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Michel et Augustin Cookies: Culinary Adventures Competing Against Food Industry Giants

Kamran Kashani

A recipe for success: Hernán Bruno (right) and Hilke Plassman (left), of INSEAD, cook up a winner in our New Case Writer Competition 2014.

The field-based case, Michel et Augustin Cookies: Culinary Adventures Competing Against Food Industry Giants, tells the story of two entrepreneurs, Michel de Rovira and Augustin Paluel-Marmont, as they set up their company, Michel et Augustin, to make and sell sablé cookies (round shortbread butter biscuits). They were entering a market dominated by big players, and the pair had few connections with the food industry.

Students are asked to consider Michel and Augustin’s prospects: Is this an attractive market? How should they position the brand? What should be included in the marketing plan and what challenges are they likely to face?

Hernán Bruno discusses how he and his co-writer, Hilke Plassman, wrote the case, what the win means to them, and the advice they would give to other first-time case writers.

Finding a focus

The case started as a student project about the company. We then realised that this story could be a great illustration of the early decisions a new business needs to make when launching a product, and so we decided to turn the story into a case.

The main challenge was finding the right focus. There is a great deal of complexity involved in any company decision, and a lot of it needs to be ironed out for the story to have the right focus. This is challenging because it requires simplifying the story while remaining true to its essence and maintaining some of the richness that will result in students learning something of value.

Engaging students

The teaching note itself is not difficult to write. What is difficult, is finding a way to engage students when teaching the case for the first time. It is not clear what will resonate with them before you take it into the classroom. After a couple of times teaching the case, we summarised some of the ideas that came out of the sessions for inclusion in the teaching note.


Our colleague, Pierre Chandon – who has written several award-winning cases – helped us with the initial ideas. His cases were a good model. Also, many of our students dream of creating and running their own company. So we knew the story would get a lot of attention from them!

We wanted to show the challenges involved in starting a company in a competitive market. What makes the case interesting is that many of the challenges are not what the students expect. For instance, many people think that it is hard for a new brand to sell through a big retailer because they will not pick up the phone. But it turns out that the main distribution challenge is that big retailers need suppliers that are reliable and have enough scale to supply a large market. 

Making contacts

As a company, Michel et Augustin is very open to talking to the media and to schools. One of the founders is an alumnus of INSEAD, so that also made the initial contact easier. Telling their story is MetACookiepart of the company DNA, so writing the case was a very natural process for them.

We would advise anyone new to writing cases to look for good, interesting stories. Try to find out what the difficult decisions were and exploit them to write a case that leads to interesting discussions in the classroom and ‘a-ha’ moments for students. Our Michel et Augustin case engages students because it combines a fun product with empathy towards the protagonists. We think it would work well as part of any marketing or entrepreneurship course.

Supporting material

The videos we created are very useful, and students like to see and hear the protagonists. It’s also a great idea to bring some Michel et Augustin cookies into the classroom if available!

Celebrating success

Winning this competition means a lot; we take teaching and case writing very seriously so we are very happy to get recognition for this effort. We will definitely be writing more cases now!

Case details

Michel et Augustin Cookies: Culinary Adventures Competing Against Food Industry Giants
Ref 514-018-1
Hernán Bruno and Hilke Plassmann
Also available:
Teaching note
Ref 514-018-8

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