Cracks in the $60 million cult of Thermomix

Grace Mazur came across Thermomix on a visit to an old school friend's house in Poland. Photo: Tony McDonough
Grace Mazur came across Thermomix on a visit to an old school friend's house in Poland. Photo: Tony McDonough

You can't just buy a Thermomix. First, you have to attend a demonstration party.

At the party a Thermomix consultant will whip up taste testers and even cocktails in the $2089 kitchen appliance all while cannily bypassing traditional retail and online channels.

But the Thermomix sales method is under scrutiny by the courts shedding new light on the private family business which sells more than 50,000 Thermomixs a year in Australia and turns over more than $60 million a year.

Consultants

Thermomix consultants operate on a commission basis earning $220 per appliance, rising to as much as $380 per machine after five or more sales per month.

According to Grace Mazur, the founder and owner of Thermomix in Australia, the consultants are key to Thermomix's sales process.

"We are selling a service and when customers purchase the Thermomix we adjust to the customers needs," Mazur says. "Our consultants can guide the customers to a solution."

But the remuneration paid to consultants is now the subject of a legal stoush in a case currently before the WA District court.

Thermomix in Australia turns over $60 million a year. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Thermomix in Australia turns over $60 million a year. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

The case has been brought by Elisabeth Higgins, a former Thermomix in Australia consultant, who claims her business was taken away without compensation.

Higgins joined Thermomix in Australia in 2007 and become a group leader in 2008, which enabled her to manage other consultants and earn a commission from their sales.

Higgins claims a boundary change to the geographic area she managed was made without her agreement and resulted in consultants being transferred away from her leadership before she was dumped from the role in 2014.

In 2014 Higgins claims she lead a team of 13 consultants and expected to earn $60,617.16 from the consultants.

Grace Mazur at the Thermomix office in Western Australia. Photo: Tony McDonough

Grace Mazur at the Thermomix office in Western Australia. Photo: Tony McDonough

Mazur says as the case is before the courts she cannot comment on it.

"Some are full time and do a lot of hours because that is what they are looking for and some are working part-time and the income is a supplement," she says. "The consultants are independent business people, we cannot control them and we don't want to control them."

Higgins declined to comment.

"People might say it's a cult but it's really people wanting to share their experience about how it's changed their lives and how they've moved from fast food to cooking fresh food."

Grace Mazur, founder and owner of Thermomix in Australia

Challenges

The litigation is not the first challenge Mazur has faced running Thermomix in Australia with widespread consumer backlash after the new Thermomix TM5 model was released in 2014 without prior warning.

Customers who had purchased the old model for only $50 less days beforehand were outraged and demanded their money back and advocacy group Choice awarded Thermomix a "shonky" award for its behaviour.

Mazur says the lack of communication is a failure the business has learnt from and it is being proactive in publicising its latest product testing of a new Wi-Fi-enabled Thermomix product the Cook-Key.

"We are communicating ahead of time so all customers are aware of it," she says.

Even more damaging was an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission investigation last year after some customers suffered second degree burns when their machines exploded at high speed.

Again, Mazur says this was an opportunity to learn.

"You experience different challenges in the growth phase and in later phases," she says. "You learn from every experience as you move through it."

Bringing Thermomix to Australia

Mazur, 56, has built her business on a chance discovery after the mother and mining consultant first came across Thermomix during a holiday to Poland 17 years ago.

"I went back for a holiday and caught up with a friend from high school and while we were having coffee the kids cooked up a storm and we had a three-course meal," she says. "I ended up having a demonstration back then so I made sure I knew how to use it and I brought it back to Australia.

“Working full time I was running my own business in the mining industry and I could see how much time it saved me so I wanted to make sure everyone could have the same experience."

With no experience in the industry Mazur negotiated with Thermomix's German owner, Vorwerk, for the exclusive rights to distribute the product in Australia.

Negotiations took almost a year and Mazur and her husband Witek ploughed in $80,000 of their savings to found Thermomix in Australia in 2001.

"[Vorwerk] had average experiences in English speaking markets, they had tried in Australia once before and in the United Kingdom and America and it didn't work out," she says.

"The geography and travel is very challenging in Australia. My first goal was to break even and we were reinvesting all the time."

Grace Mazur and her daughter Bianca Mazur. Photo: Supplied

Grace Mazur and her daughter Bianca Mazur. Photo: Supplied

Thermomix in Australia now employs over 100 staff but it is still essentially a family business with Mazur's 34-year-old daughter, Bianca, heading up the New Zealand arm of the business.

"I've been involved from day dot when Mum bought the Thermomix home," Bianca says. "I've learnt a lot from Mum building the business from scratch. It's a different dynamic in a family business, we communicate in a different way. Now we have a lot of consultants who are mothers and daughters working together as well."

Competitors

Thermomix now faces an increasing number of competitors including the Bellini and Tefal Cuisine Companion, but Mazur says Thermomix's dominance is not under threat.

"It's good for the market because it creates more awareness," Mazur says. "Thermomix is the market leader it has been doing the product since the 70s so they are really ahead of the pack."

Mazur is confident Thermomix will continue to grow.

"Everywhere I go and meet people there is a big passion for Thermomix and everyone has a story for how it has changed their lives," she says. "People might say it's a cult but it's really people wanting to share their experience about how it's changed their lives and how they've moved from fast food to cooking fresh food."