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High technology and skilled hands

Dr Markus Moßhammer has been at the helm of the Production division at WALA since 2017. He studied Food Technology at Hohenheim University and completed his doctorate in 2006. After holding a number of different positions in the pharmaceutical industry, he joined WALA in 2011. Photo: Silicya Roth

Dr Moßhammer, you have been responsible for the processes in WALA Heilmittel GmbH’s Production division since 2017. Before you came to WALA in 2011, you had already worked in the pharmaceutical industry. Your doctorate examined the use of cactus fig juice as a natural colorant. How did you happen upon this question?

Markus Moßhammer:

I have always had a very wide range of interests – as a child, I would spend every free moment outdoors. At the same time, I was fascinated by technology. These two interests ultimately led me to study Food Technology. And so I ended up in a team that concerned itself with plants and natural colorants that did not have any health side effects. Taking cactus fig juice as an example, I explored the possibilities of natural colorants. And it worked! The research done at Hohenheim University gave rise to a product that is still being produced by a company in Baden-Württemberg to this day.

“Food technology” sounds a little like artificial food. So what does technology add to natural foods?

Markus Moßhammer:

I would actually turn that question around: how can I use modern technology to allow people to harness what nature has to offer? It is fascinating to see nature’s potential being optimised effectively. Of course, it is also important to use analytical methods to examine positive health effects. However, the simplistic focus on isolated monosubstances that is par for the course today never interested me.

With my scientific work, I was able to show, among other things, the positive effect of the cactus fig juice mixture on the stability of the colorants: the natural “matrix”, the sum of the ingredients, stabilises the colorants which, if they were isolated, would fade quickly. In the case of cactus fig juice, we are talking about this beautiful yellow, red or purple colour. If you want to couch it in simple terms: the plant as a whole fulfils a practical purpose here – it stabilises the colour.

What brought you to WALA later on?

Markus Moßhammer:

First of all, the basic understanding of nature upon which WALA is founded and, in this connection, its understanding of the healing properties of substances found in nature. This is more or less exactly the same approach that already fascinated me as a scientist: taking natural processes seriously. In this light, WALA could well be seen as being rather radical in rejecting all non-natural external influences when preparing its products. This closeness to nature allows WALA products to have a specific quality. And, almost incidentally, it has ecological advantages as well.

And then there was another aspect: at WALA, I realised that, although I like scientific work, I ultimately prefer working together with an interesting cross-section of people to create worthwhile products. The enjoyment I get from this process, together with the enthusiasm among all of my colleagues – lots of people all pulling together in pursuit of a common goal – I find that this is something very special indeed. And it is something that is also felt by other colleagues, particularly those who are new to WALA.

What challenges do you see with regard to the development of the organisation and its skills?

Markus Moßhammer:

The central challenge consists of examining again and again how people, nature and technology work together – and optimising and adapting this relationship. We also want to strike the best possible balance between the various requirements of the overall production process: requirements derived from the quality of the various natural substances, from the technical possibilities and from efforts to create an effective social process for the colleagues involved.

For me, it is very exciting to manage the interplay between skilled manual work and high-tech applications – a cross between an artisanal and an industrial operation. This also includes finding the right combination between centralised and decentralised elements of the organisation: how much decentralised self-organisation makes sense? At the same time, it is a question of factoring in the various expectations of different generations regarding what constitutes a fulfilling job and developing a structure in which we can all work together effectively. Naturally, this includes using digitalisation where it makes sense to do so. These are tasks that I relish. With all these change processes and decisions – which of course are not always simple – our dialogical corporate culture proves to be very useful in practice.

You mentioned different work steps and skills that are to be combined?

Markus Moßhammer:

There are ten people working in our medicinal herb garden alone and they bring an enormous wealth of experience to the table. With regard to the quality of our raw materials, it is of central importance to us that we are able to grow medicinal herbs ourselves. And then there are the sensory skills and great diligence of those colleagues who are responsible for selecting and cleaning plants and for the rhythmic processes used in processing them. From a quality assurance perspective, it is crucial for us to be able to rely on the personal experience and enormous dedication of our experts. Ensuring the highest quality specifications is of central importance when it comes to producing WALA Medicines and Dr. Hauschka Skin Care preparations. This is done based on our own standards as well as regulatory requirements. We ensure that there are no impurities in the ampoules, not even of the tiniest visible or invisible kind. Today, this is possible through the use of high-tech cameras together with complex image processing systems. We have robots to assist us in packaging the products. Naturally, using and monitoring these new high-tech devices calls for very specific application skills and suitable training. In the future, ongoing training will play an even greater role.

You mentioned “non-natural external influences” that you wish to avoid in production. What kind of influences are these?

Markus Moßhammer:

WALA Medicines and Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products are made from natural ingredients, frequently from Demeter cultivation. And we want to make every effort to retain this original biological quality and vitality – from the harvest to the production process. The decision to do without non-natural influences led WALA founder Dr Rudolf Hauschka to develop a rhythmic process back in the 1930s which prolonged the shelf life of natural substances without using alcohol. By using this process, we are able to make natural substances last for decades.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.