Thermomix employees: It's a 'nasty cult'

By Rebecca Sullivan

Google "Thermomix" and the top article is "87 reasons not to buy a Thermomix". Photo / Supplied
Google "Thermomix" and the top article is "87 reasons not to buy a Thermomix". Photo / Supplied

You either love or hate the Thermomix. Sure, it can whip up a mean risotto, but the $AU2089 fancy blender has also ruined friendships, left people with serious burns and could be the subject of a class-action lawsuit.

The 300,000 Australians who Thermomix say own a machine are evangelical. Within minutes of meeting, they'll be telling you about the bread dough they made in three minutes.

But a recent wave of negative publicity - Google "Thermomix" and the top article is "87 reasons not to buy a Thermomix" - has the rest of us wondering what the fuss is all about.

A mass incident report by Choice claims 45 Thermomix owners have been harmed by their malfunctioning appliances, and 18 of those were hospitalised for their injuries.

And there are now reports at least 10 people are pursuing legal action against Thermomix Australia, which made $155 million from sales in 2014-15 (Thermomix says the safety of its customers is its top priority).

But Thermomix fans are rallying around their favourite kitchen appliance.

"300,000 Australians own a Thermomix and Choice have found 87 incidents!!! That's 0.029% of users who've had an incident (usually from not following the guidelines)," one woman wrote last week on a popular Thermomix Facebook page.

"Does anyone do this witch hunt with car manufacturers over their cars that crash and injure/kill people (in far greater numbers than this)?"

On the frontline are the consultants who sell the machines. One describes the business as "a giant cult".

Sally*, who left Thermomix last December and is disillusioned with her experience, described the company's "nasty" profit-obsessed culture, that puts making money over the happiness and livelihood of its employees.

"They're nasty..." she told news.com.au. "You don't want to play dice with Thermomix."

The purchasing process

You cannot buy a Thermomix from a shop. Similar to brands like Tupperware and Avon, they are sold by consultants, who work on commission, during in-home demonstrations.

Consultants must hold a minimum of four demos a month and if they fail to make sales, they are let go.

"You're not allowed to call it a party. It's a demonstration," said Sally*, 40, from Australia's Sunshine Coast. "You're not allowed to drink during the demonstration "but I wasn't going to tell people they couldn't drink a glass of wine," she said.

There has to be a minimum of three households at the demonstration, which takes two hours and includes tasting different recipes like bread, pizza and risotto, to show off the machine's 12 different functions.

She said if consultants cook anything outside the approved recipes, they get into trouble.
The company encourages them to serve food on plastic green plates, matching the brand's signature colour. A consultant's $350 start-up kit includes a dark green apron with the company logo to be worn during demos.

Customers don't have to make a decision on the spot. It's the consultant's job to call you after the demonstration and try to close the sale. (News.com.au heard several examples of customers receiving multiple follow-up calls. "I eventually stopped answering the phone," one woman said).

"If you sell one machine a month, you get $220 commission. Two a month, then $250 (per machine). If you sold seven machines or more in a month, then you got $360 per machine," Sally said.

"In one month I got $5500, but I did 10 demos that month and I sold 13 machines. But in the month after that, the number of phone calls I had back and forth from people with broken machines, and having to take them back, it wasn't worth it."

Being a consultant isn't that profitable

"The machine and the service I don't have a problem with. It's the company and it's the structure," said Ruth*, a 61-year-old Queensland woman who started consulting in 2011 and worked for Thermomix for two years.

"The more a consultant sells, the more all the rest of the people up the chain make. That's why they push the consultant to do more, so that they get more."

Ruth says she didn't end up making any money during her time as a consultant.

"Between travelling and buying the ingredients, I really don't think I made anything. I did my tax one year and my accountant just said to me 'Forget it, you didn't make any money'."

While the consultant job is marketed towards stay-at-home mums, Sally says to make money, you have to treat it like a full time job.

"They promote it to mums by saying 'You'll earn some extra cash', but you don't get paid for the demonstration. You have to buy all the ingredients, it takes about an hour of food prep at home, you have to drive to their house. Between buying all the food, travel time and petrol, it's just not worth it," she said.

After two years, and 60 machines sold, Sally quit. "I thought, 'You women are b*tches and I don't want to be a part of this'. Thermomix has a large turnover of staff because you do it, then you see the light."

All publicity is good publicity

"To be honest, it's [the negative reports] had the opposite effect," says Megan*, a 32-year-old consultant from Brisbane.

"Since the media interest in the past month or so, I've had more phone calls and requests for demos than I've ever had. I had two sales last week actually. It all reminds people about Thermomix. It pop ups in the news and if they say 'Oh that's right, I meant to call that consultant and arrange a demonstration'."

Megan says people have started to ask "difficult questions" in her demonstrations, so Thermomix has issued her with official "talking points".

"We get updates all the time. We get talking points and suggestions about how to combat these questions. They send us positive stories and tell us to share them," she said.

When asked by news.com.au to respond to the negative criticism, a Thermomix spokeswoman said the safety of Thermomix customers is always "our highest priority".

"We have always fully co-operated with the relevant authorities and will continue to do so," she said.

Despite this, the Thermomix Unhappy Customers Facebook page is filled with posts from Thermomix owners who are nervous about using their machines.

"The stories put me off completely and now it sits in my cabinet," a Sydney woman told news.com.au. "I thought 'Oh my god, I don't want to get burnt! It doesn't live up to the hype, for the price."

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

- news.com.au

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