Until the 1960s, cherry farming was a big source of income for a lot of people in Eastern Austria. However, when the government started to heavily subsidize wine production, more and more cherry trees disappeared to make space for the machines working in the vineyards. Since then, the number of cherry trees in the region decreased from 50,000 to 8,000. Andrea Strohmayer, founder of Kirschengenussquelle Breitenbrunn, has dedicated herself to producing cherry products again, preserving the trees, replanting them and saving sorts which have almost become extinguished. I had the chance to have a private cherry blossom tour with Andrea and to talk about her business, her passion about cherries and a royal encounter.
Andrea was inspired by her mother who made cherry products as a hobby. When supporting her mother’s hobby got more and more work intense, Andrea decided to quit her job and become a full-time cherry farmer – the first one, and the first woman, since the 1960s. She is not only a cherry (goods) producer. Andrea puts all her heart into preserving old trees, planting new ones and protecting cherry sorts from becoming extinct.
Andrea makes cherry jams according to a family recipe. By adding less sugar, the natural and unique flavours of the cherry sort stand out as the essence of the product. Every tree and every sort tastes different. They really do, I tasted the jams myself. But the product range is not limited to jams only – Andrea is very creative and also makes cherry juice, cherry sparkling wine and even cherry pasta.
Andrea gained her knowledge about cherries by working with her mother but also by involving the local population, especially older people. A big part of the older generation made their first money with the cherry harvest. By applying their knowledge, she also preserves knowledge which would otherwise be lost.
We talked about the start-up scene in Austria and Andrea told me that she struggles with the meaning of the word as it is used in the media: to count as a “start-up”, the product has to be in tech. However, she sees herself as a start-up founder: her business is two years old and she not only brought an extinct profession back to life but also works on innovative products.
When it comes to marketing, the most important channel is direct marketing. As her products need to be explained, or even tasted, Andrea tries to participate in as many events, markets and fairs as possible. Furthermore, Andrea organises cherry tours in the Leithaberg region where you can see how the cherries grow with a view over the beautiful Lake Neusiedl.
According to Andrea, a prevalent perception of entrepreneurs in Austria is that they are rich and that they do not work hard for the money. We discuss this in the video because we both actually do not know why the climate in Austria is so negative against business founders. What people do not see is the hard work and that a lot of founders are not rich, invested their savings and took a lot of risk. Austrian bureaucracy was another challenge Andrea mentioned during our walk.
Because of her business model, Andrea naturally invests most of her time in the business, even on weekends. Compared to her previous nine-to-five job in the tourism industry, Andrea cannot just leave the office and stop thinking about the business.
“As a founder you constantly want to improve the business and you think about new products and ideas.”
We also discussed the image of start-ups in the media: we all wear hoodies, work in hip (and expensive) co-working spaces and basically do nothing. Andrea also experiences that people do not know how much work has to be put into running a cherry business – apart from the harvest and producing the goods, it takes time to establish relationships, prepare the corporate identity and design, do the marketing and distribute the products.
Andrea thinks the biggest danger is looking at running a business as a job, it should be your passion. When you start counting the hours that you work, you might get crazy. She also stressed the importance of a supportive partner and an understanding family and circle of friends.
In a small business, due to budget constrains, there is no dedicated department for all these tasks – something Andrea was used to in her previous job. Therefore, Andrea learned to be flexible and teach herself. Google and Youtube videos became her best friends to learn. Even though she is not a graphic designer or a PR specialist, she tries to take over as many tasks as she can to save money. And obviously, Andrea does a good job in the PR field: During the official visit of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to Austria, Prince Charles, who is a hobby farmer, asked for cherry products. And because of the relationships Andrea had built up beforehand, her products were handed to the royal couple.