Innovation means taking setbacks and striking forward

An interview with Lukas Renz from Bärnstein.
We interviewed Lukas Renz, one of the founders of Bärnstein, a young Austrian beverage company from St. Pölten. Bärnstein is a natural stimulant with green coffee as its base, and other ingredients native to Austria such as dirndl, elderberry, apple, quince and verjus. Bärnstein is one of the top 100 start-ups in Austria. We asked Lukas about the history and development of the brand and the company, as well as his opinion on innovation.
AnyIdea: How did you come up with the name Bärnstein?

Lukas Renz: It all started five years ago. Back then we said we wanted to develop a new brand, not a me-too product, i.e. not a new iced tea or a new cola, but really open up a new beverage segment. Our approach was: we want to develop something that we like to drink ourselves. That was our first step into brand development. It was important to look at how to build a brand that the consumer understands and can also tell others about. That has guided us well along the way. Our core values, i.e. the values of the brand, were the common thread: Loyalty, honesty, friendliness. The brand has to be down-to-earth and express sustainability and quality, as well as a certain kind of strength. That’s how we came to Bärnstein. On the one hand, the strong bear, the steadfast animal, the quiet power of the forests, going its own way. On the other side amber, the fossil resin. In amber, things are preserved and sealed forever, we know that from fossils, and we preserve the quality in the bottle. The most successful brands have fixed values, a basic structure that doesn’t change. Then you are credible and authentic.

Bärnstein Logo
AnyIdea: Who was involved in the development of Bärnstein?

Lukas Renz: We didn’t really ask anyone at the beginning. We wanted to do what suited us. We knew there was nothing with green coffee, so we just did it. The topic of regionality is also gaining strength. So this mixture of domestic adventure and distant experience came about relatively quickly. When you build a brand, you need a lot of supporters, brand sympathisers, people who think what you do is great and consume your product. The distribution channel is also a big part of the brand here. This is where persuasion is important.

AnyIdea: What does innovation mean for you personally and for the Bärnstein brand?

Lukas Renz: Innovation is a very lived word these days. For me, that’s a bit of a shame, because everything is labelled as innovation, which is basically just a variation. We haven’t necessarily done anything completely innovative now either. Bärnstein is nothing more than a drink. I can’t reinvent drinking. At some point, you might be able to put a drop in your mouth, and that will be like a glass of water. I’m always a bit cautious about what is innovation and what is not. We all know disruptive innovations from the media, in the beverage sector I don’t think there is anything like that at the moment. But what we have already done is a product variation with an innovative character. Because in the consumer sector, it’s very much about the brand and the positioning. But being truly innovative is also very important for me. To always keep yourself up-to-date. To always see everything a little differently than everyone else.

The founders of Bärnstein
AnyIdea: On the subject of open innovation: was there a phase in the development process where you opened up?

Lukas Renz: Sure, we brought in a food technologist, among others, to standardise the product. But it’s also a balancing act: when we started letting other people have a say in the initial phase, the processes suddenly became lengthy. And we let ourselves get unsettled.

Now, when we start something new, we use our own experience and our team, for example in tasting. Today we can trust our instinct and our feelings.

AnyIdea: Many of today’s innovations are combinations of existing things. Coffee is currently an in drink, along with the functional food trend with green coffee, and the whole thing has also been given a regional touch with Dirndl & Co.

Lukas Renz: Yes, that’s true. The access with green coffee was given by tapping into the coffee segment, one of the strongest segments worldwide in the beverage sector. The question is: what is really innovative? A beverage is not a real innovation now. But I’m a bit strict about that. For me, an innovation would be, for example, if we invented a new container material that would finally get us away from plastic. In other words, we could use the same PET filling machines, but with a different raw material that rots. We want to change the world to some extent. But that is extremely difficult. Our product is too expensive, but we can’t produce it cheaper because the quantity is too small.

AnyIdea: Your final sentence on entrepreneurship and innovation?

Lukas Renz: As an entrepreneur, you need a large portion of courage and also tenacity. When the start-up hype is over, you realise how difficult it is. You have to learn to appreciate ups and downs in order to go through life resilient and crisis-proof. Networking is also extremely important. And you must not lose your intrinsic motivation and fire. Because innovation always goes hand in hand with mistakes and setbacks, and you need that. The important thing is that when you have a setback, you immediately strike forward again.

AnyIdea gratefully thanks Lukas Renz for the interview.