All startups dream of getting a foot in the door of the country’s largest retail network. And Algama has done it, with their egg-less “mayo” now found on the shelves of Carrefour hypermarkets throughout France. The secret of their sauce: patience and perseverance. And, indeed, the various steps leading to the market launch of your product can take some time. Mathieu Gonçalves, co-founder of Algama, gives us the benefit of his experience.
Algama: democratising microalgae
Algama is a French startup founded in 2013 by 3 childhood friends: Gaëtan Gohin, Alvyn Severien, et Mathieu Gonçalves. As a specialist in microalgae-based foods, this young company has the lofty goal of turning this ingredient from a niche product to a daily staple: drinks, sauces etc. After several rounds of funding, having set up their R&D lab, and recruiting a dozen staff members, Algama has managed to transform its idea into a promising, market-ready product with their egg free recipe for a “mayonnaise” sauce.
Step n°1: the right recipe
“Our project for a vegan mayonnaise started in 2015,” Mathieu Gonçalves tells me. “We were starting from scratch as there were no existing products of this type for benchmarking in terms of recipes and processes.”
The product R&D took several months. Mathieu’s enduring memory, “the most complicated thing was to get the texture right. We absolutely needed for our sauce to be as close as possible to a classic, egg-based mayonnaise.”
Mathieu advises young startups to take their time with this crucial stage. “For us, we severely modified our recipe several times while working on texture. That cost us time, but it was necessary for the final quality of the product… and increased its market potential.”
Step n°2: industrial transfer
Mathieu gets right to the point: “to pass to industrial transfer, we needed a rigourous selection process to get the right partner. Flexibility of production and high quality standards were the sticking point for us, in phase with our goals.”
And of course, available equipment.
Mathieu gives a warning. “Successfully reproducing your laboratory recipe in a factory is not a given.” As well as differing processes, ingredients may not be identical (in so much as your industrial partner may have their own preferences for suppliers). “Again, your recipe will need adjusting. In our case, it took 9 months to get it right.”
Step n°3: market launch
After about a year and a half of technical development, the product was ready! And the market launch was very promising: Carrefour was on board, with its enviable network of hypermarkets, supermarkets and local stores. “We were able to test what worked best for our ground-breaking product.”
But how to grab this holy grail of market distribution? Mathieu has 3 pieces of advice:
- Play the sympathy card for young entrepreneurs. “Startups are very fashionable at the moment. Don’t hesitate to use this to convince your clients. “
- Make use of competitions and innovation cells of big name retailers. “We applied to and were accepted by Carrefour’s InnBox program. This allowed us to negoatiate directly with the top of the ladder regarding a fast and large scale market launch: 80 retail sites from the beginning.”
- Get all the expert help you can regarding your contracts. “We were very happy with our discussions with Carrefour, who were completely transparent and very helpful,” explains Mathieu. “But reading contracts requires specialist knowledge and we needed expert help. Make use of an external consultant or an experienced, senior team member used to this kind of task.”
By Claire M.
ToasterLAB's Startup manager, Claire is an adept of the world of entrepreneurs, having spent the last 4 years within an incubator and innovation centre. Her mission is to provide daily support and coordination to AcceleRise’s startups, to lend them both practical support and a direct line to the necessary contacts and expertise to get their businesses off the ground. Contact Claire at firstname.lastname@example.org