Interview with Katharina Rütze from KitchenTown Berlin
Learn how this exciting platform is helping start-ups and founders successfully bring products to market.
About KitchenTown Berlin
KitchenTown is a global innovation platform that helps develop, launch and commercialise, impact-driven and transformational food and beverage products. The start-ups in KitchenTown’s ecosystem are united by the vision of creating trustworthy brands, new experiences and innovative technologies that address important food industry challenges.
About Katharina Rütze
Before joining KitchenTown’s team as a Product Developer in 2019, Katharina Rütze worked for a string of exciting food industry players, such as Conditorei Coppenrath & Wiese GmbH & Co. KG, ONO Labs and Eating with the Chefs. Today, her areas of expertise include product development, quality management, sensory analysis and food safety. Katharina holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Food Science and Technology from Beuth University of Applied Sciences.
From San Francisco to Berlin, you’re helping propel impact-driven start-ups and food products forward. How has the concept behind KitchenTown evolved over the years?
KitchenTown San Francisco started back in 2014 as a 'maker space' for start-ups that wanted to produce on a bigger scale but were still smaller than your typical co-manufacturer.
When we transported the idea to Berlin, we spoke to a large number of German founders to find out what their issues were while starting their companies. Based on our findings, we decided to place a stronger focus on product development—which is also very important to founders —and to create a more centralised space that covers more spheres. That’s why, in addition to being able to initiate small-batch productions as we do in San Francisco, it is now possible to come to KitchenTown Berlin to make use of our co-working space and develop your products further.
Last year, we continued expanding our project to encompass remote services while working to support the founders even more to create stories with them.
Which exciting start-ups have passed through KitchenTown’s doors?
From organic beverage mixes, ‘pimped up’ tap water and plastic waste reduction initiatives, to sugar-free desserts, alcohol-free spirits and cold-pressed juices, a wide range of different start-ups has been part of KitchenTown to date.
One of the most exciting start-up stories for us is Vly. They’ve been an integral part of our co-working area from the very beginning. Their product is a pea protein-based milk. Vly’s team and network of retail partners expanded quite rapidly.
Another exciting brand we work with is Vaay, which creates food and skincare products that are CBD-infused or enriched in our product development space
And then, in our small-batch product sphere, we have the prototype of a robo-kitchen by Aitme. This is not usually the case, but it’s really great for us to have them here, nevertheless.
You also invite start-ups to utilise KitchenTown’s lab equipment, scientific methodologies, and skilled professionals to further develop their products. Describe the different steps this process usually entails and which products you are currently working on.
Everything starts with the ideas that founders come here with. Mostly, these are needs of their own, meaning they’ve identified a gap in the market. What we then strive to find out is the product’s focus and target group. This is the foundation for the entire product development process.
As the founders are different and their ideas are different, the challenges they need support with are different. At KitchenTown, we support them through every stage of the product life cycle, whether it’s improving the shelf life, improving the texture or creating a safe but tasty product. This is why we don’t have one KitchenTown way. Instead, we opt for a personalised approach.
What is your greatest success story to date?
Since opening in October 2019, around 100 start-ups have collaborated and co-worked with us, and a lot more are part of our network. As a Product Developer, my favourite stories are the ones for which we have crossed borders. We recently supported a start-up that is launching its product in the US very soon. We also supported a start-up that is working on a project called Invest in Africa. These initiatives really proved that we are equipped to support founders across the globe with our knowledge and services. This is something evolved last year, proving that we can do a lot of things and help many people regardless of where they are located.
Based on your experience, what are the most important learnings for start-ups?
I think the most important factor is focus. A lot of founders want everything—they would like to save the world with compostable packaging; they want to have a long shelf life with a reasonable price tag. But, in reality, you have to concentrate on one thing, because you can’t save the world if your product doesn’t taste good or no one will buy it. This is the most important factor. Once you’ve launched your product, you can always take it a step further and continue developing your product.
Secondly, you really have to think about scalability. A lot of people come to us with kitchen-like prototypes that can definitely be produced in a kitchen. But then, when developing the product further and creating your first samples to send to investors, your never make it to a big production because your process is all wrong. This is something you should take into consideration from the very start.
And thirdly, don’t fall in love with your products! Give them to other people to test, not only your friends and family members. Ask people why they would buy it in place of something else. What would they perhaps abstain from eating if this new product was available to them? You have to ask the right questions, ask a lot of different people and talk about your product. Otherwise, you'll end up being really focused on your product and forget that there might be other opinions out there.