Sustainable and truly inspiring! It’s nice that we found one half of the start-up team of a young Austrian company for this green business interview. Healthy and sustainable chewing gum, that’s their plan.
Even such a small product can have great potential. However, there is a lot of work behind it.
We wish you lots of fun, inspiration and motivation while reading the interview with one of the founders of Alpengummi, Sandra Falkner.
How and when did you come to the idea to start your own business?
Through my studies I met Claudia in Copenhagen. We did the same Master at the BOKU University in Vienna and had to come up with an idea (innovation in the forest sector) which utilises raw materials from the forest. So, we came across the resin and the “Pecherei”, which is still practiced in Lower Austria by a few.
Resin has always been chewed. There are findings of bite marks on it from approximately 5000 years ago. In the west of Austria, it is still known as “Kaupech”. That is the resin from the tree which you really dredge and chew.
So we researched about the ingredients of today’s chewing gums, and we were shocked. Everything consists only of plastics, with aspartame, artificial sweeteners, etc., and there are hardly any alternatives.
The very first chewing gum was made of spruce resin and beeswax and we wanted to pick up on this tradition and bring it back to the people, promoting the idea of going “back to nature” a bit.
What was your motivation and vision at that time?
First of all, the motivation for was to get ready and write a business plan for the course. However, the whole process was so much fun that we really said, “Hey we want to try if this works”. So, we started experimenting in the kitchen. Initially, our goal was to develop something chewable. But soon we moved to the university laboratory where we worked for 2 to 2.5 years on the product development.
Now it’s time to further develop the product and meet the demand. We would like to have our chewing gum at every cash register in every supermarket.
Were there initial challenges?
Definitely! The recipe, the approvals and certifications. Resin has always been chewed but not sold. Let’s say, the authorities had certain requirements which we had to meet. The whole analysis took a year. During this time, we were worried, because we did not know whether we would be allowed to sell our product at all.
What does a typical day in your life look like today?
Very varied. We often work until lateat trade fairs or our production site that we rent and we only have free time in the afternoon.
We really stand there at 00:00, roll out the dough and portion it.
Since we do everything by ourselves, there are many different areas that we cover. Starting with product development, phone calls, orders to be packaged and sent, press inquiries, interviews, and TV appearances. Sometimes that is a bit too varied, if you want to focus on one thing and then get interrupted again and again. So, it always takes a while to get back into the real job.
What are the key skills and qualities to succeed in your industry?
In general, and in my experience, as a founder, you should have a good time management and be fit with project management.
But the most important thing is the motivation, to burn for what you do. With that, a lot is possible, even if you do not come from the industry and an appropriate background.
None of us has previously produced and marketed food. We learned everything necessary by doing it. You learn so many new things every day because you just have to like new challenges and dealing with them. Do not rest on the knowledge of the day before.
Do you have a secret of success?
I think you have to like what you do so you can inspire and motivate others. If you talk about your own product and fully stand behind the idea and the concept, people will feel you and remember this impression.
How do you / your business earn money?
By selling chewing gum. The raw materials for the productions are provided by suppliers, such as the resin from Austria and the birch sugar from Finland. However, we make the gum itself, package it and make sure that it can be found by customers.
Is there anything that you think can be improved on your industry?
Yes, in any case. As a start-up, it is not easy to cooperate with wholesalers, because they are often not designed for start-ups. They work mostly with major suppliers, where logistics are of course quite different from a start-up. Here, it always comes back to complications and it makes the whole thing difficult. The chewing gum industry is actually quite monotonous, because only one manufacturer dominates about 98% of the market. As a start-up or as a small company, the only natural raw materials that are produced by hand. So, we cannot deliver the same quantities, not for the same price. So, it would be very desirable for wholesalers to open up more for start-ups and make it easier for them to get started.
If you could start again, would you do something different?
No. We had a good idea, we tackled it and now we try our best to make it successful. It is fun to develop a good product and bring it to the market.
What do you advise others for their lives and careers?
It is particularly important to say that it needs more female founders. Claudia and I both come from the rail environment and therefore know many of the problems that still need to be solved worldwide. In one way or another, maybe completely different than before.
There are many challenges that can only be solved with new ideas. I think people should sit down and think, “Where is something going wrong?” And then think about what difference they might could make.
In any case, you do not have to be afraid about opinions and chances. Austria is very positive and supportive in this regard.