At the end of the working day, when the Gaus and Lütje families sit together with their children and apprentices over dinner, there’s always plenty to talk and laugh about. This vibrancy coupled with their close family bonds almost certainly cements the foundations of Gaus-Lütje Kartoffeln’s success in horticultural and arable production.
Before joining together, the families’ mainstay crop was potatoes with sugar beet grown and harvested for a local plant – which closed down in the 1980s. But this presented them both with the opportunity to reassess their respective business’ direction.
Today the merged businesses produce several varieties of potato, from waxy to floury, onions – marketed under ‘Braunschweiger Dunkelblutrote – and sweet potatoes, which are sold whole and as crisps. They also grow spelt, winter rapeseed, sugar beet, malting barley, winter rye, wheat, and maize, near the Mittelland Canal and Elbe Lateral Canal. In addition, there is a piglet breeding facility on the Gaus’ farm, and a pig fattening unit on the Lütjes’ farm, and a farm shop where they sell their produce directly to the customer.
There can be no doubt that the two closely farming families from the south of the Gifhorn district have broadened their business horizons and achieved something special for their families.
Up on the Gaus-Lütje Kartoffeln’s list of priorities was shedding their anonymity as the producer and going direct to the customer – which they’ve successfully managed. However, they say it didn’t happen overnight, and certainly not without setbacks, including selling potatoes via a self-service station at a VW plant 20km from their farms in Wasbüttel and Ohnhorst.
Besides being sold in supermarkets, Gaus-Lütje products are also offered in their own farm shop in Wasbüttel.
Gaus-Lütje deliver their potatoes directly from the warehouse to the supermarkets.
Ready for delivery: Lüneburg Heath potatoes with branding in compostable nets.
The Gaus-Lütje potato warehouse on the Wasbüttel farm.
Closer to the customer through direct marketing
It was evident to the partnership that they needed help to market themselves if they were going to successfully build a business that put them front and centre. “It felt incredibly important for our farms in Wasbüttel and Ohnhorst to engage with a marketing agency to help give us some thought on how to build our own brand and market ourselves,” says Ernst Lütje.
The families felt lessons had been learnt about dependence on processors with the loss of their sugar beet contracts in the 1980s. Bianca Lütje remembers well the first steps out of anonymity. “We wanted something that would bring us closer to the customer,” she recalls. “When our agency presented us with their ideas, we were impressed with the possibilities.”
Just one year after the Gaus-Lütje brand was established under the slogan “Forget the noodles!”, the branch manager of a supermarket chain in the region called the partnership and asked if they would like to sell their potatoes in his supermarket. The partnership didn’t waste this opportunity and started to deliver. That was the beginning of what is now a remarkable supply to some 100 regional markets within a radius of around 60km.
This achievement is testament to the families’ determination and hard work. “We are all people who like to work and want to create something,” explains Tina Gaus-Gevers. “All the family members pitch in and take on tasks. For example, Ernst Lütje’s father still regularly carries out farm work, while the mothers of Ernst Lütje and Jochen Gaus sort the potatoes by size and quality on the conveyor belt.”
Sweet potatoes expand the portfolio
There is obviously a very great willingness in both families to adapt to changing circumstances and to take advantage of the resulting opportunities. A good example of this is their venture into sweet potatoes, which are not related to the common potato. “Just when you thought you’d got the culture figured out, something completely unexpected comes your way,” reveals the 49-year-old Ernst Lütje.
Nevertheless, the sweet potato is now grown on 4ha and is enjoying a high and increasing demand from customers – as a fresh product, but also as crisps with two different flavours produced using a new type of technology. The sweet potato is sustainably expanding the product range under the Gaus-Lütje brand.
Just when you think you have understood the crop, something completely unexpected comes your way.Ernst Lütje
The newly release product brochure states: “We are constantly working on further developing our marketing with innovative ideas to increase the potato’s appeal and to meet changing customer needs.” The partnership actively listens to customer feedback and remains transparent about its sustainability and business developments. Gaus-Lütje no longer use potato nets made of plastic. Instead, they only use renewable raw material, or to be more precise material from the cellulose fiber Lyocell, that is biodegradable and compostable.
If you take a closer look at the diverse activities of the two families, it quickly becomes apparent that the business is far from static – however, some things remain unchanged. For example, in the farm shop they have implemented new payment techniques, while the logo which is almost 25 years old, has remained despite it perhaps not quite meeting current tastes.
“We discussed this intensively with our agency and in the end came to the conclusion that we want to stick to our logo,” says Jochen Gaus, commenting on the somewhat outdated look. He says that according to the agency, the most important thing about the brand is its recognition by the customer. “And that really is the case at this point.”
And while the logo may seem a bit outdated, the business is keeping up with modern digital channels including the use of social media, showcasing a wide range of image-promoting activities like farm tours and children’s birthday parties with pony rides. At harvest, there are great photos both from the air and from other unusual perspectives, that are posted on Instagram and Facebook.
Ernst Lütje presents a field with early potatoes of the Alexandra variety under film.
The Israeli NETAFIM system is used for drip irrigation.
Visual presence for more awareness
Employees and family members take part in online engagement, as do prominent members of society; a photograph of the Minister President of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil, is included in this series when he paid a visit to the stand of the Gifhorn potato farmers at the Green Week in Berlin. But it doesn’t come without the work, the website also needs constant attention to keep its appearance and content up to date. “It’s quite a hassle sometimes,” admits Bianca. “But integrating these things into the day-to-day work is all part of the job.”
And there really is enough work over the 500ha comprising fields, stables, and cold stores at Gaus & Lütje Landwirtschaft GbR. In addition to 84ha of potatoes – including new potatoes under foil with drip irrigation – and the multitude of other horticultural and arable crops, alongside the harvest work.
So where will the brand and the farms be in five years’ time? A question that neither of the families can answer exactly, not least because there have been so many changes in a very short time over the past few years. And even though nobody dares to predict the future, there will definitely be an online shop by then they say – but whether the logo will undergo a facelift by then remains to be seen. The only thing that seems certain is that the children of the two families have a great desire to carry on the business into the next generation.