Interview with Anja Brachmüller, Chief Operations Officers of Veganz Group
Anja Brachmüller is Chief Operations Officers of Veganz Group. The company opened its first vegan supermarket in Berlin in 2011, and since 2015, has been focusing on selling its own brand. Since then, Veganz is distributing in excess of 100 products in more than half of the EU nations and is also represented in large retail chains. In an interview with Staufen, Ms. Brachmüller tells about the company’s journey from vegan supermarket chain to one of the most sustainable and innovative food tech companies in the food industry.
Chief Operations Officer
Tell us how the inspiration came about to establish a company that sells vegan products?
Veganz was the brainchild of our founder Jan Bredack, who after changing his diet to vegan, was frustrated with having to read the labels at the supermarket. With Veganz, he created his very own shopping paradise, exactly spot on the mark at the time. Each time we opened a new store, it was a festival atmosphere. The international press paid us a visit every week with camera crews and journalists to report on us.
Would you provide us with a brief overview of the next steps of your development as a company?
We laid one small brick at a time to build our structure. It was the next logical step: To start with the supermarket, to become familiar with every vegan product around the world, to bring the most interesting items to Germany and Europe, to distribute them as a wholesaler, and to then produce the most popular items yourself or have them produced for you. The products that were the hardest to product, the ones that no one wanted to make for us, we developed on our own.
Which items was the first one you attempted to develop on your own?
Our Cashewbert. The entire dairy industry was making fun of us. At the time, they said: “But you’re vegans! Of course we have the equipment, but we do not want to make any of our capacities available to you.” I was at my wit’s end! So on the spur of the moment, I decided to put together a team in Berlin and open the first cheese factory. Over three years, we then gathered experience until we established a production in Spielberg, Austria, where we invested in even more products.
What is of the most significant importance when producing Veganz products?
Our products have to taste good, they have to be fun. That is what is most important. We make food for everyone and that is why for years we have been copying the most conventional classic products. This year, we plan on introducing a vegan Milky Way bar. Ideally, our products are bio-certified, have better ingredients and offer an improved environmental footprint. From the list of ingredients to the packaging concept, we make sure that we use resources responsibly.
You worked with the Swiss Eaternity Institute to develop a sustainability score. What exactly does that entail?
The institute calculates the carbon footprint, water consumption and then evaluates, among other things, animal welfares and rainforest conservation. It compares more than 110,000 items and ranks the products. This helps us to be able to say where we stand with our product. Logistics, cultivation, and production conditions are all included in the calculation of the carbon footprint. The water footprint too helps us make decisions. For example, almonds, a super water guzzler. Do we get them from Spain? Or from Canada?
You need to retain employees and promote the next generation, especially when you’re expanding.Anja Brachmüller
Chief Operations Officers, Veganz Group
This year you are starting production of Mililk, a patented 2D printing process for the production of an oat beverage. What does the process look like, and what advantages does it offer?
Mililk is an oat-based barista product. In this process, we take water out of the equation: we print an oat paste, dry it, package it, and are able to send ten liters of milk in an envelope to the consumer. For one pallet of Mililk, retailers would have to get nine pallets of tetra pack milk into the warehouse for that same amount. It’s revolutionary because we solve problems: What we’re doing is solving space problems, we’re solving waste problems, and we’re priced lower than the branded oat baristas out there.
Keyword problems: What do you do to deal with the challenge of disrupted supply chains?
First of all, you have to recognize the situation, and then you have to identify exactly where the problems lie. For instance, we took oil and soy out of the products and used ingredients that are more readily available and that we can source from multiple suppliers. We have always been particularly committed to long partnerships with suppliers. That’s when you know who you’re working with. You go through thick and thin, support each other, and work together to find solutions.
How do you go about addressing the current shortage of skilled staff?
You need to retain employees and promote the next generation, especially when you’re expanding. We have initiated partnerships – with the TU Berlin University, the Fraunhofer Institute, and the German Institute for Food. We hire university students who have completed a great master’s thesis on one of our projects, and we train them in-house. Being a value-oriented company, we attract a wide range of value-oriented people, and they also take the initiative to submit their applications to us.
Consumers are increasingly focusing on the price and sustainability of products in the food sector. In order to meet these expectations and to sustainably improve the farm-to-fork process, we need a fundamental change in the food industry. Click on the link below to the industry paper: “The food industry needs a change of course” to find out what specific solutions Staufen offers for the current challenges in this area and in what way the path to sustainable business can succeed.