June 9, 2016

Mymuesli – A Bavarian success story

mymuesli co-founder Max Wittrock (photo: Viktor Strasse)
mymuesli co-founder Max Wittrock: "We know how to tell a story" (photo: Viktor Strasse)
Had one no other reason for loving the German-speaking nations, one would simply have to do so for their giving the world muesli (granola) and brightening up our breakfast tables.

Strangely, muesli once had a Cinderella existence on German supermarket shelves. Its potential as a category clearly hadn't been recognised. Consumers either made it themselves or munched American cornflakes.

Like most foods, muesli has a lot to do with culture and Zeitgeist. It was first discovered by the student generation in the 1960s and 1970s, so it was long deemed the province of long-haired hippies playing folk guitars and practicing free love.

This delicious food only really became mainstream in the 1980's and 1990's when the manager generation gradually recognised its nutrient qualities. So instead of schnaps and black coffee, they now give themselves a vitamin rush to power away the day on.

Since then we have obviously experienced the digital revolution, so what could be more logical than to order muesli on the internet?

All you need is a good idea

mymuesli's three founders (photo: mymuesli)
mymuesli's three founders and current partners: Philipp Kraiss, Max Witttrock and Hubertus Bessau (from left to right) (photo: mymuesli)
As with most success stories, it was one simply waiting to happen. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, or should we say men? Philipp Kraiss, Max Wittrock and Hubertus Bessau, three young, bright-faced fellows from deepest Bavaria, but looking as if they have just arrived from Silicon Valley, came up with a brilliant new marketing idea.

It was based on the very simple recognition that everyone likes to choose his or her own muesli and would therefore appreciate a customised product. So the academic trio called their company mymuesli and established it nine years ago in Passau where they still have their manufactory.

Today, mymuesli customers can mix their favourite mueslis online from 80 organic ingredients with no artificial additives. This theoretically allows 566 quadrillion different combinations, which makes one wonder what their handling costs were before they invested a seven-digit sum in machinery and production facilities.

Orders are delivered to customer homes, and free-of-charge as from €40, but they can also be collected at more than 40 bright and colourful mymuesli outlets. These vary considerably in size, the shop nearest to Lebensmittel Zeitung at the Skyline Plaza shopping centre in Frankfurt, managed by Anna Kowalczyk, is around 30m².

mymuesli cranberry-pistazie-granola (photo: mymuesli)
Colourful: mymuesli cranberry-pistachios-granola (photo: mymuesli)
The in-store offer covers premixed mueslis in pastel and pop-art coloured cardboard tubes and tubs as well as coffees, teas, "Noats" porridge and orange juice. The 575g tubes, containing around six to eight portions, are retailed at €6.90 to €14.90,  depending on the mix.

Varieties include such popular ingredients as cornflakes, hazelnuts, blueberries or chocolate as well as specific product mixes for cyclists, children, amateur and professional sportsmen, gluten-free etc. There are also 85g "mymuesli2go" cardboard cups for convenience-oriented customers who can sample and taste the different varieties on demand.

The mymuesli store network, which already spans Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden, is expanding fast, and more branches will be added by the end of this year, including possibly in the Netherlands.

Multi-channel retailer

Obviously, physical stores increase any online retailer's cost base and add complexity to the whole operation, which is probably why only around one in twelve of them have pursued this route in Germany so far. But in 2009 mymuesli was one of the first local e-tailers to realise the potential of bricks & mortar outlets for building the brand and growing one's online customer base.

mymuesli superfruit-muesli (photo: mymuesli)
mymuesli2go: superfruit muesli (photo: mymuesli)
Similar to Amazon's first bookstore in Seattle, mymuesli uses the data gleaned from online transactions on its web shop to tailor the store assortment to customer needs and therefore to maximise the use of limited floor space.

Mymuesli has also embarked upon the conquest of supermarket shelves where its colourfully packaged cardboard tubes have become a distinctive feature in more than one thousand food stores.

