You can’t hide from innovation. Robots, search engines, mobile apps, technology, dot.com bubbles, hi-tech startups, they’re everywhere and they’re fast. But let’s slow down a bit. For centuries, people have drunk beer for taste, fun (alcohol), and nutritional value. Correct, this is where a lot of those big bellies around come from. A great tradition, huh? But who says you can’t innovate a traditional product?
The Austrian beer startup NIXE has now set out to try and change the paradigm. The founders claim that NIXE Extra Dry is the first Austrian beer with full flavour and strength but low on carbohydrates. The figure is 75% less carbs and 30% less calories than a regular beer, withthe same alcohol volume. Since the beginning of May, the beer is out in the market, selling in stores and bars of Vienna, Salzburg, and elsewhere in Upper and Lower Austria.
The co-founder: from the catwalk to the brewery
Constantin Simon, one of the founders of NIXE, has done it before. Running an online shoe store, he learned that sometimes you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. In more traditional products, it’s often small adaptations and an innovative approach that sell. The 27-year-old model was walking the catwalks of Australia when the local fast growing production of low-carb beers inspired him. No matter how popular among the Aussie beach-goers, Simon felt that to sell such a product to high-quality beer-spoiled Austrians, the taste of it needed to improve.
Simon, his sister Claudia and their co-founder Alexander Lauber learned about the beer but the actual brewing requires expertise, experience and technology. They teamed up with established Schloss Eggenberg Brewery in Upper Austria and began experimenting. Most low-carb beers struggle with high calories – hidden in alcohol content. So the trick was to simultaneously keep the carbs down, and trim the calories without getting rid of alcohol. It took a year to develop the new recipe – what NIXE brewers call the “minimal calorie formula”. The fermentation and brewing takes one third longer than usual but at the end of it, the taste and alcohol levels remain, and the sugars and calories are low. According to the NIXE web, an independent analysis has confirmed the results. Without being a beer expert and seeing through the trade secrets, it is difficult to assess the actual degree of innovation. One thing, however, is for sure – the bottled NIXE Extra Dry has been cleared for the market.
“Nixe” stands for a water sprite in German (the second meaning highlights NOT having to worry about sugars or a beer-belly). So it came naturally for the NIXE team to pick the local legendary nymph “Blonderl” as a brand to help the marketing. Blonderl, just like the water used in the beer, comes from the Traunstein region and it goes without saying: she looks pretty fit!
Startup in the beer business?
Everybody wants a piece of the beer business. Microbreweries seem to be popping up all around, brewing hardware is modernising, and you can now even draft yourself a beer without getting off your favourite pub table! There are other low-carb beers available elsewhere in Europe, such as UK’s Greens Trailblazer or German DAB Low Carb. The holiness of brewing essentials, though, the method or the ingredients, have so far remained largely unchallenged in the beer sanctuary that is Austria. Until NIXE seems to have broken the taboo.
With that, the message for the startup community is clear: Adopting an idea can make the same difference as inventing it. “A solid business model reduces risk,” Simon commented on his entrepreneurial approach. Academia already appreciates his ways – he has been invited to lecture entrepreneurship at the FH Wien and at the University of Economics and Business (WU).