Twelve years ago, two young men decided to bake their own biscuits as they could not find any they wanted in Paris. By 2015, Michel et Augustin had €41.4million annual turnover.
Now a deal with Starbucks in the US means the company’s French-style cookies are on sale in 7,624 Starbucks coffee houses in 50 states.
A ‘Made in France’ story to inspire any budding entrepreneur, it is also an object lesson in determination – and a different set of business practices to those common in France.
Michel de Rovira and Augustin Paluel-Marmont met at lycée. They had different careers until they crossed paths again in their 20s at a top Paris business school and their first joint venture was a guide on finding the best bread in Paris.
They then turned to biscuits, aiming to make them using just ingredients found in any kitchen cupboard – so anyone reading the packet would know what was in the products.
At the time, they said they wanted “to make the world smile, whipping up delicious yet healthy products made from simple, quality ingredients found in your very own kitchen”.
And that is where Michel et Augustin began. In Augustin’s tiny kitchen and Michel’s mother’s slightly larger kitchen, where the pair tested more than 400 recipes.
Once they were happy with their cookies, they needed a place to bake. A friend let them use a bakery at nights and on Tuesdays, when it was closed. Then they moved to a bigger bakery and spent their weekends practising and perfecting the recipes. With sales soaring, they decided to use bakeries already in existence to create their recipes.
They now work with 11 production centres in Burgundy, Centre, Midi-Pyrénées and Brittany, as well as another three in the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, and their range now includes yoghurt drinks, green tea drinks, fruit juices, aperitif biscuits and chocolate mousse.
The company prides itself on its ‘American’ hands-on style of management and marketing. Augustin says he was inspired by the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company.
Externally, the company uses social media extensively to communicate with customers and every month hosts open days when members of the public are invited to visit their headquarters in Paris, Lyon and New York and taste new recipes: and perhaps have a cookie-making lesson.
Internally, the hands-on management approach means both Michel and Augustin – no surnames here, it is not part of the company ethos – can be easily contacted by all staff.
PR officer Sixtine d’Avout said that Michel et Augustin is a great place to work: “There are 100 employees and our average age is 28. We love being a little bit different and want to make sure we stay that way. There’s a lot of energy and vitality and we want our products to work.
“For example, we have a way of making sure we all know each other called the ‘roundabout turn’. We have to set aside time to talk to a different person in the office each week about anything other than work. We have a butterfly net to put ideas in. We can all get in touch with Michel or Augustin personally by text, Skype, or WhatsApp etc.
“There is very little hierarchy. We are all pretty much on the same level with a team leader for each department and then Michel and Augustin.”
Three key points make up the company philosophy: “First, we are not afraid to use our imagination. Secondly we will go out and do what we need to do, and thirdly, we will do what others won’t dare to do.”
The final point, Sixtine said, was the key to win the US deal with Starbucks: “When we had a phone call from Starbucks saying they wanted to taste our products, we didn’t just send a packet in the post.
“Charlotte and Hassan from the office got on a plane and set out to have a coffee with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and make sure he tasted our biscuits.
“We dared to do it; he agreed to meet us, loved our cookies and now they’re selling in all those cafés.”
But will success change the way Michel et Augustin works, making that intimate fun setting all a thing of the past?
“No way. We can still make enough biscuits here in France to ship out to the US and we want to make sure we can continue to oversee production.
“We are also definitely interested in the UK market and have just taken someone on to make contacts in London. So we want to expand but we are committed to carrying on as we are.”