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Meeting with a great entrepreneur, Alain Milliat

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If you wonder what it makes to see his name printed on millions of products, just ask Alain Milliat how he feels. He’s managing the Alain Milliat company which produces 2,5 million bottle of juice per year.

Alain is one of the most loyal readers of our blog and one of the very first subscribers. He’s been following us up for years and we have exchanged opinions and debated quit a few times. We finally were able to meet in person and the encounter took place in his restaurant located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. Although the question may arise why a premium juice brand would invest in a brick-and-mortar restaurant (“where’s the fit?” once may ask) Alain was very positive about his investment as he said that a brand (I guess he was speaking of a B2C brand) needs to have a physical place, a kind of flagship store, to allow consumers to get in touch with the products. This is indeed especially valuable for Alain’s product which don’t make it through the usual distribution channels (if you are in Belgium the only place to buy the bottles is Rob in Brussels, the famous delicatessen supermarket).

From farmer to entrepreneur

The story of Alain is that of a visionary who also illustrates the effectuation principles. More on that below (if you are curious keep reading thus).

Alain took over his parents’ farm and gradually abandoned cattle breeding to turn his attention to fruits growing on a 20 ha piece of land. It was fascinating to hear how Alain carefully studied the movements of fruits pickers, their duration, and their effect on productivity to reach a higher efficiency and a better profitability. A few minutes won here and there on 40 people eventually make a difference.

However in the mid 90’s he realized that the small famers like him had no future: he was no big enough to develop economies of scale, no small enough to be able to sell his production directly to the consumers (which command higher margins). He had to rely on intermediaries who ripped off most of the value and left him with little profits. Without carrying out any market research, Alain tried selling juices made out of his own fruits and it worked. This is a real effectuation path where an entrepreneur looks at the resources he has available and tries to make something out of it.

How Alain Milliat made a difference

Such juices have become pretty common on markets nowadays. Fruits growers have understood the value a finished product could represent. Twenty years ago however it was not that common and rather than focusing on one fruit Alain invested its money in widening his product range. I praise him actually for having launched what I call the “marketing of origins”. Not only was he selling original juices made from hard-to-find fruits (think about his famous vine peach juice for instance) but he was also selling an origin. You were not buying any vine peach juice; you were buying a juice made with vine peaches from a given area. This technique is now widespread but in my mind it’s Alain who invented it.

With a certain sense for esthetics Alain also reinvented the way juices were packaged (except for his 1-liter bottle which will only be revamped –finally- in 2014): a simple yet powerful label, a superb bottle. The product and the bottle symbolize the quest for pleasure pursued by Alain.

Little marketing but a clear vision

Alain admits he has never really done any marketing (although he has a clear gift for it). If everything goes well he said he’d get his first marketing assistant this year, almost 20 years after his debuts.

If marketing was not his priority, I must admit his vision of his company’s mission is clear: to give pleasure. He articulates this dimension around the juice, its texture, its taste but also around the bottle, its rounded shape, the visual pleasure it gives, the colors of the label, … It becomes a multi-sensory experience, full of emotions, that create a unique customer experience.

Advice for your marketing strategy

There are many lessons learned: the effectuation principle, the vision of the value for the consumer, the deep understanding of the value chain and how to rip off more value (Alain did what strategists call a “forward integration” by integrating the next step, i.e. the juice production).

I remain amazed when I meet entrepreneurs like this. I also remained amazed by my first encounter because Alain is such a friendly person. Successful entrepreneurs sometimes become full of themselves. Alain is the entire contrary; he’s one of the nicest persons I’ve met and someone who loves to share his experience with you.

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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