Founded in 2004, Michel et Augustin initially entered the US in early 2016, securing listings in Starbucks nationwide. Its products are now available in a number of select retailers and stocked on Delta Air Lines in first class and on Amazon. Almost three years on, the company is on a shake-up mission to drive business in the US, hiring a regional CEO to lead the charge.
Enter Evan Holod – a brand developer with 10+ years experience under his belt, most recently at Coca-Cola. Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about the company's presence in the US thus far, Holod said:
“We had secured some really interesting and high-profile wins, but what we hadn't been able to do yet was take advantage of those wins and convert them to traditional retail sales.
"While we had great presence in Starbucks and we were starting to drive awareness – the Delta first class is another great example – we weren't necessarily positioned well to take advantage and make the brand work in a traditional retail outlet. We were selling all these bars and cookies one product at a time but we didn't have anything to compete on shelf with the key players.”
Focusing on the strongest sellers
Since he joined the company in January 2018, he said, "What we've really been working on is taking these learnings and repositioning ourselves to take advantage of them. We've discontinued quite a lot of the items we initially came to the US with; we discontinued savory crackers and a few lines of cookies that hadn't necessarily been able to make the best connection with consumers. And what we've focused on is the product that had most success – our cookie squares.”
Eliminating SKUs had in fact stimulated business growth, he said. “From a distance it could look a bit like a compromise, but the reality is, it's just focus and prioritization.”
Chewing over cookie potential
Holod said the company now wants to create a dent in the $10bn US cookie category, the majority of which are sold in supermarkets and mass retailers through large pack sales, so it recently launched a 15-count bag containing individually wrapped cookie squares.
“It's the evolution of the cookie square line to include retail bags that can be placed in supermarkets around the country at a competitive price point. That gives us an opportunity to not just have a product on shelf but the right product that will give us a footprint in the aisle that is bold and big and creates a real billboard effect for the company.”
Asked how a premium brand might be received in mass retail, he said: “Our opportunity is to do a little more segmentation. We can make sure that even though we have a product that is a little bit more premium, from a price point, it's in the right doors for that potential consumer.”
Michel et Augustin was stocked in convenience store retailer Wawa's, for example, he said. “Yes, we've gone out to the quote 'mass', to a degree, but at the same time we're making sure we're smart about where that growth comes from.”
There is some magic in the marketplace that's connected to 'brand France'
Michel et Augustin still proudly makes all of its products in France and imports the majority into the US as finished goods, he said, which means flexibility to respond to market and consumer demands is limited. But, he said for its 15-count bag launch the company has set up an infrastructure to make the bags in the US, which adds “a layer of flexibility” that can be used to respond to future market opportunities.
While the company has set up packaging infrastructure in the US, there are no plans to bring product manufacturing over the Atlantic, he said.
“There is some magic in the marketplace that's connected to 'brand France'. There's some magic when it comes to the ingredients; the techniques; and even the names, wording and pronunciation. We are France and America, we're Paris-meets-Brooklyn, and we want to make sure we are always positioning and pushing French patisserie.”
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate...
Alongside the 15-count bags, Michel et Augustin has also launched a triple choc cookie square variant this month and is continuing work to potentially bring its chocolate mousse to US consumers in the near future.
While no firm timeline is in place, Holod said pilot tests in the marketplace over summer 2018 had indicated there is consumer interest in such a product.
However, he said cookies remained the company's priority for the foreseeable future: “We have to make sure we're winning in the spaces where we're reaching consumers today, and obviously that's cookies.
"We never want to get rid of the free-wheeling spirit and the constant state of innovation that have made Michel and Augustin famous but at the same time we have to balance that by getting products into stores and making them a success.”