“We have 30 companies working with us in one way or another so we are super happy with how things have gone so far,” KitchenTown marketing and partnerships director Lilith Gawol said while showing NutraIngredients around the space this month, before COVID-19 put a lock down on almost all human activity.
“Launching a food product offers different challenges than launching a tech product for instance. To have that physical product makes quite a difference.”
So what differentiates KitchenTown from other incubators/accelerators?
“The product development heart sets us apart,” Gawol said. “You can do it all here – you don’t need to use your parent’s kitchen to develop a product. It’s all here. This is what makes us special. We are there for those that have an idea but are too small to call in a co-manufacturer. Not to mention our network and connection to the industry and the retailers.”
The 1,000 square metre location is the first foreign iteration of KitchenTown outside its San Francisco HQ, where it has been fostering food and nutrition start-ups since 2014.
German biscuit giant Bahlsen has come on board as a major investor and the two heads of the KitchenTown Berlin operation - Lukas Neuss and Eike Kieras – are former Bahlsen employees although they have stated it will run independently.
Gawol said KitchenTown is in touch with and sharing common aims with Berlin food and nutrition networks such as Edeka’s FooodTech Campus, ProVeg International and The Nutrition Hub.
“It is good to merge our networks sometimes.”
There's a variety of ways start-ups can use this opportunity. They can rent a desk, an onsite food lab or small-batch production space or join its select Accelerator Programme which offers €30,000 funding for 6% equity and a six-month residency.
50 mostly but not exclusively German start-ups applied for the Accelerator Programme with KitchenTown experts selecting four firms to participate in the programme’s first phase:
Easip – non-alcoholic botanical distillates
Zveetz – vegan and sugar-free desserts
Heydrate – healthy drink powders for tap water to reduce plastic bottle consumption
Oat Concept – circular economy use of oats
Easip and Zveetz shared some of the benefits of being part of the KitchenTown project from rubbing shoulders and sharing ideas with other start-ups experiencing similar growth and development issues; to accessing KitchenTown’s resident experts in all aspects of business from formulation to marketing, ingredient science, distribution and food law and more; to use of the 200squm onsite food lab (nicknamed the aquarium) and 400sqm commercial kitchen; to intensive product development and scale-up; to participating in KitchenTown events like a recent gathering where presentations brought the business and scientific worlds together in the realm of personalised nutrition.
“We’ve advanced on many fronts here – formulation, manufacturing, developing e-commerce on our website – it’s been a good deal for us and really helped us get beyond the ideation stage,” said Maike Ostermann, expansion lead at Zveetz whose offerings include sugar-free mousses and choc chip cremes.
Easip co-founder and food technologist Milan Esser added: “The good thing is you can just go in and start with your product development right away in the aquarium here with small quantities.
“Or you can go upstairs (to the small batch production space) to really produce something for the market.”
‘We started with pea milk…’
Another member is Vly Foods, which is not part of the accelerator programme but has based its operation at KitchenTown.
“We started with pea milk but are developing other products like yoghurt and quark here at KitchenTown,” said Nicolas Hartmann, co-founder and marketing and product design manager at Vly Foods, which has grown rapidly to the point where its pea-based dairy alternative is stocked in major German retailer Edeka along with many cafes and other smaller retailers.
“We have a tenancy here – our whole team is here from product development to logistics,” Hartmann said. “There are a myriad of benefits from being in a community of start-ups facing similar challenges to us to the events held and using the pilot facilities to develop products on an industrial scale and the sensory work we do here.”
The next selection cycle for accelerator residencies is underway and Gawol said personalised nutrition, supply chain optimisation, sustainability and health remained core focus areas.
Others involved in the KitchenTown network include Honest Food Company, Made With Plants, Vauce Vegan, Oceanfruit, Quarkwerk, Theyo Labs and Cake for Alfred.