Interview with Katharina Weichel, Brand Manager at fritz-kola
»We already had a purpose before the term even existed.«
Long before the word “purpose” became a fashionable term, fritz-kola already made the subject of taking a stance its trademark and has grown into an international brand. A conversation about how to wake people up, change the world and how to remain a rebel even as an emerging brand.
About a decade and a half ago you were an indie brand with labels that were initially self-adhesive. Today, we meet your logo all over the city. Why are you so successful?
There are many reasons for this. In the beginning the most important thing was probably that we did everything differently from the already established brands. At the time fritz was founded - around 2003 - the lemonade market was dominated by Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite. But our founders dreamt of a drink that tasted good and at the same time felt like living an alternative lifestyle, one that can be experienced in Hamburg's Schanzenviertel. At that time, many people were obviously waiting for this "against the big players" attitude in form of a tasty product.t.
Now you're becoming more popular. Does the underdog story still work for you?
Our philosophy and story have not changed. fritz was and is a positive rebel. But today we are more than just the other kola drink, that contains a lot of caffeine to get people through the night. Today, we are encouraging people to get involved in society. We initiate changes. We encourage people to drink from glass bottles instead of plastic bottles. We support people and initiatives that want a cosmopolitan society and encourage creative people. As a major player, you can make a difference in the industry as well as in the public eye.
To position yourself so clearly as a leader of change with an attitude - was that the strategy from the very beginning?
Our founder and manager Mirco Wolf Wiegert has been living these values since fritz was founded. In the past years, however, we have grown rapidly. Beyond Hamburg and the north, we are now known nationwide. And for some years now we have been in Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, as well as in Spain, Austria and Switzerland. But many people in those countries do not yet have a clear picture of us. And besides, we are often just one kola brand among many. That's why, in the process of internationalisation, we have reconsidered exactly what fritz should stand for and have strategically defined the period from 2016 to 2017: We are actively committed to a creative, cosmopolitan and clean world. We have been doing this through communication ever since. For me, this was a moment when I felt that fritz is now becoming a little more mature.
To have and to show a certain stance is a vital topic of the future for me.
Has it made you more successful in focusing on certain core issues?
Absolutely. With our fritz guiding themes - environment, justice, open-mindedness, creativity - we reach people in many countries and of all ages. Since then, we have become even clearer and have an even greater focus on the consumer. We also see that more and more people beyond Germany share this attitude and are enthusiastic about it. To have and to show attitude is an absolute future topic for me. It's great to see how much support we are getting. It also shows us that we can now do more.
How can a beverage manufacturer make a concrete social difference?
At the beginning of 2020, we launched the nationwide initiative drink from glass bottles. With this initiative we want to achieve the ultimate disappearance of plastic bottles in the long term. Since then, fritz beverages have been available in glass bottles only. But for many markets abroad, plastic is still completely normal when it comes to bottles. Recently, Die Grünen came to us. You can see that the topic is also important to them. To find many people who are willing to get involved, so that at some point the trade will say: We don't want to deal with plastic anymore, and this on an international scale - that is our long-term vision. We also support bands, the “Futur 2 Festival” and the “Elbewerkstätten”, where people with disabilities work. We run the initiative “Pfand-gehört-daneben” and support social institutions such as the “Hamburger Gabenzaun” or “Straßenblues” and support local artistic initiatives.
Can you even afford this value-oriented attitude in Corona times? For a long time now, the gastronomy has been completely paralysed.
True, the operators/owners* of clubs and cultural institutions are facing huge problems. Of course, we have to take responsibility right now. With "couch-kulturrettung" we show an overview of (donation-)streams on our website. These include: "united we stream" from the Berlin club scene, the "TV Noir Wohnzimmerstream" or "dringeblieben", a solidarity agreement to preserve Cologne's cultural scene. Clubs are financially supported by the purchase of virtual tickets or merchandise. We use our channels to draw attention to actions and have launched a “festivalretter” package. In Hamburg, we cooperate with “Budni” and “Clubkombinat”. Whoever buys our “Clubretter” shirt gives ten euros to the solidarity fund of Hamburg's club scene. We also support initiatives such as the Corona short film festival, or "Keiner kommt (alle machen mit)". We have also supported clinics throughout Germany such as the Charité or university hospitals in Erlangen, Düsseldorf, Mainz, Freiburg and others with drinks.
But not everyone sees you as the good guys?
During the G20 summit, a nail punctured my tyre, but I thought it had been slashed. At that time, we had done a campaign with Trump, Erdogan and Putin as sleeping people. The telephones didn't stop ringing then. And our goods were withdrawn from some supermarkets. As a positive rebel, you also have to have the courage to scold and be insulted. In the end, the whole thing helped us more than it hurt.
As a positive rebel, you must also have the courage to scold and be scolded."
How do you know that? Do you measure the results of your activities?
Yes, we work with statistics and can see how many people we reach. We seek advice from service providers who can show us, for instance, how our profile is changing or what is being said about us on the Internet. For example, we can already see that fritz is more associated with glass today. The press also visits us regularly. But we still do a lot of things based on our gut feeling. And we are on site a lot. We have to understand what moves people in certain cities and countries. To do this, we also exchange information with partners, agencies and distributors there. The next step would then be to have many fritz-friends on site at all times in order to be even closer.
What significance does design have for your success?
A big one! Our writing has a blatant strength, so does the black and white of our corporate design. We encourage our designers to be crazy and often invite artists and students who are not directly part of the advertising world. For us it is important that advertising does not necessarily look like advertising. But rather makes you think. Since last year we also have a 0.2 litre bottle with a fresh design. The brief for the designers was to show what a rebel looks like in a glass. The result is very well received in the market.
It is important to us that our advertising does not necessarily look like advertising. It should be thought-provoking."
Since 2014 you are called fritz-Kulturgüter GmbH. Will fritz offer more than drinks in the future?
Over the years, we have constantly expanded our range beyond fritz-kola to include a number of other drinks, such as lemonade and spritzers. And in our shop, for example, you can buy sustainable clothing from our Hamburg-based cooperation partner “Recolution” and other merchandise such as bags and socks. But we see this more as image-enhancing for us. We will stick with drinks.
How rebellious are you digitally?
Our posting on the Thuringia election "Yellow bottle, brown content" was noticed throughout Germany and many people praised us for taking such a clear stance against the far right. For our drink from glass bottles initiative, we worked with influencers who are committed to the environment for the first time. We want to learn from them, how we can interact even better with young fritz fans. We don't just want to offer them good content, we want to get something going with them and ideally become the voice of a generation.
What are the most important goals you want to achieve in fritz marketing in 2020?
Ignite a movement with drink from glass bottles and initiate a system change in the beverage industry. Away from plastic! If Germany alone were to abandon it completely, that would be great. As a pioneer, we want to find as many cooperation partners as possible, who will support us in spreading the topic. Also, a big goal for me: to further internationalise fritz. We are still lacking a high profile abroad. Here we want to attract attention with our artistic and authentic advertising and be where creative people meet and make a difference. Others would go straight into the trade. We have our own pace of growth and are growing bigger through the recommendation of fans.