Dresden stollen baker: "I sold my car for the raisins".

The Dresden Christstollen is more expensive than ever. But why is that and how do bakers protect themselves?

Reading time: 5 Minutes

Ein Bäcker knetet einen Stollenteig in einer Backstube und schaut in die Kamera.
This is where the stollen matures - master baker Frank Gehre prepares for the Advent season in Dresden-Lockwitz.

From Luisa Zenker & Juliane Just

The Dresden Baker Frank Gehre sprinkles powdered sugar over the yellow-brown dough. Juicy raisins spread along the crust. A sweet smell spreads through the kitchen. For Gehre, the stollen season already began in mid-October. He was already kneading the first stollen at that time, and now they are in the refrigerated section, wrapped in a blue box, waiting for Advent.

Like every year, a new price is stuck on the pastry. But this year it is higher than usual. At Frank Gehre, the Stollen still cost 17.90 euros per kilo in 2019; two years later, it's 23 euros. Why?

First of all: Gehre is no exception. All bakers in Dresden have to raise the price of stollen by about 25 percent, explains the Cleat protection dressing. This checks annually that the Dresden bakers adhere to the recipe, taste and shape. Only then has the Dresdner Christstollen, which is strictly protected according to European specifications, earned its seal. Around 100 bakers stand behind the brand 'Dresdner Christstollen'.

Poor raisin harvest due to heavy rainfall

Also at baker Andreas WipplerLast year, the stollen was still selling for 17.50 euros, but now it's 20 euros. Behind it are predominantly higher ingredient prices, as for example with the raisins. These are very difficult to obtain on the market, explains the master baker, who runs the business in the fourth generation and whose father Michael Wippler was again elected president of the Central Association of the German Bakery Trade has been elected. "The raisin thing has never been like this," Wippler admits. That's because there have apparently been poor harvests in South Africa and Australia. He now sources the raisins mainly from Turkey.

We continue with the sugar. Here, the price has doubled. Cane sugar requires energy-intensive production for crystallization. And energy has been expensive since the Ukraine war. But there are also price wars behind this: Nordzucker is responsible for the sweetness in almost all stollen bakeries. As one of the world's leading sugar companies, Nordzucker extracts the goods from beet and cane in Europe and Australia, a high-calorie market dominated by a few that can send the price skyrocketing.

The "nervous" grain market

Flour has also become more expensive. With the onset of the Ukraine war in the spring, a ton of grain suddenly cost 50 euros more on the stock exchange, recalls Konstanze Fritzsch from the Dresden mill. Since then, he said, the grain market has been "nervous." "Prices fluctuate between 200 and 400 euros." With each report, it rises and falls, according to the expert, who buys the grain from regional farmers.

Konstanze Fritzsch from Dresden Mill buys the grain from regional farmers.

Fritzsch is also feeling the effects of the environmental crisis: new crop protection regulations, increasingly expensive fossil fuel-based fertilizer and the dry summer have all contributed to less grain being produced in Germany this year. "Less yield is the result if we want a more ecological agriculture," she says. And even if farmers are local, the price is based on the Matif European grain exchange. "The bakers look at the stock exchange and then buy flour when the price of grain is favorable from their point of view. As well as on the other side, farmers then sell their grain when the exchange prices are favorable from their point of view." Difficult to calculate for a mill that is also struggling with rising energy prices.

White powdered sugar, juicy raisins, a dough refined over generations - the Stollen contains centuries-old craft knowledge.

The recipe of the stollen is law

Besides flour, sugar, raisins, butter is also one of the main ingredients: Here the price has doubled. Couldn't this be replaced by cheaper margarine? "No," says Wippler. "The Dresden Christstollen stipulates a minimum of 50 percent butter in the fat content, and there's no way to shake that." And that's what Wippler is keen to emphasize. "We're not going to cut corners on quality. Anyone who buys an original Dresden Christstollen must be able to rely on it."

But bakers fear that customers will reach for the cheaper discount stollen. At the Cooperative Bäko East Dresden bakers have purchased 25 percent fewer stollen ingredients than in previous years. This would mean that instead of the five million stollen sold each year, one million fewer would cross the counter.

Master baker Wippler is focusing more on 500-gram stollen this year. "People will shop more consciously. The fact that they run to the cheaper Stollen, we can not influence," continues Wippler, who runs a business with about 70 employees. "In the end, everyone has to decide for themselves what the moment is worth to them when they cut the Stollen on the Advent table."

Is the discount stollen competition for bakers?

Baker Frank Gehre has no fear. He and his five employees rely on their customers. And Dr. Quendt, which sells the kilo stollen at half price at the discounter, is no competition for him. "They advertise us all over Germany. And we top it off with our genuine artisan products." For him, one thing is certain: "Germans are used to food being discounted. That has to change."

Gehre nevertheless knows bakers who are on the verge of going out of business. "Family traditions are at stake here," emphasizes the man who proudly says, "I sold my car for the raisins." That's because the bakers buy the ingredients for the stollen in the summer, when money is particularly tight for them.

However, not only the product itself is becoming more expensive, but also its packaging. Since the pastries are stored in a dark and dry place, many sell Dresden Stollen in cardboard boxes. Even before the energy crisis, the price of the package rose by almost 39 percent from 2020 to 2021, as figures from the Stollen Protection Association show. From 2021 to 2022, the price increased again by 20.6 percent. That's a 60 percent increase in price in two years.

200 degrees Celsius for one hour

And couldn't the baker at least save on energy? "Stollen can't be baked using the low-cooking method," explains Karoline Marschallek, managing director of the Stollen Protection Association. 200 degrees Celsius. One hour. There's nothing you can do about it. "We only pass on part of the cost," explains Wippler, who would rather have spent the money for energy and ingredients on his employees' wages. "I see huge demand for wages in the bakery trade," he says, referring to the shortage of skilled workers.

That's why baker Gehre is trying to save money elsewhere: A solar module on the roof, LED lamps, rethinking baking processes. But he's also trying to be creative. Selling new breads, trying out old recipes, doing without expensive additives. "That's our advantage in the craft. Innovations that take years in giant corporations go within a week with us." With stollen in hand and a smile, he says, "A crisis also has its good side."

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