„Constant change is
the beauty of our business“

Can heritage live and breathe, is a question often asked. Having our own living legend, we are in no doubt. His name is Peter Leminski. In October 2010, as head of our importation department, he celebrated 55 years of service and has worked for the company longer than anyone. Who better to interview about the development of dried fruit importation and the history of the company than him?

Mr. Leminski, do you remember anything about your first day with the company in October 1954? What did you do?

A hell of a lot! Forget about making the coffee. On my first day as trainee I had to go straight out with the boss to the harbor, to inspect an incoming shipment. It was a barge full of currants. I had never seen so much dried fruit in my life, it really rolled me back on my heels. In those days the goods were not shipped in a packaged condition, as they are today.

No internet, no containers and no prepackaged goods: How did it all work a good 50 years ago?

There was a lot more bureaucracy involved. First you needed an import license from Frankfurt, from the Federal Office for Food. For sultanas from overseas or almonds from Spain, for example – there were import restrictions on everything. And of course, obtaining customs clearance was much more complicated than it is today. When we started there was no common market, EEC, EU – they simply did not exist at the time. A lot of paperwork was needed before any goods could arrive at the harbor in Hamburg. Nowadays the EU is free of duty and when customs are involved, the paperwork is simplified.

Communications with the producers must also have been much more complicated in those days.

That is to be expected, in retrospect from the age of computers and email. In those days a lot of our business was conducted through agents. Of course, they maintained close personal relationships in order to obtain good contracts. As an example, a chocolate factory might need a fresh delivery of sultanas, or a bakery a shipment of nuts. We would get busy and send enquiries for prices by telex. Depending on the time zone, you had to wait something like 16 hours for a reply before you could compare prices and place an order. Nowadays it all happens much quicker with the internet. Record keeping has also become much simpler by far. At that time we worked with a manual inventory card, where everything was noted down in handwriting – on the front were the purchases and costs, on the back the sales and revenues.

Can you count on the fingers of one hand all the many different activities you were engaged in at Heinrich Brüning?

In the early years, everyone had to be able to do everything. Sometimes we had to deal with shipment tracking, write the contracts, fill out customs papers or we had to go to a warehouse on the docks and clean a shipment of goods before they could be delivered to a wholesale merchant. Every day there was something new. Only purchasing was a job for the boss, because he had all the contacts that kept the company ticking over. Since the 1980s I have mostly had administrative duties – contracts, shipping documents, insurances and accounting. That remains the case, but the procedures and computers are now far more modern and faster.

What has created the changes in the industry?

A combination of factors determined the changes – for example the container, which now delivers the goods directly to the door, the emergence of packaged foods, the health food movement, which has elevated the demand for dried fruit sky high, the computer and the internet. But all these changes took place gradually. Looking back, that is the beauty of this business. The demand for dried fruits and nuts has never undergone dramatic ups and downs, it has always grown constantly and we have constantly grown with it.

You have spent your entire working life at Heinrich Brüning GmbH. Has the company also continually developed?

Yes, you can say that. We are lucky there have never been drastic cuts causing major changes. We have always taken pains to stay a little ahead of the trends. For example, in the late 1960s when the large department stores came into being and began to sell prepackaged goods. Heinrich Brüning GmbH was one of the first importers to work with packaging machines. Then large supermarket chains began to arise, who not only needed supplying with goods, but also placed an emphasis on quality standards and certification. Again we responded by quickly hiring qualified personnel to take care of quality control. Today it is with the organic trend that we are breaking new ground. And now, for the first time in the history of the company, we are producing with our own label.

Company data

↳ 1954

Heinrich Brüning leaves the company Ernst Rickertsen and on January 16 founds his own business as dried fruits importer. The company location is the Asia Haus in Hamburg city center.

↳ 1965

Acquisition of CMF Plummenschmidt, whereby Heinrich Brüning becomes the first dried fruits importer in Germany capable of packaging by machine for the consumer.

↳ 1966

Heinrich’s son Hartwig joins the company.

↳ 1970

The business removes to the Hamburg harbor area in Wilhelmsburg. The new location, with a floor space of around 14,000 square meters, combines the packaging operations, a larger warehousing space and the administrative offices under one roof.

↳ 1983

The company changes its legal status from sole trader to Heinrich Brüning GmbH.

↳ 1995

Marc Brüning joins the company, initially as dispatcher, later as trader.

↳ 2006

Frank C. Rump joins the company.

↳ 2007

Marc Brüning and Frank C. Rump together become managing directors and shareholding partners of Heinrich Brüning GmbH.