About Time You Met: Manon Van Essen, Founder of Magioni PizzaBy Angelica Malin
Manon Van Essen is founder of Magioni, a pizza company with a difference. The start-up brand has a cult following in Holland selling 13,000 pizzas per day and is trending among foodies because of its simple recipe and veg-centric pizza bases. And now, it’s set to hit the UK shelves. We chatted to Manon about being a woman in business, and the forever growing UK pizza market:
Magioni is already a big hit in The Netherlands, and you’re just about to launch in the UK. Tell us a little bit more about the brand:
Like a lot of good stories mine started in a pub; I was drinking with a friend and at one point we imagined about a world where you could eat pizza without that all too familiar post pizza carb slump – at that point it was really only a dream. After a few months I found myself thinking about it more and more, and eventually I decided to turn that dream into reality. I started cooking in my kitchen and later on I honed my skills in a pizzeria. A couple of months after I pitched my idea to a big supermarket, it became an instant hit. At the moment we’re selling over 13,000 pizzas a day, and on 18th July we launch in the UK.
What was the idea behind replacing flour with veggies for the pizza bases?
Obesity is a big problem and it all starts with a lack of food education. Kids grow with the idea veggies and delicious food are two totally different things. I thought that if I could get kids to eat their veggies with their favorite food (pizza), maybe I would start a movement and make an impact in the long run.
Did you have any experience in the food industry before starting Magioni?
No I didn’t; I had ambition and I was running my own tech company. I experienced myself how important healthy food and taking care of your body really is. I was young and sold my business at the age of 23, and I thought about the next step and figured out I wanted to create my own future. I’m driven to create something that really makes an impact.
How long did it take for you to create the perfect veggie pizza base?
It didn’t take me very long to create the perfect recipe – but I was dedicated to do it. I made about a 100 recipes a day in the beginning (I guess I sped it up a little bit), and it took me about 3 months from idea to supermarket pitch. I’m a big fan of ‘if you want to follow your dreams, you have to be dedicated and focused.’
How hard/easy has it been to challenge people’s perceptions on your product?
The biggest challenge was the same challenge I faced: cauliflower and pizza? Can you please tell me this is not true? It sounds awful, but after I created the perfect recipe and when people started tasting it, it became much easier to convince everyone. One of the biggest helpers was Instagram: people love our brand and believe in our values, so they started posting recipes online and recommending it to their friends. That really helped us a lot!
Talk to us about being a woman in business. Did you have a mentor when you first started out?
Yes I do have a mentor, and they work at one of the biggest food service companies within The Netherlands. I’m so glad I found someone who’s gone through it all before – the ups, downs and scaling up. For me, it’s really important to have someone standing by my side and believing in me from day one.
I’ve had so many setbacks, and at one point no-one was convinced I could make it. I could barely pay my train ticket to do my pitch at the supermarket. And because nobody thought I was able to make it I decided I would continue the hard work in silence, and let success be my noise.
For people who are looking to launch a company – what questions should they be asking themselves?
I think you should be able at any moment to sacrifice what you are, for what you will become. You have to be willing to give up a lot sometimes in order to gain something later on. I always compare it with playing sports; if you want to be successful, you have to train, eat, and rest like a pro. Create a pro mindset and your mind will take you there.
What do you think are going to be the next big food trends?
I think there will be some kombucha brands who will create a very cool mocktail brand, which I can’t wait to drink, by the way. Of course the trend of vegetable alternatives like cauliflower rice, and courgette pasta will grow, and I think this year will be big for colourful food like spiced red ramen or noodles.
Have you had to change anything from the initial launch in Netherlands to fit within the UK market?
Yes, Waitrose and I had a deep look into our packaging/marketing and strategy. The main thing is the traffic light system which is completely new for us. Also, you guys have a much more challenging pizza assortment, so we had to make our pizzas really stand out. We’ve changed the amount of vegetables per pizza so it’s 2 of your 5 a day, and we’ve changed the complete look and feel, to make it more stand out on the shelves.
What’s your favourite toppings for your pizza bases?
You can always wake me up for a truffled pizza carpaccio with a black bean pizza crust. You have to try it to believe it!