As with so many other great stories, ours starts with a guy and a good idea.
Ken Muff Lassen originally built himself an international career in the Danish furniture business. Being a self made man, this attracted some interesting offers, one of them coming from the now world famous company IKEA.
In 1987, now having been at the helm of the brand in Denmark during its early years, he realized that the explosive success of IKEA meant more management and less “hands on” with the company’s products.
For Ken – who was not only passionate about Danish engineered and designed high quality household products, but also wanted to stay close to the products during the development phase – this ultimately meant leaving IKEA and going back into business for himself.
A ceramic discovery
Ken’s hope had always been that he would one day get an idea for a little “thing” that could be sold in millions.
Along with his business partner, he developed a vast variety of different products for their customers, but he was always on the lookout for that one unique idea.
The only detail missing from the equation: he had no clue as to what this “thing” might be.
Rather than invent something new, Ken wanted to take something that was already being used and improve it. Even in the early 1990s, this could be a daunting task. Improvements to existing products seemed to be developed at the speed of light.
One day, while going through a shelf filled with various objects, which his business partner had accumulated over the years, he found a grinder purchased in London two years earlier. Looking at it, he noticed that the mill was ceramic, which was unusual at the time.
Peugeot, who originally invented the first mills back in 1842, had been selling the same steel grinder mechanism for more than a century, and competitors were offering similar grinders made from other materials, such as plastic and nylon.
Being a food connoisseur and knowing that, as a result, many mills on the market were unable to grind effectively over time, were difficult to fill and fell apart too easily, the ceramic mill immediately had his curiosity.
After testing that the mill was on par with the best mills on the market when it came to grinding pepper, Ken filled the mill with salt – which no other mill at the time was able to grind without experiencing issues such as wear and tear and corrosion to the grinding mechanism.
The mill ground the salt flawlessly, making him only more excited about his discovery.
Certain that he was on to something, he went to a well-known gourmet grocery store in Copenhagen and purchased cumin, fennel, cardamom, mustard seeds – every spice available in the store, and started grinding away.
The results were impressive. No matter what he threw at the mill, it seemed to bring out the best in the spices, with minimum wear and tear on the ceramic grinding mechanism.
Excited about the discovery, he took a bold decision: he was going to develop a ceramic grinding mechanism that would be a convenient alternative to the old mortar would hold its own against the very best grinders on the market and one that was sturdy enough to keep grinding year after year!
He was brimming with enthusiasm. He had his savings to get him started as well as a rock solid certainty that he could make a difference for quality-conscious households all over the world.
Ken set out to find the origin of the sturdy ceramic, a process that took almost a year.
Ken set out to find the origin of the sturdy ceramic, a process that took almost a year.
Once he had tracked down the manufacturer in Japan, he finally got to share his ideas for improvements, and together they spent the following year developing and making what would become CrushGrind® - the Danish engineered ceramic grinder now widely used by many of the world’s quality household brands.
Alongside Ken’s work on the grinder itself, he got in touch with experts on spices, picking their brains regarding the huge differences between the different types, the influence of climate and country of origin etc.
So, while the CrushGrind® was still in its development and testing phase, his own knowledge of spices got better and better.
As soon as the first finished products were on hand, Ken was ready to knock down the doors to manufacturers of spice mills everywhere, armed with an excellent product as well as his fascination with flavors - and the immense effect that the right spice combination had on a dish.
Now all he needed was a way in!
“Got bad mills? Please step up!”
This proved to be easier said than done – as is the case today, companies were being contacted by sales associates on a daily basis, all claiming to have a better product at a lower price.
And even though, by this time, Ken knew everything there was to know about mills and grinders – and even though he had a product that was top of the line, at a very competitive price – demonstrating CrushGrind® to decision makers was one thing…getting them to take in Ken as their external supplier, was another.
Four years passed with little income. Needless to say, Ken was growing weary and when he needed confirmation that he was on the right track, he spent his Saturday mornings at the same well-known Copenhagen specialist store where he had purchased his spices years before. He would stand in front of the shop at a demo table he had brought along, shouting loudly:
“Does anyone here have non-working mills at home”?
There always were, which not only gave him an opportunity to demonstrate the
CrushGrind®, but also reminded him time and time again that he was on the right track.
And little did he know, as he was standing there in front of the shop Saturday morning addressing a crowd of strangers, that the tide was about to change.
Having unsuccessfully approached all the grinder manufacturers, Ken changed his strategy. He realized that for his product to become a success, he would need a sales channel that could demonstrate the product to the end consumer.
Simply put, he needed to find a brand that was quality-conscious, solid and used by households around the world.
He chose to contact Tupperware, the well-known international manufacturer of high-end household products, respected for their quality and notorious for their thorough testing of supplier parts and products.
Interested in the idea of a ceramic grinder, Tupperware carried out very extensive tests at their headquarters, one of them equaling 200 years of usage, with more than 50 kilos of salt and 50 kilos of pepper being ground by a single grinder!
When soon after, the CrushGrind® was approved as the grinding mechanism of choice in Tupperware’s mills, the turning point seemed within reach - and with this first customer in the books, the future suddenly looked much brighter.
WMF and the directors’ wives
Although it was still not a walk in the park to get attention, having passed Tupperware’s exhaustive testing did make it easier for Ken to get his foot in the door.
But he still needed to convince decision makers.
At one point, Ken had managed to get a meeting with WMF, insisting on 15 minutes of undisrupted demonstration time. Upon recognizing that CrushGrind® could potentially be very interesting for the brand, the procurement manager rescheduled the meeting, giving the directors of the company a chance to participate.
Sitting there, in front of a table full of experienced and knowledgeable leaders in a company that could become a huge client, Ken knew he needed to do something special.
This being years ago, back when the majority on the top floor of any company was certain to be men, he rather unconventionally proposed that the directors buy 200 mills which they were to take home to their spouses - and if their wives said that this was the best grinder they had ever used, WMF would accept him as a supplier.
The unorthodox approach drew smiles around the table and over the following weeks, the CrushGrind® was tested thoroughly in the homes of their families – resulting in WMF becoming the second large customer.
50 Million grinders
Proving to be a crucial milestone for Ken and CrushGrind®, this allowed him to expand his team, giving him the opportunity to focus on development while at the same time ensuring a smooth sales- and manufacturing process.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Ken and the team kept working tirelessly to continuously improve and update CrushGrind®. And with the introduction of CrushGrind® DIAMOND in 2006, the success story took another leap forward.
Since then, we have introduced a high-end ceramic mechanism specifically developed for supermarket and discount store mills, making it possible to replace poor plastic grinders in spice mills – in tune with our goal of being able to offer quality products to consumers on all levels.
It is now many years ago that Ken stood at his demonstration table in front of the specialty store in Copenhagen, and we are proud to say that CrushGrind® can be found in more than 50 million mills all over the world.
However, far from being just a “ceramic spice grinder” company, we have branched out into related areas, always focusing on bringing the best solutions to the dinner table, using any material that fits the purpose.
Recently, CrushGrind® has entered the ever growing coffee market after having spent 3 years developing a game changing coffee grinder mechanism, aiming to improve the quality of life for coffee lovers everywhere.
Today, the second generation is at the helm and Ken has retired - although he still visits frequently and participates in the development of new products. And the same passion for fantastic flavors and high quality products that motivated Ken many years ago still drives us.
In fact, it can be said that, pursuing the perfect marriage of Danish engineered form and function is the core of our company, and wanting to make a difference for quality-conscious households everywhere is the heart.