Achieve strong growth with frozen pizzas? What may sound like an impossible project has been achieved by Christoph Schramm with his company Gustavo Gusto. In the interview he talks about his recipe for success, his next plans and the art of doing some things differently
He didn't know it was impossible, and that's why he did it - one might paraphrase Mark Twain to introduce Christoph Schramm. Because he has achieved what many thought was impossible: to penetrate a market with frozen pizzas that was previously shared by two food giants. In 2014 he founded Gustavo Gusto with the conviction that frozen pizzas don't necessarily have to taste cheap. "I've always wondered why there is no pizza in the freezer that tastes and looks like a pizzeria pizza," says Schramm in the podcast "The Zero Hour".
At that time he ran four pizzerias in Passau. He experimented and found that when he half-baked pizzas from his restaurant, frozen them and then finished baking them, he liked them better than frozen pizzas from the supermarkets. So he decided to start his own frozen pizza business. "I was called crazy by pretty much everyone and I was advised against it," he recalls.
Nevertheless, he was able to collect around 250,000 euros in seed capital from friends and family, plus a 300,000 euro loan from the LfA Förderbank Bayern. He acquired a production area in Geretsried and started there with a small team to produce frozen pizzas for the catering trade. The beginning was tough: "I remember the time I slept upstairs in the office - that was also my apartment at the same time," says Schramm.
In 2015 Gustavo Gusto changed his strategy and got in touch with wholesalers. This put Schramm in contact with Rewe, and the supermarket chain began selling the pizzas in its southern Bavarian markets in 2016. It wasn't difficult to convince the grocer, because "retailers are now keen on young brands, startups, new products and also regionality," says Schramm.
Six years later, Gustavo Gusto's pizzas can be found in most German supermarkets, the brand is rising "above average for the industry", and one of the two competitors has shown interest in a takeover. However, selling is out of the question for the founder, because he still has a lot planned: last year, the company brought ice cream onto the market, and in addition to Germany, Austria and Switzerland, pizzas are now also available in the Netherlands.
Despite the success, Gustavo Gusto faces major challenges: the war in Ukraine and inflation have caused the cost of ingredients such as flour and mozzarella and energy costs to rise sharply. The price of the pizzas has increased. However, this adjustment is not enough to compensate for the increase in costs, according to Schramm. And as a fast-growing startup, the company has to rethink and restructure its organization. But Schramm showed it: Impossible is not part of his vocabulary.
Listen to the new episode of "The Zero Hour":
All episodes can be found directly on Audio Now, Apple or Spotify or via Google.