NTERVIEW WITH PAUL HELMERS FROM MINOR FIGURES
„Czech cafes are incredible. Compared to other countries in Europe, im not sure there is a more developed market in Europe.“
This and more is saying Paul Helmers, new member of Minor Figures brand. Paul is in charge of the European Sales and his home is Czech Republic for some time. In the next interview you will learn, how he adapted in the new role and what can we expect from Minor Figures in the next couple of months.
by Green Heads | 25 January '21 | Minor Figures | Paul Helmers
You came to Minor Figures a few months ago, but you have known the brand for much longer. 5 years ago, you brought Minor figures to Australia to distribute it. So is your current position a dream come true? What is your relationship to Minor Figures?
So firstly, these answers are from my point of view only. I’m not speaking on behalf of the brand.
Yes, in 2012 I started a company in Australia focusing on alternative milks. There was great data coming out of USA around almond milk at the time and one soy company was so dominate in coffee and yet so hated by the specialty venues. So two years in around 2014, I was introduced to Minor figures by Dave Boudrie (FTA, Australian Specialty Coffee Association board member) who saw it at London Coffee festival and from there I helped bring in the first pallet to Minor figures to Australia. Fast forward to now, having worked in corporate environments in my past two roles I can safely say I feel at home with Minor Figures.
You took a new position in a difficult time. What is your main task at the moment?
It is a difficult time for so many. And it’s a time where many people have struggled. We are just trying to support our distributors, roasters and customers as much as we possible. We have managed to put in place a few projects during this time where we supported roasters through a roaster roster and baristas through a barista furlough program.
My main tasks at the moment are listening to our clients, friends and people across the industry. Then to make sure our distributors are in a position to succeed in 2021. So putting together plans and activities for this.
How do you personally think about the current crisis? Can it bring something good in the future? (probably we are talking about months and years now)
I think it’s been a time to reflect and evaluate what’s truly important. Personally, it’s been a time to do that for all aspects of life. Putting more preparation into all parts of life each day. So putting in the same effort for my daughter and wife as I do for work. It’s a bit silly, that I plan a day for work but would then get my daughter from daycare and be like, what should we do now. So just planning each day to get at least 30 minutes of quality time with my daughter with no phones or distractions. And finding that same time for my wife.
Now from a business perspective, no one has ever been in a position to press pause until now. So evaluating every aspect of their business and asking why is so crucial. Do you really need to serve declining categories in your coffee if you believe its not great for the world and bad for your coffee, i.e almond milk?
I also think this is the first time Europe has been exposed to takeaway coffee. And hopefully this can effect long terms numbers for takeaway. Obviously for coffee at home use as well, its been great during covid. So to see the numbers in 12 months will be super interesting but I imagine it will be positive.
What are the company's plans for next year? Any new products? Tell us :)
We are always innovating. We are always looking for ways to become more sustainable and its one of the aspects of Minor figures that is so surprising. In meetings with the owners they are always questioning if we can help the environment more, if we can help people in need more rather than how do we make more money. Its not just empty marketing words or ticking a boss to help things sell. Its genuine care about leaving this place better.
With that said, we are just launching a worlds first Semi skimmed oat milk. Like all things we do, it’s a barista version.
We have also just launched a 10L bag in box to reduce waste and offer customers at home the chance to fill up their glass bottles for a packaging free oat milk option.
There is a few other products in the pipeline, but ill need to keep my powder dry on that for now.
Why should people try Minor Figures products? What is unique about them?
So Minor figures started as a cold brew coffee company. We wanted to add milk to them, but with the fight against climate we wanted to play our part. To do that, we researched all products and tested every plant milk possible. We found oat milk the most neutral from a flavour perspective and it allowed you to build loads of coffee flavours on top. From there all the research suggests it’s a far better alternative for the worlds climate than dairy, soy, almond or coconut.
So why else do I love Minor figures products and our brand? We are anti corporate, We are not a billion euro business, We are not telling you our product will make you run faster than Usain Bolt, We just want you to do you. If that’s rolling out of bed at 11am because it was a bit cold this morning. Good for you. You do you and we hope you enjoy our products. Everything we do is vegan.
Which Minor Figures product is your most favourite?
Our Nitro Cold Brew are incredible. I always keep some in the car for long trips, hiking, snowboarding etc where there is usually only super average coffees available. The convenance of a specialty coffee on the go for me makes it my favourite.
You live in Prague. Could you compare the popularity of plant-based and vegan product in Czechia in comparison with other European countries – such as England or Germany for example?
Hmmm. Tough one. I guess from a café perspective. You go to cities like Berlin and the decision has been made. Oat is the only real plant milk you will find on a menu. No soy, almond etc. And from a dairy to oat perspective your looking at a range of 2 to 1 to 6 to 1. You also have certain places only serving oat milk in their cafes. So no dairy at all.
Czech cafes largely sit between 4 to 1 and 10 to 1.
Grocery in the UK has also been really fast to move on the trends of oat milk which is growing at 5x dairy milk, 35% of households are buying plant milk and of that its about 1L/week per home. I don’t have the Czech numbers at this stage but will look to gain more knowledge in 2020. But what I do know is that we sold over 500,000 Minor figures oat drinks in 2020 which I think will double in 2021 with reopening.
*source The Vegan Society - LINK
And what about czech cafes? Do you have favourite one?
Ok firstly. Czech cafes are incredible. Compared to other countries in Europe, im not sure there is a more developed market in Europe. Its hard to go to any city in CZ regardless of size and not find a specialty coffee shop. Now, could the service improve. Yes. Not every café of course. But generally, I think some places could up their game on making customers feel welcomed. Could the coffee improve, yes.
But the fact so many places are trying so hard to tap into the growing specialty market is fantastic. Are we still behind Australia, London, Berlin etc. Yes of course, particularly on brunch, but In terms of accessibility its really fantastic. And I think Gwilym Davies, European Coffee Trip and Standart have a lot to do with that.
To your question, Favourites…is hard. Its like your favourite child. But in Brno I would say Buchta B, Rebel Bean. In Prague I would say Café Jen, Cafefin and Café Tout va bien (That’s largely due to proximity of where I live)
*Photos Cafefin & Rebelbean Vlnena - source Facebook
How would you describe czech people? What do you like most about them?
How would I describe Czech people. Wow. My wife, her family and friends are all Czech so I need to be careful haha. I would say I notice differences between people from Moravia, Prague and Bohemia. All have subtle differences, but certainly Moravians are the most readily open. Bohemians seem extremely intelligent, really keen to talk about all things Czech Republic and the history of it. And I love the pride. Prazak I think people from Prague are called, like most capitals get a hard time from everyone else in the country. But I think what ties Czech people together is their passion for family, outdoors and Slivovice/Becherovka.
One of the distributors of Minor Figures is Green Heads. Why did you choose them and what do you expect from this cooperation to the future?
Green Heads are a young dynamic company that is always looking for new ideas, ways to grow and service their market. There is only two businesses I have found in Europe that are similar to them and It reminds me a lot of a couple of great business from Australia that are super on trend. I would expect us to continue to work closely with GH in the future to open channels into grocery, retail and of course continue our strong success with roasters/cafes in Czechia.
Where can people find me?