A Story From
ÖselBirch is an Estonian-based, female-founded family business with a passion for health and forest biodiversity. Since 2013, they’ve been repurposing birch woodland to create tasty drinks and food supplements that are good for you and for the planet.
Anne-Liis, Co-founder and CEO, shares her experience as young entrepreneur building and scaling up the business.
How did you come to your Big Idea?
Health-conscious consumers need a satisfying, healthier alternative to sugary drinks.
We were inspired by the idea of a healthy drink from our youth, and with the growing concerns regarding deforestation in Estonia, we recognized the potential of selling birch water as a forest good to help preserve forests and support biodiversity in Nordic regions.
ÖselBirch flavored mixers made from birch sap. Image courtesy of ÖselBirch.
We developed a naturally sweet, fermented water made from birch sap, to satisfy this need. Birch sap has been a folk medicine staple in Estonia for centuries thanks to its ability to alleviate fatigue, stress, and headaches. Minerals like potassium, zinc, manganese, and amino acids give it incredible electrolyte replacement qualities.
What challenges did you face while building your business?
One challenge we faced while building our product was our initial lack of knowledge about the beverage industry. None of us had experience in developing food products beyond casual home cooking.
To overcome this challenge, we applied for a product development grant and collaborated with the Estonian Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies to create our initial recipes. With their expertise, we developed our first artisanal recipe. When we later appeared on a German version of SharkTank investment show and needed to scale up, we realized that these initial recipes were not suitable for large-scale production.
ÖselBirch at the FOODEX Japan 2023 tradeshow. Image courtesy of ÖselBirch.
This is where the Nestlé R+D Accelerator stepped in, assisting us in adapting our recipes for mixing and bottling in large-scale production facilities. By leveraging their support, we successfully overcame this challenge and continued our mission to make a positive environmental impact through our beverage.
Working with Nestlé, we increased production of our water for the shop test, where we sold 15% more product than we expected. The Nestlé R+D Accelerator enabled us to perfect and produce five water recipes and gave us a better understanding of the Swiss market and consumers.
Can you share any lessons you’ve learned as a young entrepreneur?
First and foremost, trust your instincts. There have been times when I had a gut feeling that something wasn't quite right with a partnership, even though everything seemed fine on paper. I ignored my intuition at the time, only to find out later that my instincts were spot on. It's a tough lesson, but I've learned to pay more attention to that inner voice.
Another important lesson I've learned is to strike a balance between innovation and familiarity. While it's great to be innovative, being too innovative can make people hesitant to try your product, especially if they're unsure about its taste, texture, flavor, or smell. The level of innovation-acceptance might vary from one target market to another, but keep in mind that people generally prefer products they have heard, seen, or tasted before or can otherwise relate to.
“Being too innovative can make people hesitant to try your product (…) people generally prefer products they have heard, seen, or tasted before.”
What advice would you give young innovators around the world?
Embrace your passion for making a positive impact, but remember that sustaining a business requires generating revenue to foster growth and expand your capacity to do good. Therefore, most likely you'll need to make compromises, but stay true to your values and steer clear of greenwashing.
Keep an open mind when it comes to feedback and chat openly with your customers. This way, you'll show that you're committed to getting better and better, and you'll be well on your way to creating a more sustainable and successful future.
“Most likely you’ll need to make compromises, but stay true to your values and steer clear of greenwashing.”
Recent additions to ÖselBirch’s portfolio, Chaga mushroom products. Image courtesy of ÖselBirch.
Do you want to hear more about her journey? Anne-Liis will be a guest speaker in our upcoming Nestlé YEP Talk “Unlocking your Ideas: How to Accelerate your Start-up Creation”.
Join our free webinar on 31 May 2023 for more insights and practical advice.