Yummy United makes healthy food products and the company’s philosophy is simple: kids are its customers, so kids create its products. Co-founder Oleg Beriev explains why doing business with children is much more fun than working with adults.
Yummy United is a food production company for kids, run by kids. Two Kids Board of Directors, one in Italy and the other in Russia, call the shots when it comes to big business decisions, design, and marketing. Co-founders Oleg Beriev and Roman Glebov wouldn’t have it any other way. Children are their target market so it makes perfect sense to let them decide how Yummy United’s glazed quark bars (fresh curd covered in chocolate) and other products taste and look.
“In the USSR, children really loved glazed bars and they remain popular in Russia, where they’re known affectionately as syrok, but they’re still relatively unknown further west,” Oleg says. “Over the last few years, a few new dairy products have been launched in Europe, such as kefir (a fermented milk drink). Ten years ago, no one knew what it was, now it’s in every store. We’re sure that quark will be the next star in the dairy category, especially with kids.”
Oleg, who runs Moscow-based consulting agency Mildberry, and Roman, who has an industrial R&D background, chose Italy as the launchpad for Yummy United and set up shop in the spring of 2019. The duo figured the kids of the 300,000 or so Russian speakers who call the country home, including Oleg and his wife, would be a good market to launch their product.
“At first we didn’t want to launch in Russia because it’s too big,” Oleg explains. “We wanted to establish the company in Europe before moving to Russia. In general, Italy isn’t good for business but 80% of the Russian speakers who live there are women who have married Italians and now have children – we know that if we sell to these families and make an impact, Yummy United will be successful. We’re the only people selling glazed bars in the country so we’re unique.”
Power to kids
One of Yummy United’s first priorities in Italy was setting up its inaugural Kids Board of Directors. Giving children genuine responsibility and encouraging them to take control lies at the heart of the company’s core values. Italian kids aged 8 to 12 were asked to send videos of themselves explaining why they wanted to be part of Yummy United. Dozens were then selected to attend a one-day event to take part in creative workshops, design packaging, direct adverts, and create new products. Twenty were then invited onto the board, which is refreshed every four months with new kids chosen through the same process.
“When we branched out into Russia in the autumn of 2019, we also asked children to apply to the board and for the first stage 85 kids from 37 cities across the country flew to Moscow for a one-day event,” Oleg says. “It wasn’t easy whittling down the number into something manageable because all of the children were great, but we eventually chose 40 from 18 cities. The Russian Kids Board of Directors is also changed every four months and at the moment we hold weekly online meetings, each lasting up to three hours. Before the pandemic we also held offline meetings in Moscow for local board members and we hope to do this again in the near future.”
Every meeting is dedicated to a pressing topic that needs to be navigated for Yummy United to move forward, like setting an initiative in motion or releasing a new snack. To kick things off, Oleg always brings the board up to date by giving a presentation about Yummy United’s weekly progress before an invited expert speaks to the kids about a particular aspect of business. The board is then split into teams, each headed by an adult moderator, and tasked with solving a problem, working out a business or marketing strategy, or brainstorming new concepts. Each team then presents their ideas to the rest of the board.
“On the whole they are pretty well behaved and take it seriously,” says Oleg. “When I give my weekly presentation, I talk about money and business, they probably don’t understand everything but sometimes they ask me hard questions I can’t answer! They put me on the spot. We try to make it as real as possible, but of course we have fun.”