Social muesli roastery: for a proper breakfast

The Luneburg-based muesli manufacturer Heyho gives people a chance who would otherwise have no chance on the job market. A visit to the roasting room.

From the hand into the jar: All varieties at Heyho are vegan Photo: Kai-Hendrik Schroder/Heyho

A whiff of Christmas is in the air in an industrial park in Luneburg, and that’s in the middle of January. In the roastery of the Heyho muesli factory, the "Apple Stroodle" variety is being baked today, with a good load of cardamom and cinnamon. Radio pop is playing, and people are singing along with the Backstreet Boys. The mood is good, despite a staff shortage. General Manager Christian Schmidt stands in the back of the warehouse and sticks labels. "I enjoy it when I can lend a hand like I did in the beginning."

That beginning was not so long ago. But a lot has happened since then: In 2017, Stefan Buchholz, Timm Duffner and Christian Schmidt founded the "social muesli roasting company" Heyho. Their drive is to enable people who no one else hires to participate in a career.

Which product was to be created was initially of secondary importance. "The decision fell on muesli because it is easy to make for people who are not qualified," explains Timm Duffner, who used to work for Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s. "Plus, it’s representative of what we want to drive with our concept: a good start to the day for everyone."

Duffner knows that you have to stand out from the crowd to survive in the fiercely competitive market, for example through creative design, through unusual variety names with an extra dose of "feelgood approach" such as "Peanut Power to the People" or "Fruhsportfreunde," but also through special ingredients. Turmeric, agave syrup, caramelized nuts and chocolate-coated salted pretzels go into the muesli at Heyho, and all varieties are vegan.

Six employees with special biographies

The founders hit a nerve with their concept and taste. Initially they produced in the Leuphana University cafeteria, which they rented by the hour, but now they bake in their own premises five days a week. Four varieties have become six. And 27 people now work at Heyho, six of whom have a special biography. In the long term, the goal is to have 30 percent of the workforce with special biographies, which is also the view of other social enterprises.

One of the employees with a fragile biography is Romano Lai. Out of his 50 years of life, he was unemployed for 26 years and addicted to heroin for 14 of them; Lai also has several prison stays behind him. Procuring crime. In the meantime, he has become a substitute, receiving polamidone from his doctor once a week. Romano Lai has had a permanent contract at Heyho for two years, working 32 hours a week. He fills and labels jars, weighs them, bakes them – every move is perfect.

The work has changed everything for him, he says, for the better. The feeling of being needed, that colleagues meet him at eye level, gives him strength and the psychological stability not to slip back into the scene. "I’m so happy to be away from it. I finally have structure, I’m exhausted after work in a good sense, and I’m happy to just come home." He doesn’t like eating cereal himself, though. "It’s an old prison habit. There was oatmeal all the time."

For all the harmony, there are of course conflicts at times, Lai says. "So many different characters come together here, ex-junkies, former alcoholics, mentally ill people. Of course, there are times when it goes bang." Often it’s a matter of little things, like who starts when with the cleaning service, who works how efficiently.

The contact to Romano Lai was made by co-founder Stefan Buchholz, who ran a shelter for homeless people for 16 years. He knows many people who want to get back into society but are not let.

Sticking labels is also part of the business Photo: Kai-Hendrik Schroder/Heyho

Part of the team is also Milad, who comes from Iran and does not want to be called by his full name for fear of the Iranian government. Without vocational training, he had starting difficulties in Germany and was unemployed for a long time. "People didn’t understand me anywhere, not my German and not my way," Milad says. "But here I can talk to people, I don’t always have to be serious and I can fool around."

At Heyho, Milad has not only found a permanent job, but also his new home: Together with three colleagues, he now lives in a nine-student shared flat, and today he is baking a quarter of a ton of granola with one of them, Amelie Geray. 50 kilograms of oats fit into the large tub in which the two mix all the ingredients, then distribute them onto baking trays, put them in the oven and finally fill them into buckets. The sticky mixture of agave syrup, coconut oil, spices and oat flakes that adorns Geray’s T-shirt shows that this requires a lot of physical effort.

The company is not yet in the black, but this year that could change. More and more organic and delicatessen stores, and in some cases supermarkets, are including the socially roasted muesli in their assortments. Yet 7 euros for a 300-gram jar is anything but socially acceptable. Christian Schmidt lists the following as reasons for the steep price: high-quality organic raw materials from the region, manual labor, and fair payment from the very beginning.

Redistribution at the muesli shelf

"It’s about a kind of redistribution: those who afford the product presumably earn well and can help people who are less well off," says Schmidt, who brought the marketing know-how with him from his previous job in the advertising industry. All permanent employees at Heyho have a four-day week and are paid 13 euros an hour, well above the minimum wage. However, the employees in charge, i.e. the managing directors and the production manager, earn more – a transparent payment model will soon reveal how much.

160 citizens drawn by lot discuss with each other what role Germany should play in foreign policy. Read whether this strengthens democracy in the taz am wochenende of February 20/21. Also: An arms trading ring is said to have supported an AfD organization with money. And: What single-family homes and curry sausages have in common. On newsstands from Saturday, in the eKiosk, in the weekend subscription and on Facebook and Twitter.

Heyho is intended to inspire imitation, to become a beacon for positive food production, says Christian Schmidt. With their idealism, the three founders sometimes reach their limits.

One of their employees, a dry alcoholic, is only allowed to earn 160 euros a month on top of his small pension, which is why he only works four hours a week. "He wants to do something, finds a connection and support with us and is not allowed to. That’s a flaw in the system," says Schmidt. And when the first work contracts went out, there were calls from the employment agency: Didn’t they know that they didn’t have to hire anyone on a permanent basis? "The fact that we deliberately wanted it that way was not understood by anyone."

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