In this interview series, HSWT presents startups from FSIWS. The series introduces the companies and their product ideas, how they work and how they overcome challenges.
As Startup of the Month in April, Nadine and Sebastian report about their startup 'kräuterkraft'.
Your product idea explained in a few sentences:
kräuterkraft focuses on the production of 'natural organic powerfoods' from predominantly regional or domestic cultivation. We are of the opinion that we do not need superfoods from far away, because our home is home to enough 'hidden champions', which we want to give a stage.
We dust off old herbal knowledge, move the power herbs into the center of our developments and thus create enjoyable products for a healthy everyday life. Our first initial product are the smooteas® and another exciting product development, which brings the power of herbs, is in the works within the FSIWS.
What makes your product unique?
The smooteas® are a new type of superfood powder and combine the best of two worlds: the 'SMOO' of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables with the powerful 'TEA' of fresh herbs. Here, freeze-dried organic ingredients are ground especially finely in a special process so that they are universally applicable.
They are a delight hot and cold as well as surprisingly versatile in dosage: one teaspoon is enough to flavor a liter of water with a refreshing vitamin kick. A little more results in a powerful taste experience. All without the waste of tea bags or elaborate smoothie preparation, because the valuable ingredients are drunk along with it. An aromatic powerhouse that fits sensibly into any everyday life.
How did you come up with this idea?
Initiated by nutrition-related illnesses in her family, the topic of healthy nutrition has accompanied Nadine all her life. She developed a special fascination for the power of food and herbs. During various stations such as the ROBINSON Clubs and Kempinski, she was able to live out her passion for 'nutrition & indulgence'. However, the question kept coming up, "How can we bring more health into people's individual daily lives and do it with enjoyment?" Because often there is not enough time for this in the stressful working life.
The decisive factor was then the birth of Nadine's daughter, which sharpened her eye for natural remedies and her husband's complaints about men's flu, as he did not want dull teas in annoying bags, but something "healthy, tasty and helpful". With self-acquired knowledge and years of experience from times in F&B conceptualization, she began experimenting. Et voilà - the idea of 'kräuterkraft' and the smooteas® was born.
What aspects of the product, packaging and distribution are particularly important to you with regard to a possible market launch?
Our foundation consists of the building blocks 'health, taste and sustainability on a human and environmental level'. We try to link these elements in our actions in the best possible way, which unfortunately is not always easy. For example, startups generally find it very difficult to even take the first step - for example, due to minimum order quantities from manufacturers, bottlers or packaging producers.
Packaging is an important topic for us. Here - as with many other building blocks - we want to act as sustainably as possible. Here we have to combine many aspects such as product protection, MOQ, product design and handling, but also customer perception and legal requirements. Designing everything according to one's wishes from the beginning is hardly possible as a young startup. It is then important to communicate openly and transparently, both internally and externally, in order to clearly show where the journey is headed. Currently, for example, we use packaging made of mono-plastic that is completely recyclable.
What difficulties did you have to overcome in the product development process?
The idea was followed by an experimentation phase in our own kitchen before the first prototypes were successfully tested among family and friends. We then called in external experts and networks to test the idea further. The special grinding on a larger scale was particularly challenging. In the end, this was only possible via suitable subcontractors and meant saying goodbye to the idea of "organic growth from the kitchen.
The search for subcontractors who, among other things, met all the requirements in terms of certifications and were also prepared to process small quantities was not easy. Consequently, test runs for different formulations could not be carried out as smoothly and quickly as planned. It became apparent that relying on subcontractors is rather suboptimal.
In addition, the corona year 2020 made it extremely difficult to move forward, all projects were severely slowed down and the capital for the initial production melted away. In search of solutions, we came across the possibility of crowdfunding, which would enable us to finance the initial production. We decided in March 2021 to conduct a very intensive and instructive crowdfunding campaign on the platform startnext. We were finally able to complete this successfully and kick off the initial production in May 2021.