This innovative multi-channel retailer employs a team of around 700 young, creative people who seem to thrive on the flat hierarchy and the relaxed, fun ethos the founders have inculcated into the business. Here they quote the US journalist and academic Simon Sinek: "The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas, it is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen."

They can be proud of themselves for muesli is a small, but delightful contribution to world culture. After all, life is too short for bad breakfasts...

Insights into the Vollkorn economy

mymuesli co-founder Max Wittrock (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Max Wittrock: "Just do it!" (photo: Thomas Fedra)
At our newspaper's recent 'Marketing Myths' conference in Frankfurt, it was therefore a pleasure to hear co-founder Max Wittrock talk extempore in English about his experiences as a young entrepreneur. Intriguingly the 34-year-old lawyer and former journalist titled his lecture 'Insights into the Vollkorn (wholemeal) economy'.

Wittrock was refreshingly honest: "We made so many mistakes!" But a lot of the early difficulties had to do with scale. At first, for instance, they had to write each product label with different coloured felt-tip pens because their laser printer would mess up. Today, mercifully, the company has invested in professional printing devices for their tubes.

Two weeks after mymuesli's launch in April 2007, as orders began to pick up, the logistics problems grew. Once, a sub-supplier blithely informed them that there would be a six-week delay on the delivery of the cardboard tubes. This problem was resolved, however, in an ingenious way. Mymuesli slapped a 'sold out!' banner on its website. This made people curious and generated more customer interest then ever before.

Then initial sales at the company's first store were slow for the simple reason that the shelving was arranged in the wrong way. Presenting the cardboard tubes horizontally and head-on to the customer seemed like a good idea at the time, but meant that staff had to constantly clear up afterwards. This is why the cardboard tubes now stand vertically on the shelves of all mymuesli outlets.

This trial & error method in the physical world has been more than compensated for, however, by considerable online marketing skill, where the company uses the full marketing cake from CRM search optimization to social media and affiliate marketing. If, for instance, one searches Google for muesli, mymuesli will come up before even Wikipedia.

And mymuesli have learned their offline lesson: "We're a multi-channel brand now, paying close attention to all our sales channels, be they off- or online. And each of them gets the same care and affection. They're our babies, and we love them."

"We also know how to tell a story," says Wittrock, who stresses that stories add value. Here he cites the dictum of US radio and TV host Ira Glass: "Great stories happen to those who can tell them."

KISS - Keep it simple stupid!

On the conference theme of current "marketing myths", Wittrock was sceptical about the extensive employment of Big Data without using one's brain. For instance, rock singer Ozzy Osbourne has essentially the same demographic characteristics as Prince Charles: Both gentlemen were born in 1948, are dog lovers, and have been married twice.

Max Wittrock lecturing at Marketing Myths (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Max Wittrock: "There is still tremendous value in the mass customization business model" (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Instead Wittrock prefers a pragmatic approach: "Before you begin, you cannot possibly know the potential market size of any niche: Therefore just making a start and doing it is often a far better idea than lots and lots of market research."

Wittrock also doesn't believe that the so-called Brand Triangle has changed much over the last century. In his view, you still have a brand and two consumers talking to each other about that brand.

And most importantly: "As never before in history, brands can now listen and interact with their customers, whereas in the 1930s the chance of overhearing your customers on a street corner was close to zero. Now you get tons of insights for free, but, astonishigly few seem to listen."

As brands always need to be on the same wavelength as consumers, Wittrock finds it surprised that most of them still do not participate in the dialogue. In fact he attributes much of mymuesli's success to the effectiveness of personal recommendation online.

He also believes that companies often over-complicate when they try to innovate. "Innovation is not about investing, but about taking a different approach." Here too his motto is: "Just do it!"

Podcast microphone (photo: Gerhard Seybert-Fotolia)
(photo: Gerhard Seybert-Fotolia)

Podcast. Click arrow to listen to an audio version of the text:

Lebensmittel Zeitung with digital sister (photo: LZ)
Our German B2B newspaper, Lebensmittel Zeitung, in print & digital
Read in German: 'Titel' by international editor Mike Dawson on page 51 of Lebensmittel Zeitung, no. 23, 10.06.2016

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