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When we were in Germany in the summer, we came across a young soda contender called Premium-Cola – one of a number of local brands offering a...

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
Piers Fawkes, PSFK on November 28, 2007. @piers_fawkes

When we were in Germany in the summer, we came across a young soda contender called Premium-Cola – one of a number of local brands offering a different flavor to the US originated brands. In this interview with founder Uwe Lübbermann details the forward-thinking philosophy that fuels the company, how that flows into the products (and ingredients) and how everyone from the supplier to the customer work as a team.

Can you tell us a little more about your cola drink?

Premium-Cola was been founded in 2001 by a disappointed fan group of afri-cola, which had secretly changed their recipe and did several other things wrong in our opinion. At first, we only did 1000 bottles for us, but then our idea went further to prove we could do better than normal business. We do not produce a cola primarily, at least in our opinion. Premium has developed a different approach towards doing “business” compared to normal companies like the (much bigger) Bionade. Business and morals can work together, and in a very stable wayalso. Premium (still) exists and works out funny in several ways.

For instance, we do not charge interest if someone is unable to pay, as interest rates make people dependent and are evil in general. We do not offer volume discounts, but anti-volume-discounts for our small dealers instead, as they face higher transportation costs per unit. We do not have any written contract till now, who wants to leave is free to leave.

People seem to be increasingly concerned about what they put in their bodies. What’s in your drink?

The premium-cola label roughly translates as follows:

premium-cola 0,33 liter very caffeinated softdrink
correct favorite-cola with collective spirit and passion
ingrediences: water, sugar, carbonic acid, (e150d), phosphoric
acid, caffeine 25 mg / liter, natural flavor in a nice returnable bottle
history, power, taste, honesty, consequence and life
and my home address, as we have no office.

There are a few things in there I haven’t heard of or tasted before ;)!

We see the fifth line as ingredients also, and every word has at least double meanings. Taste, for example, refers to the cola, our design without any logo and to our selection of clubs and bars (hopefully).

I think “passion” has a different (love-related) meaning in American English. Maybe you don´t want to trust me on the translation, but have a German native speaker help if you know someone. I put e150d in brackets as i could not find a translation (it´s ammonsulfit-zuckerkulör). Note our label uses the full phrase on purpose although the law only requires the short e150d-form, but no customer would be able to understand that.

How do you market Premium-Cola?

Mostly we just react to people asking “How can i get Premium in my city?” – our answer could be “Well, not until now, but maybe you´d like to talk to some outlets of choice?” We support them with information, aid the choice of outlets and assist at talking to dealers and setting up logistics. Thats it. Premium is working with different kinds of people to talk to outlets, e.g. helicopter pilots, nurses, students and a few beverage promoters who like our idea. Logistics is fulfilled by professionals on most of our routes, as customers require reliability. There is the occasional private and overloaded rusty VW Bus though .

We don´t advertise, because we don´t want to get on people´s nerves – and we don´t want people buy bottles and pay us for getting on their nerves with a part of their purchase. We don´t issue press releases, as we do not want to influence the media, and we deny offers like “send us 10 cases and we will do a nice text” because buying positive media is evil.

We actively publish every production problem because we feel producers in general should do that. and so on and so on.

Fritz-Kola is different, their claimed goal is to attack coca-cola and make money, which we do not see as our goal, not even secondary. It took more than five years for me to get stock, and i´m fine with it – all the other “externals” had to get their share first.

Who are these externals? Why do you use them?

Premium-cola is outsourcing using externals to the max, although it´s hard to tell who is external when everyone can co-decide (this is a reply to globalization also, no one is external :-) .

We don´t produce, we transport seldom nowadays, we hardly do anything ourselves than to steer the whole thing. But steering is essential. At Premium, every participant, which means every customer also, is able to view any info and co-decide on any issue, including my stock. For example, our bank account is viewable online to be checked daily by any customer. If I treat anyone badly, he/she might send a mail to all our mailinglist-readers from 50 cities right now, arguing to change matters or to lower my share of the company.

You co-decide everything with your consumers??

Please note that “co-decide” does not mean counting votes, but endless
discussions (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_decision_making) is
the model of choice for us, because otherwise the model would be like 100 customers could override the needs of 30 dealers and force them to lower prices (which regular customers usually do with most decisions what and where to buy). On the other hand, decisions we finish tend to remain stable over long periods of time, as everyones needs have been considered. This makes us very reliable (at least our dealers say so, maybe you want to talk to one of them? ask any from the online-board).

So you’re transparent?

It´s like the converted idea of normal companies: the so-called boss has to justify every action, not the other way round, and every participant like dealers, truckers and customers can co-decide. This way, companies can gather opinions and act responsibly, at least we think so and take one more step each week at least.

Can you give some examples of how you act responsibly?

For instance, with our so-called “umweltcent”, one cent of each bottle premium-cola sold (which is 5 % of our share) goes to http://atmosfair.de/index.php?id=9&L=3 – to compensate for greenhouse gases emitted by trucks transporting the bottles. As far as i know, no other soft drink producer that does this. (To be precise, we put this on hold since September, because atmosfair.de did not publish their numbers (how did they spend the money?) for the year 2006. they promised to do so soon and will then receive our share for the last three months. but we want to be sure they deal with the money as promised (it´s only about 200 euros per month from us, but as you noticed, we take matters serious :-) ).

We also took several small steps also to narrow our ecological footprint, e.g. use certified www.fsc.org paper for labels instead of chemically enhanced, mark plastic bags with stickers to re-use them and so on:
www.premium-cola.de/pics/maschinenraum/37-muetze.jpg and the sticker is
www.premium-cola.de/pics/mehr-mehrweg.gif – i never thought about it like that, but maybe the term “environmentally conscious” applies to us.

Last question, how does everyone get paid?

We calculate per single bottle, and everyone gets his share after sales, not before. this means there is no pressure, no rush, no debt to pay – and plenty of time to do things thoughtfully and thoroughly.

Thank you

PSFK readers please note: Premium-Cola says that they are way too small to expand overseas – Uwe gave his time in this interview here to promote their main product which is their ideology.

Thinking...