Appen met Lena Jüngst van air up: "The possibilities of retronasal smelling are endless"

15-03-2024 (12:45) - Appen met

Na de lancering van air up in 2019, veroverde het hervulbare drinksysteem de Nederlandse markt in hoog tempo. Door samenwerkingen met grote Nederlandse influencers en de opening van een eigen pop-up store in Amsterdam, is het merk razend populair onder jongeren. We spraken met mede-oprichtster Lena Jüngst over het innovatieve concept, de influencer-strategie van het merk en de toekomst van air up.

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Hey Lena, Sem here from Fonk magazine. How are you doing?
Hi Sem, I'm good :) How are you?

I'm also good, because it's almost weekend!
Yes, looking forward to it!

Let's start right away: for those who don't know air up, can you briefly explain what makes your water bottles so special?
First of all, like we also say in one of our videos, air up is not a water bottle ;) It's the world's first refillable drinking system that flavours water through scent alone.

So unlike other flavored beverages, air up separates flavor from water, leveraging the physiological phenomenon of retronasal smelling. Our unique technology allows scent to be absorbed through the nose with every sip, where olfactory receptors interpret it as taste.

That sounds cool! How did you come up with this idea?
Thanks, we think so too :) My co-founder Tim Jäger and I studied product design at the University of Applied Sciences in Schwäbisch Gmünd. Our 2016 thesis explored retronasal smelling and its link to taste perception. A very interesting topic.

Inspired by merging health and taste, while also keeping sustainability on our minds, we conceived air up. As students, we crafted the initial prototype, driven by our passion for innovation. Three years later, in 2019, air up was officially founded with COO Fabian Schlang's support. The aim was to champion responsible consumption and tackle societal and environmental challenges.

I think that's worked out pretty well so far. Back in 2021, you received a major investment. How did you use this investment for marketing?
Yes, it did. And we are very happy about it. It certainly helped us to grow in every aspect: more employees (we are 300 air uppies now), more markets (air up is available in 14 markets now) and, of course, more marketing. But not only that. We have a very good relationship with all our investors that is characterized by trust and we especially enjoy the opportunity to exchange ideas and benefit from each other's wealth of experience.

That's impressive. Can you share a specific marketing campaign you're most proud of?
That's a tough one... Over the years, we have had quite a few of those. But I really liked the "Dit is geen waterfles" campaign.

What an original way to explain the idea of air up haha
Especially because we had different voice actors for every market, all of them very distinct and special, which made it very unique.

I noticed that you gained a lot of popularity in The Netherlands by collaborating with big influencers, such as de Bankzitters (I'm a huge fan). What makes an influencer an 'air up' influencer?
Glad to hear that :) They're great! We tend to work with content creators on a long-term basis and try to make sure that we have a good and very close working relationship. Our content creator marketing team does an amazing job. We are looking for authentic, entertaining creators who share our values. And in general, creator marketing helps explain our product authentically, particularly on social media.

Another example are athletes like boxer Tommy Fury or freestyle skier Andri Ragettli. Being their hydration partner means a lot to us.

Nice! Any interesting collabs coming up soon?
I'm sure, there always are ;) If you follow us on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, you will see it first.

We'll keep an eye on the socials! Recently, you opened the first pop-up store in Amsterdam. What makes The Netherlands (and Amsterdam as a city) such an interesting market?
Great question :) First of all, the Netherlands stand out as one of the strongest markets for air up, with over 1 million customers, both returning and new, in the Benelux region. This number has steadily increased since the market's launch in 2021. Dutch customers have shown remarkable loyalty, and we aim to provide them with an exciting brand experience and a chance to taste our products for the first time. Also, we meet our customers face-to-face, which is nice. For those who have yet to try air up, we offer a real-life brand experience and tasting opportunity.

And, of course, Amsterdam is a beautiful city. I was there a week ago to visit the store and also spent the weekend. As you can see, I had a great time :D

Nice picture haha Amsterdam is indeed a great city! Does this pop-up store 'taste' like more offline retail for the brand?
I see what you did there. For now, it's a test. After all, this is our first ever pop-up store experience, but we are very happy with the results.

We already have a much better understanding of how a physical store impacts the brand perception by creating a real-life touchpoint/experience. We have captured a relatively high single-digit percentage of passersby in the store. Shoppers are intrigued by the phenomenon of scent taste and enjoy trying air up at our tasting bar to discover their favorite flavors.

I can understand that. Until when can people visit the store?
We are open until March 26th. So everyone in and around Amsterdam, whether you are living there or just visiting, should drop by. It's a really cool experience. 

The store is on Koningsplein 5, pretty easy to find ;)

Another really cool thing about the store: In addition to our existing customers, we are attracting new ones, including about 30% who were not previously familiar with air up. These new customers come from diverse locations such as South Africa, Iceland, Tasmania, and Chile.

Thats a good thing. I'm going to take a look soon! Going back for a moment to the origins of air up: what is your ultimate tip for students who want to market their study project?
Well, what helped us was having no work experience – it allowed us to look at things without biases and didn’t lead us into any "this is how we have always done it" thinking. Back then, we were completely free students and had no inhibitions about thinking through radically new solutions. This is precisely what many, established companies are struggling with. Especially when it comes to finding truly new, innovative solutions; they are biased because they are less willing to take risks compared to young companies.

"Never change a running system" has never led to groundbreaking solutions. What also helped us a lot was that we started as a diverse team right from the beginning - diverse also in the sense of different experiences and competencies that should complement each other.

Plus, I'm a big fan of intersections, of combining different schools of thought and different talents. I've encountered many aspiring entrepreneurs back then who lacked a starting idea, as well as talented designers with brilliant concepts but no knowledge of how to launch a business..

I hope these tips are very useful for my fellow students. And then, last but not least: where will air up stand in five years?
That's a great question :) We won't remain a 1–product company, we have too much potential and ideas for that. We will leverage our innovation to develop even more products that make it easier for people to consume in a more responsible way. The possibilities of retronasal smelling are almost endless.

We will, of course, continue to work on developing and enhancing our products and create even more flavors. We just launched the new Gen 2 bottles in two new colors and the brand new “always-on” pop up mouthpiece, so in 5 years we might already have Gen 5 :D

Another very important topic will remain sustainability. We are continuing to work on innovative, more sustainable materials for our drinking system. For example, this year we will introduce a pod with an innovative, more sustainable, food-grade material to the market. It is a bio-based plastic. The plastic bag containing the pods will be replaced by a paper box and we also aim to gradually reduce the distance to our customers more and more.

Can you give us a sneak-peek about these new products?
I can't reveal too much yet, but one project we're excited about is a special kids' bottle. I'm really looking forward to it..

Exciting! Thanks for your time and effort Lena!
Thank you for having me - it was a pleasure :)

I will now get back to drinking from my air up haha
Same ;)