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Allianz Result for the Customer 2017

Innovation in an Urban Garden

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What’s common between small and large companies?

Both need fresh ideas and sustainable practices. Allianz and its customer Infarm, an urban produce and herb startup, find they are not that different when it comes to their beliefs in innovation and sustainability...

Allianz SE
Munich, Mar 16, 2018

Whether very small or extremely large, for businesses, it’s all about fresh ideas and sustainable business practices. The name Infarm is derived from “indoor” and “farming”. That’s what this young company does: indoor farming of produce and herbs.

Allianz and Infarm could hardly be more different as businesses: The first is one of the world’s largest insurers, founded in 1890 to turn the risks of others into a business model. The second is a startup that began revolutionizing urban produce supply in 2013.

A conversation between Bernd Heinemann, Member of the Board of Management at Allianz Deutschland, and Osnat Michaeli, cofounder of Infarm in Berlin.

Allianz-infarm

Photo courtesy: Markus Burke

Bernd Heinemann: I just picked a couple of leaves of your Thai basil and tasted it. It’s really delicious, very intense!

Osnat Michaeli: I’m glad. You just described our most important goal: Customers should be excited about the flavor, they should be able to tell immediately how fresh our products are.

Heinemann: Many hip young Berliners enjoy urban farming as a hobby, but you operate it as a business. Can you explain how that works?

Michaeli: We’re bringing agriculture into the city. We give our customers, primarily supermarkets and restaurants, the opportunity to offer their customers and guests super fresh organic herbs, lettuce and vegetables – without using pesticides or packaging, 100 percent from the region, and with the shortest possible distance to the consumer.

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Bernd Heinemann (right), Member of the Board of Management at Allianz Deutschland, chats to Infarm cofounder Osnat Michaeli

Photo courtesy: Markus Burke

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Heinemann: It sounds like a lot of effort. Is it expensive for customers?
  

Michaeli: We cost about the same as organic produce. We don’t even have some typical costs. After all, our “field” is right where the consumer is – so there’s no need for transportation. Our vision is to revolutionize urban produce supply and reduce the supply chains in the produce market to a minimum.
  

Heinemann: What motivated you to turn your vision into a business?
  

Michaeli: My cofounders Guy and Erez and I had the dream of being as self-sufficient as possible. That isn’t easy for city kids like us. Guy studied Chinese medicine and worked as a cook, while Erez and I come from the film industry. Together we developed a solution that brings us closer to self-sufficiency.
  

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Photo courtesy: Merav Maroody

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Heinemann: You’re from Israel. What brought you to Berlin?
  

Michaeli: There’s no need for this kind of project in Israel: Everything grows outside and is sold locally. In Berlin, the fruit comes from Spain or Italy. In addition, Berlin is startup-friendly and people are open to new ideas.
  

Heinemann: I find it fascinating. If you meet a latent need for people, it can become a really big thing. It was the same thing with insurance back in the late 1800s. It wasn’t nearly as widespread as today. Addressing a real need at the right time can trigger a revolution. The origins of Allianz were shaped by growth and innovation. During that process, it was especially important to find out two things: What exactly does the customer need and how can we make a marketable product out of it?
  

Allianz-infarm4

Michaeli: As a new company, we’re also seeing how essential it is to be close to our customers. We always develop products in direct contact with customers. Do you need that, does it taste good? When I think back to our first attempts at home in our living room...the question, “will anybody want this?” kept coming up.
  

Heinemann: It almost sounds like you’re already on your third or fourth development step. Now you need to scale up your business and grow.
  

Michaeli: You’re right. That’s why we’re working with large companies. Our partners include Edeka and Metro. Our farms are already represented in several stores.
  

Allianz-allianz-metro-startups

Heinemann: It makes sense that you sought out large partners to help you grow. We do the exact opposite. We work together with small, innovative partners or acquire shares in them. These can also be insurance startups.

Michaeli: So you work with companies that are technically competitors?

Heinemann: In a connected world, new partnerships are simply a necessity. Some innovations cannot be achieved alone. Your collaboration with Metro is a great example. Both sides benefit: You gain from the distribution channels and financial strength of a large partner and they gain from your ideas and approach. What exactly does your collaboration with Metro look like?

Michaeli: We manage our growing equipment at Metro ourselves. One of our employees takes care of the plants and technology regularly. He picks the ripe products and packages them for sale. Metro pays us a fee for that. And we get feedback right away on what works well.

This article is a reproduction of a story published in Result for the Customer 2017 report published by Allianz Deutschland. All rights reserved

 

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Allianz Deutschland
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