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Frozen food caterers join in feeding freedom-hungry East German refugees.

Frozen Food Caterers Join in Feeding Freedom-Hungry East German Refugees

Since the wall between West and East Germany has practically been abolished, thousands of GDR-Germans are streaming into the Federal Republic every day to visit their friends and relatives. Those with hard currency come to buy things they have only dreamed of since the end of World War II. Others come just to window-shop the "abundance of luxury."

The number of people wanting to settle in West Germany runs into half a million by now. Many of them wait in camps, gymnasia, barracks, hotel-ships and air-raid shelters for a job and a home. They all have to eat, visitors and refugees alike. So opportunities abound for the frozen food industry to feed them prepared meals.

"Of course we were asked many times to help solve the problem of providing hot food for people coming in great numbers across the border," said a spokesman for Apetito, the biggest producer of frozen ready-meals in the Federal Republic. "But to serve frozen meals in peak condition, technical requirements are key. First you need plenty of cold storage room near the point of distribution, because one never knows how many people may be coming within the next hour. And you need convection ovens to heat and keep the frozen dinners at the right temperature."

But who, if not the frozen food industry, can provide hot, healthy food for thousands of refugees in their makeshift quarters? The German Red Cross is sharing the task with several other welfare organizations and private companies. Most of them use frozen bulk products to make meals - mainly vegetables and fish.

The necessary logistics for the proper distribution of frozen ready-to-serve dishes, however, cannot be established instantly. In fact, FF never actually claimed to be the ideal food in cases of emergencies such as war or natural disasters. But this does not exclude it from being valuable during organized mass feedings. In fact, frozen meals have on many occasions proved to be adequate solutions at congresses, the Olympics or other large gatherings.

"Meals on Wheels"

Frozen products are very much in demand where there are stationary installations such as canteens in factories, office buildings, kindergartens, hostels, senior citizen institutions, nursing homes and hospitals. Here the advantages are evident. For years FF producers have been informing consumers and distributors alike about the superiority of their products.

A good practical operation example of "meals on wheels" utilizing frozen dishes can be seen in West Berlin. Up to 5,000 hot meals per day are delivered to senior citizens in their private homes. The Berlin Red Cross is one of the best customers of Apetito, the German market leader.

The feeding of thousands of refugees that came to West Germany before the eastern border was opened demanded great devotion from many volunteers. Logistically, the flexible mission of mobile kitchens was no problem. Welfare organization helpers were well trained and highly motivated. In emergency cases it seems that fast improvisation is sometimes more effective than long-term planning.

On the other hand, a refugee who has left the GDR with little more than the shirt on his back does not expect an a-la-carte menu to be served upon his arrival. But, of course, modern mobile kitchens (not to be mistaken for the "Gulaschkanone," or military field kitchen) are equipped for preparing complete meals - even for baking cakes. Hot food from same is usually distributed in insulated containers to wherever the refugees are housed.

Meanwhile, the German administration is doing its best to provide solid accommodations before harsh winter weather sets in. In such quarters people are able to cook their own meals. In towns and cities throughout the country, all available hotel rooms and empty apartments have been rented by the government and made available to refugees - priority going to families with children. Billions of Deutschmarks have been allocated for a large home construction program. But for the time being, many are having to make do with basic housing.

The government has leased a large number of trailers and posted them on camp grounds in Hamburg. Sometimes four persons or more are squeezed into such a small space where they also do their own cooking. This is certainly not very convenient, but still better than the fate of those who are housed in the city's red-light district - the famous Reeperbahn. Here it is not uncommon for families with two or three children to live in one-room units that were formerly brothels.

A special feature of Hamburg is the Casa Marina, a hotel-ship formerly serving as temporary quarters for workers on offshore oil rigs. Hired by the city, the vessel is moored next to the former Yugoslavian cruise ship Marco Polo in the harbor of Hamburg. Every day the Arbeiter Samariter Bund hands out 250 hot meals aboard the Casa Marina and 500 on the Marco Polo. Frozen vegetables and fish are among the offerings.

Besides the German Red Cross with its "meals on wheels" service for aged and infirm shut-ins, there are also other suppliers catering hot meals. Many old folks homes and hospitals have closed their own kitchens and are working with supplied frozen ready-meals instead. Other institutions have tapped commercial companies to exclusively provide their catering requirements.

"Andy-Menu" is one of the biggest caterers in West Berlin, serving 3,000 people in 20 institutions. Weekend menus mainly consist of frozen ready-meals that can be heated on the premises. The number of manufacturers and service industries that are closing their kitchens and ordering food from outside specialists in growing.

Human nutrition is a very emotional subject these days. The choice of so-called natural ingredients is almost a creed for many people. Terms like "whole-food," "harmful additives," and "all-natural" have gained currency. Most people know that the freezing of food preserves vitamins and nutritional value. But on the other hand, memories of years of starvation and hunger linger - especially among the elder generation. The disgust of eating out of a tin can - as practiced by many Germans during World War II - was transferred to "tin-boxes" filled with ready-meals that came to Germany after the war in the shape of American "TV dinners."

German producers of frozen food have invested lots of advertising money and years of public relations efforts geared to convince consumers about the quality, taste and nutritional value of their products. Under no circumstances will they allow "frozen meals" to become a synonym for "cheap tinned food to be gobbled up in a dark corner," as one industry veteran put it.

This is a reason why inquiries about selling frozen meals to refugee camps are carefully considered. "We have achieved an excellent image for our products through rigorous control of quality, taste and appearance," a frozen food producer told QFFI. "We do not want to risk the reputation of our company and our product by uncontrolled dumping. This is why we don't put our name on the label of products sent to places where we have no influence over distribution, storage, heating up and presentation."
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Title Annotation:News from West Germany
Author:Heck, Hans
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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