulff. In addition to recognition of Mr. Stöver’s entrepreneurial spirit and business drive, his many civic contributions were saluted. From 1972 to 1991 he was a member of the CDU Council of the City of Wildeshausen, served as chairman of the Budget Committee, and was on the Administrative Committee. Additionally, he was a representative on the County Council of Oldenburg from 1977 to 1991.
While engaged in numerous activities on behalf of the town of Wildeshausen and the district of Oldenburg, Mr. Stöver played a major role in the positive development of the region. He founded the Wildeshausen Mittelstandsvereinigung in 1992, and served as honorary chairman until his death. Along with great enthusiasm for business and community service, he was a passionate hunting and shooting sportsman, winning numerous German and European championship titles for marksmanship. He also founded and supported the football club SV GW Kleinenkneten e.V.
In 2004 Mr. Stöver was presented the First Class of the Lower Saxony Order of Merit, and in 2005 he received the Golden Ice Crystal Pioneering Achievement Award. Many other professional and social accolades followed in years to come.
May this titan of the German frozen food industry, who provided gainful employment for thousands of people during his long and productive lifetime, now rest in peace knowing that his company lives on and remains guided by good hands and the talent he nurtured. – Reported by John Saulnier