I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of things here in Germany. Berlin is starting to become very familiar – I’ve made very close friends, gotten to know and enjoy the professors and tutors at BSEL, and I’m even starting to grasp the mapping of this city. No longer am I draining my phone battery from constant use of Google Maps! If I were to bet that I could get to my favorite currywurst joints with my eyes closed, I would not think of it as much of a gamble.
Speaking of fine Berlin delicacies, I’ve also expanded my palette to new foods that I could not regularly eat back home, like sauerbraten, schnitzel, currywurst, doner kebab, my favorites so far being the latter two. Currywurst is a dish that consists of a fried pork sausage that is first sliced then slathered in a curry ketchup, served with a side of freshly cut fries, which you would eat with mayo (the European way). Doner kebab is a gift that Turkish immigrants blessed German cuisine with. Most typically, doner is served as a pita sandwich that consists of seasoned lamb, beef, or chicken that is cooked on a vertical rotisserie, like shawarma or Greek gyro. In the pita, the meat is then served with salad, consisting of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers, and of course, a yogurt sauce you simply could not waste a drop of. If I got anything out of this trip, it’s my newfound mission to start a currywurst street vendor chain across the United States.
Nevertheless, food was only a portion of my education here in Berlin. Next was the hands-on experience I attained during my third week of class. This final week, us students at the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management program were given a hands-on, innovation case study to help devise innovative solutions for the local Berlin supermarket, Bio Company. Bio Company is an industry leader in the German organic supermarket industry, getting there by being the most sustainable supermarket in Germany for three years straight. Their core mission is to provide fresh products, sustainability, organic variety, and social engagement to their consumers. Bio Company described to us the challenges they faced in their industry: organic no longer being a unique selling proposition in retail, farmer’s associations like Demeter cooperating with classical food retailers, classical food retailers conducting powerful “greenwashing” campaigns (the perception that a seller’s products/policies are environmentally friendly), and the overall struggles with innovation that industry leaders have when they’re at the top.
Our solutions for Bio Company were to, first and foremost, improve the communication of their mission to their consumers, and to initiate the transition toward e-commerce and click-and-collect. After research, we found in readings that the success of organic and sustainable products is heavily based on consumers’ awareness about the fact that it’s organic and produced through sustainable practices. We found through consumer research that Bio Company shoppers chose to shop at Bio Company because of convenience, or because of the freshness of their produce, but were not fully aware to the extent of Bio Company’s sustainability efforts. These efforts are prioritizing local producers, selling organic only, and being anti-GMO. Also through research, we found that, even though cash is still king, online commerce in Germany is picking up very fast, especially when buying groceries. Additionally, Bio Company’s competitors were already making adjustments toward this trend, by beefing up their supply chain and improving their warehouse technologies. During presentation day, we presented our findings to Bio Company’s head of sales, and acknowledged that their competitors were adjusting while Bio Company was stagnant at this opportunity.
All in all, this was a very eventful, challenging, and exciting last week during my time in this program. I have not only started to find Berlin homey, but I, along with my case study team, have also accomplished so much in such a little amount of time. We conducted consumer research, formulated innovative solutions for an industry leader, and even had the opportunity to present those solutions in front of a company board member! Because of all the obstacles and the successes of this week, I gained very valuable experience and knowledge that I will apply for professional and entrepreneurial endeavors.