Dusseldorf At the beginning of the year, Leonard Wilhelmi had no solid food for two weeks. The 35-year-old does what he does for a living: he is head of the Buchinger Wilhelmi fasting clinic in Überlingen.
In a quiet hillside location directly on Lake Constance and with a view of the Alps, around 3500 visitors come there every year, who only eat fasting soups made from fruit and vegetable juices. Depending on the room, they pay between 3,000 and 6,000 euros per week. The suite with its own sauna and a good view even costs 16,000 euros.
The facility, which also attracts many managers, sees itself as a mixture of private clinic and monastery – and on the level of a four or five-star hotel. The visitors not only want to eat less there, they also want to detox mentally with the supporting program of yoga, wellness, hikes and medical examinations.
In the year of its 70th anniversary, the facility is struggling with rising energy and personnel costs. Due to inflation, Wilhelmi has increased the wages of all 300 employees by a flat rate of seven percent. The business is staff-intensive: there are two and a half employees for every visitor.
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The family business is now trying to open up new sources of income with an offer for home therapeutic fasting. The 24-part fasting box consists of vegetable soups, oils, teas and nutritional supplement tablets. Interested parties can practice doing without it for five days – if they are willing to pay 199 euros for the box.
Wilhelmi explains that guests have expressed the wish to be able to fast between or after their stay at home. They can also extend their visit to the clinic at home if they don’t have the time or money for a longer stay.
Benefit from the fasting trend with a box for at home
“We discussed for a long time whether we shouldn’t cut off the branch we’re sitting on with the box,” says Wilhelmi, who is the fourth generation to run the company. “But we believe it’s an opportunity to reach more people and stay connected with our guests.”
The box is not a substitute for a stay in the clinic. There, visitors only get 200 to 250 kilocalories per day, which requires medical supervision. The Fastenbox limits the intake to a good 600 calories.
The family business wants to benefit from the fact that more and more people are fasting. In a survey conducted by the health insurance company DAK last year, almost two-thirds stated that they were doing without. In 2012 it was only half of those surveyed. In addition, fasting yoghurts or soups are in vogue.
Drop in sales during the pandemic
The idea for the Fastenbox matured shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic. The occupancy figures fell due to the corona restrictions. “The fear of traveling was the biggest poison for us,” says Wilhelmi. In 2020, according to the Federal Gazette, the turnover of the fasting clinic collapsed by a third to 30 million euros, the bottom line was a loss of 261,000 euros.
In 2021, sales of 44 million and net income of five million euros remained below the pre-pandemic level. In the past year, sales were back to the level of 2019, according to Wilhelmi – i.e. around 46 million euros.
>> Read more: Study: Family businesses create more jobs than Dax companies
Despite the general crises, the head of the clinic is confident about the new year. The booking situation is good. Because of the inflation-related cost increases, there were some who postponed their stay. However, many guests have confirmed that they do not want to save on the hospital stay, especially in these uncertain times, reports Wilhelmi.
“We have found that people are looking for a meaningful break – and for measures to turn their stress into a positive impulse.” could train their resilience.
More medical offers
Wilhelmi, who took over the family business from his father in 2019, wants to address this by strengthening the clinic’s medical offerings: He has hired new specialists in acupuncture and osteopathy, for example, cooperates with a sleep clinic and has built a yoga meditation studio.
“Fasting is no longer enough for our guests. We have to put together an attractive package around it.” The visitors also wanted to use their time in the clinic for diagnostic check-ups.
The family business invested a mid-seven-digit amount in the modernization of the plant in Überlingen last year. An architect from Milan, who is one of the clinic’s regular guests, has given the rooms a visual makeover. The doctors’ rooms, the dining room and the kitchens were renewed.
This year, not only the facility in Überlingen is celebrating an anniversary. The sister clinic in Marbella, Spain, is 50 years old. It is managed by Leonard Wilhelmi’s brother Victor and their cousin Katharina Rohrer-Zaiser.
research on fasting
From an economic point of view, the family business does not want to fast, but the expansion plans have been slowed down by the crises. “We want to concentrate on our two existing locations first,” says Leonard Wilhelmi. He does not want to rule out the possibility of expanding to a third location – “but at the earliest when the world enters economically calmer waters”.
For critics, Wilhelmi’s business is a total physical renewal through esotericism. He tries to counteract this with scientific studies. The family business has been working with European research institutions such as the Berlin Charité for years.
Recently it was shown that fatty liver can be cured by fasting, according to Wilhelmi. Long-Covid diseases could also be weakened in this way. “For us as a medium-sized company, such research is extremely expensive. But we want to show people the benefits of fasting in a well-founded manner.” The results are presented free of charge on the website and on YouTube.
Due to the rising costs, Wilhelmi feels compelled to raise its prices. On average, stays are eight percent more expensive. But you have to be careful with this topic, he says: “We’ve invested a lot, but we mustn’t scare off our regular guests with prices that are too high.”
More: Head of the Überlinger Fastenklinik – “Our body is not made to eat three times a day”