Historical producers of flour in the country for more than 300 years, the Mullers, almost naturally, forged their destiny with the Fischer bakery in the second half of the 20th century. A logical partnership which, today, extends throughout Luxembourg and even beyond its borders.
To be exact, the story began in the early years of the 18th century, at which time Luxembourg had been in Spanish hands since 1697, after being, , under the control of the Kingdom of France for nearly 40 years.
In 1704, Philippe Bacchus bought a millstone and also milling rights in Luxembourg. The production of flour from the surrounding countryside’s wheat harvest remained limited to the needs of each village. The family business continued from father to son or via nephews and cousins from the Muller family’s side.
In 1863, the family acquired the Dommeldange mills, but these were destroyed by a fire in 1917. The Muller brothers – Edmond, Joseph and Georges – found in 1921 another mill to run, or rather two: they bought one in Kleinbettingen and one in Arlon, which allowed them to cover both sides of the border without worrying about any customs agreements.
The war years did not slow down the momentum of the Muller family and a new generation took matters into their own hands: Jean, Edmond’s son, and his cousin Jacques, Joseph’s son, quickly became a complementary pair and gave a new boost to the company in the early 50’s. They built a livestock feed production plant under the “Alcovit-Protector” brand for the Luxembourg farmers’ market.
Driven by an effective and original promotional campaign at the time, Alcovit-Protector quickly became one of the cornerstones of the company’s activity, renamed “Moulins de Kleinbettingen” in 1954.
The Mullers also invested in the KBL bank, which Edmond Muller co-founded in 1949, after being contacted by the bank’s Belgian headquarters, which was looking for a strong local personality on which it could rely, in order to establish itself in the Grand Duchy.
An extraordinary meeting
In 1963, Jean Muller met Joe Fischer, a small artisanal baker who was as passionate as he was ambitious: an extraordinary character whose encounter proved decisive for the continuation of their respective entrepreneurial exploits.
Joe Fischer had been, since 1954, at the head of the bakery founded in 1913 in Diekirch by his parents, Eugene and Marguerite and bearing the family name, and wanted to automate its production to reduce the need for so much manual intervention..
In order to invest in new tools and machines, in particular through the acquisition of the Gilsdorf industrial bakery, he set out to find a strong partner who could support him. Thus, the Moulins de Kleinbettingen took a minority stake in this project and supported Joe Fischer in his ambition to develop the bakery.
In 1966, a new fire, probably caused by a dust explosion, damaged the mill, but above all destroyed the part dedicated to animal feed, including the brand new machines not yet unpacked. Jean and Jacques decided not to rebuild it, abandoning this activity to become traders, working with Belgian producers. This activity represented a significant part of the turnover until the 1990s.
However, the sector struggled to make ends meet: the selling price of bread and flour was set by… the State and this made it difficult to become profitable. To be stronger, the Fapral cooperative (Food Products Factory), which since 1962 had brought together millers and bakers from the centre and south of the country; the industrial bakery in Gisldorf and its Panelux network merged in 1971 under the Panelux-Fischer banner. Joe Fischer was appointed Managing Director and the Moulin became the majority shareholder of what became the leading bakery group in Luxembourg.
The power of frozen food
In the following years, the mill’s installations were modernised and the company began to manufacture semolina (unprecedented in Luxembourg) for pasta and ready meals. This segment now represents half of the company’s total production. At the same time, the first Fischer “shop in shop” stores appeared in supermarkets, first in Monopol stores, then Match.
In the early 1980s, Edmond Muller, Jean’s son, joined the company at the age of 33. He quickly integrated new IT tools into the company, before taking over the company in 1992, the same year that the entire production line was installed on a single state-of-the-art six-hectare site in Roodt/Syre.
For his part, Joe Fischer innovated by being one of the first to apply in bakeries the freezing process associated with traditional artisanal production. This is how the first “Bake Off” points of sale (with on-site cooking) were launched in the 1990s. Freezing opened up another opportunity for Fischer: that of export, starting with Belgium and Germany.
In 1996, Edmond Muller asked his second cousin, Patrick Muller, to join the group in order to focus on this promising segment’s development. He was then replaced as of2001 by Manou Emringer, Edmond’s nephew. From an initial storage capacity of 50 pallets, the infrastructure is now 11,000 pallets, supported by four (out of seven) production lines dedicated to frozen food, which represents 60% of Panelux’s turnover.
However, this did not mean that the activity of the mills was overlooked. On the contrary: in 2001, the company took over the Nonnenmillen and Bissen mills in order to significantly increase its customer base in order to acquire a European size and thus be able to offer competitive prices while looking to the medium and long term future. Then in 2007, a new flour mill, built to triple sales volumes, was inaugurated.
In the meantime, the company’s presence in supermarkets and local outlets was strengthened by the acquisition of the Mersch bakery in 2004 and then, in 2006, Schwan.
Today, Panelux-Fischer is divided into two entities: Panelux for production, headed by Patrick and Manou Muller and Fischer for distribution, headed by Carole Muller. In parallel, the Kleinbettigen Mills carry on the ancestral tradition of milling.