“It’s important to stick to your vision”: Interview with YFood’s CEO Noël

YFood Ben and Noel

Long, stressful working days and hardly any time for a healthy diet? Energetic German startup YFood was founded by friends Ben Kremer and Noël Bollmann, to combat just this, and curb our fast food binges into healthier eating on-the-go.

Founded in Munich in 2017, the two friends in their 20’s have already grown the company to over 60 people, receiving a helpful €4.2 million Series A this May. So, how have they done it?

We sat with founder Noël to ask him about their growth projections, responding to the sustainable food trend, his thoughts on the startup scene in Munich – and what it’s really like to work with your best friend.

Hi Noël! Can you tell us the story of YFood, its mission and how it’s grown since launch?

Before YFood, Ben and I worked in the financial industry. Extreme working hours were commonplace, with fast food quickly becoming the order of the day. After some time, our health began to suffer, and since we could not find an alternative, we decided to take the problem into our own hands. And so, YFood was born.

At YFood, our mission is to revolutionize the whole food industry. Our products provide wholesome and well-balanced meals in mobile dosage form that contain everything our body needs (26 vitamins & minerals, plentiful protein and important fibre), satisfy hunger and provide constant energy for a successful day.

Two years ago, we started as a two-man show in Ben’s nursery. Since then our team has grown to over 60 people, we are at over 7,500 points of sale in the DACH region and have expanded our product range to bars, a self-mixing powder and vegan versions of our drinks.

What differentiates YFood from your competitors? What is your unique element?

YFood is one of the very few food products solving the triangle problem of Time, Money and Health. Our mission is to make conscious nutrition easier for everyone and offer an alternative to unhealthy junk food. Through the combination of functionality and good taste, we create a unique selling proposition, which we expand through continuous development and new product categories. This way, we not only stay on the pulse and open up new target groups, but also offer stationary retailers attractive added value.

You knew each other already well before founding YFood. What is it like to start a business with your best friend? Who takes over which part in the company?

Founding a company with a good friend is definitely an experience that we would not want to have missed. We know exactly how each other ticks and where our strengths and weaknesses lie. If one knows how to use these advantages and is always honest and respectful to each other, then this can have great benefit for the company management. We have clearly distributed our areas of responsibility from the beginning; while Ben is in charge of the entire retail and sales area, I take care of our marketing. Big decisions are of course discussed and made together, which is why regular updates and meetings are important.

What is the typical profile of your customers?

Originally, we developed YFood for Generation Y – hence the name. However, after launching and conducting customer surveys, we noticed that with YFood we are solving a problem that is known among every age group: whether it’s the businessman who travels a lot, the shift worker who has to be ready on call or the stressed mommy who rushes back and forth in everyday life.

Have you raised any funding? 

Yes, we closed Series A in May 2019. Five Seasons Ventures, the leading European Food Tech venture fund, led the €4.2 million Series A round, joined by US investor New Ground Ventures and Frank Thelen from the German TV equivalent of “Shark Tank”, who previously invested in the company.

How has the foodbev industry in general been changing in recent years and how do you have an impact on it?

The trend towards a healthy diet has been emerging for some time now, and purchasing power is being driven by an ever better educated and well-informed market. All this is happening at a time when convenience is also a top priority, to suit the busy lifestyle of the consumer. Another trend emerging is the desire for sustainable consumption. People want to support small, local companies and want to know where the ingredients come from.

Our products are mobile due to their uncooled and long shelf life and can be consumed easily anywhere. YFood saturates 3 to 5 hours without sacrificing good taste or comfort. We can also satisfy our customers’ ever-increasing desire for local products, being manufactured in Austria. The lactose-free cow’s milk comes from farms with maximum of 12 cows per farm, guaranteeing closeness to nature and support for the European economy.

You were founded in Munich. What is your opinion on the environment for creating a company there? 

What we love and value very much here is the interplay of tradition and innovation. While Munich is home to numerous established, international companies, entrepreneurship is also becoming increasingly important. Entrepreneurship centers at local universities offer investment and programs for developing startups, as well as events which connect startups with global players from all over the world, who are keen to meet innovative young entrepreneurs.

We are currently noticing a major rethink in the entrepreneurial scene in Munich and are delighted to be part of these positive developments in our hometown. Nonetheless we would like to see a reduction in bureaucracy and greater support for startups and young companies in Germany. Especially in the startup phase, this can cost a lot of money, time and nerves. This makes many people doubt their decision to venture into a start-up.

What has been one of your biggest failures, and what did you learn from the experience?

The most difficult part was to realize the vision we had of our product and take it to serial production. As we didn’t have an educational background in food engineering we needed to source the respective know-how externally. Many people in the industry told us that our idea (a premixed shake) was not realizable, as they saw a major problem in giving the product a long shelf-life without destroying its vitamins and minerals through pasteurization. After a long and exhausting search, a lucky shot brought us to one of the leading German food engineers, who developed the prototype in coordination with us. After having developed the prototype we were however facing the same problem again when looking for a manufacturer. The development of our product requires a high-tech ultra-heat treatment technology, which most manufacturers couldn’t offer. After having talked to over 100 potential producers from all over Europe, we partnered up with one of the leading European manufacturers of enriched beverages. Their long-standing experience enabled us to perfect our prototype and bring it to serial production. This taught us how important is to stick to your vision even if most people will tell you that what you try is impossible.

What does the future hold for YFood? 

By the end of the year, we will generate sales in the double-digit million range. This figure is expected to increase continuously in 2020. We intend to achieve this primarily by expanding our product portfolio and expanding into new countries. Our goal is to become the world’s leading supplier in this new, up-and-coming product category and we believe we are ideally positioned for this.