Due to several setbacks in the sourcing of raw materials (wet weather, resulting in a two-month delay in the mint harvest) and in production, the launch of smooteas® was ultimately delayed until November. Nevertheless, we used the time to further intensively push our company (homepage, social media channels, new products, etc.) and to continue to pursue our vision.
How did you motivate yourselves when things weren't going so well?
As a young and new food startup, it's not exactly easy, especially at the beginning. The market is fiercely competitive - as we have experienced ourselves several times in recent months. So when things aren't going so well, you should allow yourself to be frustrated and talk about it openly. In doing so, you question things and at the same time take a new perspective. This helps to recognize other approaches and solutions. Taking a break, going out into nature, clearing your head and focusing on the vision also helps enormously and triggers new energies. It is an incredibly challenging, yet very fulfilling task! However, the higher goal of contributing to more sustainability and health spurs us on every day.
Working together as a team certainly wasn't always easy, was it? How did you structure it so that it worked well?
Nadine: In the development phase of 'kräuterkraft' I asked Sebastian, a friend of my husband, for help with my logo. He had already designed a logo for my husband, a self-employed carpenter. After that, I had more and more design tasks coming up that I asked Sebastian to help with. He was enthusiastic about the whole product idea and so the collaboration took off. The areas of responsibility were clearly divided from the beginning. The collaboration became more intense step by step until we decided to tackle the crowdfunding campaign together as a founding team, which can be seen as a baptism of fire in terms of teamwork and which we mastered with flying colors! We are lucky to be on the same wave and through friendship there is also an important basis of trust so that you can talk openly about everything - that helps enormously.
Sebastian: Due to the existing friendship, the trust in the other person is naturally more present than when you bring someone else on board. Time has also shown that each of us is 100% behind the idea and vision of the company and that we can rely on each other. If we don't agree on certain points, we discuss them openly - this often even leads to new ideas and approaches. At other points, you simply have to trust in each other's expertise. That has worked out great so far!
What was the most triumphant or emotional moment for you so far?
Oh there are a few, but the crowdfunding phase was the most emotional so far due to the fierce and short strung together ups & downs. We had imagined the crowdfunding phase to be really intense and demanding - but what followed exceeded our expectations in many ways. First the great amazement at so many supporters right at the beginning, then the so-called "valley of tears" and finally the countdown marked by euphoria - everything was there.
We had to really get on with it and work hard to achieve the necessary range, as not all our plans worked out straight away. As a result, we had numerous sleepless nights. And then the feeling when the time finally came: pure joy and relief, marked by great gratitude! Crowdfunding is always a collaborative project.
Do you exchange ideas with other startups or network with them? How?
The food startup ecosystem as we experience it is particularly dynamic, open and incredibly strong. Thanks to great organizations and institutions like Crowdfoods from Konstanz, the FSIWS in Freising, the Food & Beverage Innovators from Austria, and many more that regularly create great events, networking and exchange is not difficult. Every startup has to deal with similar challenges sooner or later, depending on where it stands. So it's fantastic when you can exchange one or two helpful tips or contacts.
What tips can you give to other startup founders in the food industry or elsewhere?
Everything is a process! An idea does not necessarily have to be fully developed, but evolves in the doing as well as in the open and constructive exchange with many people!
Ups & Downs are part of it! It is important to always have the vision in mind and to pause at valleys and see them as an opportunity for reflection and optimization.
Be proud of what you have achieved! Often, you get so caught up in the day-to-day work that you forget what you've already accomplished. So it's perfectly okay to give yourself and your team a pat on the back and be proud of what you've accomplished so far!
What are your plans for the future of your startup?
In five years, we see kräuterkraft as a company with a powerful and motivated team that passionately continues to work towards our shared vision. By then, we will have built an incredibly innovative and versatile product portfolio with natural, sustainable and thoughtful products that support people in different life situations to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Our involvement has also made a name for ourselves in nutrition education and helping more people embrace a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. We are very much looking forward to the rest of the journey!