Juice do it
Updated: 2012-01-06 10:19
By Chen Yingqun (China Daily European Weekly)
Flo Eysler runs a juice business in China and aims to serve fresh and natural food products to his customers. [China Daily/Cui Meng]
German wants his natural food products to improve people's lives
Flo Eysler is a man on a mission. "I just want to make products that are healthy enough to feed my own children," the father-to-be says. Eysler, 34, from Germany, is determined to make available to Chinese people natural foods and beverages "absolutely free of additives, preservatives and sugar", and that offer "the maximum in health benefits".
For the past four years, he says, he has been doing exactly that with fruit juices and smoothies. He also insists that nothing he sells has been on the shelf for more than 24 hours and he has bigger ambitions this year - to extend the shelf life of his natural products to 48 hours or more.
Eysler hails from the city of Mainz in western Germany. With a population of 200,000, it might just about qualify as a sleepy village if it were in China. So when he arrived in Shanghai to take up an internship nine years ago, he fell for the buzz of the city instantly.
"I feel so alive here. There are so many things around you, that surround you and are happening around you," he says.
Eysler landed a position in the purchasing department of the Beijing branch of the German car company Volkswagen in 2003. He arrived with an unquenchable thirst to learn all he could about China, and as that thirst began to be slaked his appetite for working in an office evaporated. After three years, he decided to start a business himself.
"I hate sitting behind by table and becoming fatter every day ... because I (have) no time to go out to eat ... It's not healthy," he says.
Eysler had been raised to eat what he regards as natural and healthy food with a minimum of sugar, and he found it difficult to find anything that fits that bill in China. He reckons that while a lot of Chinese food is drowned in oil and condiments that are supposed to boost flavor, Western fast food simply lacks nutrition.
"I missed something fresh, but there was nothing fresh and convenient."
From an early age, Eysler was also inculcated with a robust work ethic and one of the first lessons came from delivering newspapers as a youngster. He had a passion for music and in his teens become a disc jockey at parties. He was soon working in professional clubs and bars.
That in turn generated money to invest in equipment for music production, and a few years later his Eastern odyssey began. He made a name for himself on the DJ scene in Beijing.
Meanwhile, he had obtained a degree in general economics in Germany, something that would add an edge to his appreciation of how business works.
In China he observed that people put a great deal of emphasis on freshness, but that few have enough time to make everything fresh themselves.
In 2006, Eysler met another German, Hans Au, who is like-minded when it comes to food and lifestyle. The two quit their jobs and decided to run a business selling juice, a kind of venture well established in Germany.
"Outside, there are juice bars which can provide freshness but that are not convenient enough, and bottled beverages that provide convenience but are not fresh, with many having sugars and chemicals added," Eysler says. "What we wanted to do was to combine freshness and convenience."
The pair spent 18 months learning every detail of making juice, ranging from choosing fruit to weighing the differences between various kinds of juice extractors. They chose machines that extract juice more slowly, but in a way that is said to bring out the best flavor of the fruit.
With initial funds of 500,000 yuan ($78,700, 60,650 euros) and a clear business ethic in mind, Eysler and his partner opened the first iF Juice store in November 2007. The company now provides about 200,000 bottles of various juices a year to about 10 hotels, 30 supermarkets and 20 restaurants.
The main product, 300 ml of orange juice, sells for 18 yuan, a price that he thinks is affordable.
"We are selling to people who have certain affluence and who can afford (products that cost a certain amount) but have certain value."
As fruit tastes differently throughout the year, he also turns to other countries for the best fruit. He imports pineapples from the Philippines, blueberries from Canada, mangoes from Thailand and oranges from the United States.
The iF Juice business has had the kind of teething problems that might beset most businesses, such as with financing and the effects of economic woes worldwide.
But Eysler kept telling himself that there was a task to be completed and pushed on, often with a hectic schedule that flies in the face of the benefits his products are supposed to promote.
"He is always busy," says his assistant Liu Jiaying. "No weekends, no holidays."
But behind the frenetic pace that Eysler keeps there seems to be a man willing to be patient. For the past four years he has opted not to open any new outlets, eager first to develop a concept he feels can ultimately be successful and be extended.
He maintains that underpinning this conservative approach is a commitment to ethics and says that one result of that is that a lid is kept on prices despite rising costs.
On the amount of ethics contained in each bottle of fruit juice that he serves, it seems customers will just have to take him at his word. One customer, Yao Lin, says she can find nothing special about the juice.
"It tastes almost the same as other juices, and I can't tell whether there are additives or not."
Another customer, Wen Wen says: "It tastes good, just like the fresh juice I squeeze at home. I think it must be healthy."
Eysler and Au plan to open up to five shops in Beijing this year, which will be situated in places like shopping malls, entertainment places and traffic hubs.
He will also make some adjustments to the product offering. Food will be a new part of the business. The most difficult part is to find the best raw materials.
Eysler hopes his company will be mature in three to five years, and that iF Juice will become a trusted food and beverage brand. He hopes that in turn people will learn something about nutrition.
After that, he would like to open classes to promote the value of healthy nutrition.
"I want to promote people's understandings about food and nutrition and show them how it can be combined with today's busy lifestyles."
Over the past six months, Eysler has changed his own eating habits and says that in that time he lost about 15 kilograms "not by eating less, but by eating different".
"Many people are gaining weight nowadays, but most of them don't know why, and I want to share my own stories."
Eysler's ambitions do not stop there; some day he would also like to start a recycling company.
"The world is very polluted (and is) getting increasingly more economical and unnatural. My aim is to make the world a better place than I found it."
These days in Germany, bottle recycling is widely visible to the public and Eysler would like outlets that sell iF Juice to provide bottle return deposits. In that way the company aims to play a leading role in the recycling process and customers will become more aware of iF's emphasis over environmental protection and sustainability.