'Allies' fight against food waste
De Verspillingsfabriek turns leftover tomatoes into soup
Even gourmet and sustainable food often ends up in the waste bin. 'Isn't it strange that people would throw away food just like that?', asks Bob Hutten. As managing director and owner of Netherlands-based food-service company Hutten, he is well versed in the world of food and drink. As a business solution to this social problem, he founded De Verspillingsfabriek ('The Waste Factory'), which turns food waste such as unused tomatoes into soups and sauces. His local Rabobank is closely involved in the initiative: 'Rabobank understands the issues I face.'
It is 2:30 in the afternoon. Erik Jansen, Chairman of the Local Board of Directors of the local Rabobank Uden Veghel, and Bart Bertens, account manager mid corporates, are visiting Hutten, a provider of culinary and hospitality services, including catering, based in the Southern Dutch town of Veghel. Jansen, Bertens and the company's managing director and owner Bob Hutten head towards a large room, which turns out to be the company's artisan kitchen and is filled with massive, steaming kettles. On the menu this week is traditional Dutch winter fare such as hutspot (mashed potatoes with carrots and onions) and boerenkool (a similar, kale-based stew). Bob Hutten serves the boerenkool right from the pot, the bright green vegetable contrasting sharply with the gleaming stainless steel. He jokes that the traditional farmer's dish is appropriate for a bank with rural roots such as Rabobank. 'It’s lightly cooked and fresh as can be', he beams proudly.
30,000 kilos of food a week
The 220 cooks employed by Hutten prepare fresh meals every day for which they use 30,000 kilos of vegetables, meat and other food a week, the bulk of which is sourced from locally based farmers and growers who use sustainable production methods. The meals are supplied to the company restaurants of some 150 organisations throughout the Netherlands, including software provider Microsoft Nederland, cable operator Liberty Global, energy provider Eneco, the regional hospital Bernhoven and various local Rabobanks.
Two wheelie bins of food thrown out
No matter how high the quality of the food might be, not all of it ends up on people's plates. In fact, Rabobank data shows that around 60 billion euros worth of food is wasted across Europe each year during production and distribution – and that includes anywhere from farms to supermarkets to catering companies. Hutten: 'Don't you think it's odd that our chefs spend all day preparing food for a large conference, only to find themselves having to throw out two full wheelie bins of it at the end of the day? Sure, I understand that, with a gathering of that size, some people might not be able to attend for whatever reason, but it’s simply not right for our society to let so much food go to waste.'
Turning leftover tomatoes into soup
Hutten managed to turn this social problem into a business opportunity: 'De Verspillingsfabriek' ('The Waste Factory'). This production facility (start of operations: January 2016) produces soups and sauces from food items such as misshapen fruit and vegetables which are not marketable for that reason, or supermarket items approaching the sell-by date. Hutten: 'Take our tomato soup, for example. It's chock-full of leftover tomatoes supplied by supermarkets and tomato growers. People are impressed by their rich, full flavour. We're marketing the items produced in De Verspillingsfabriek under the name Barstensvol ('Plentiful') and are selling them to supermarkets and food service outlets. From a commercial point of view, it's quite a challenge: consumers must want the product, retailers and restaurant owners must want to buy it, people must be willing to pay the price, and we must ensure we have the scale needed for production. But I'm confident we're going to succeed.' The germ of the idea was planted following a successful pilot project launched by Hutten and Wageningen University and fourteen stores of the Plus supermarket chain.
'Rabobank is helping us to create an incubator for new initiatives.'
Rabobank provided an Impact Loan to finance De Verspillingsfabriek, with an interest rate rebate courtesy of the European Investment Bank. De Verspillingsfabriek is the first 'leader in sustainability' to receive this type of loan. Hutten: 'We have set ourselves the goal of reducing food waste and I feel Rabobank is our ally in achieving that goal. It's a wonderful thing that Rabobank provides these Impact Loans, but what I feel is far more important is that they are helping us to create an incubator for new food-related initiatives. That's what I value so much about Rabobank: they understand the issues I face and have opened up their network to me in order to help solve those issues. That’s the key to innovation.'
The initiative requires Rabobank to be creative and resourceful, which raises the question of whether the bank can reconcile the twin challenges of addressing this social problem and managing business risks. Rabobank's Erik Jansen: 'At Rabobank, we must think outside the box while still remembering our role as a bank and operating within those parameters. That means we must first look at how a customer can solve a social issue, and only then do we start organising the funding.' Account manager Bertens: 'Organising the funding for De Verspillingsfabriek was a bit of a puzzle, and although we hadn't worked out all the details yet, we told Bob at one point that we would get it sorted out and that he could go ahead with his plans. We kept our promise, and now that we're on board, others are eager to join as well, which is creating a wider movement to address the problem of food waste. That's really our prime motivation as a bank, why we are in it in the first place.'
The history of food-service company Hutten, a family business, dates back to 1929. The company has been a Rabobank customer since 1995.
Jan Hutten, Bob's grandfather, opened a bakery in Veghel in 1929, which he later converted into a café/restaurant. Piet Hutten, Bob’s father, went on to develop the company into a catering business for local parties and celebrations. When Bob Hutten took over management of the company 20 years ago, he expanded the company's operations outside the town of Veghel and made corporate catering its core business. He also began sourcing sustainable ingredients, acquired a bakery that employed people with language and speech difficulties, and founded Foodsquad, an innovation network of food professionals, health organisations and educational institutions. The company currently has 1,500 employees.
Although the company's trajectory thus far may sound like an unequivocal success story, Hutten says he did encounter a few hurdles along the way. 'After we made the acquisition I had to repay my debt. I wanted to invest in the company’s growth, but in fact I barely turned a profit. We presented Rabobank with some challenges over the years, but they never let us down, and I’m very grateful to them for that.'
'I would like to put it slightly differently', says Erik Jansen, Chairman of the Local Board of Directors of the local Rabobank Uden Veghel. 'You survived some of those initial bumps and are now a stable and profitable company. It is thanks to your vision and your way of thinking and working that you are now able to attract people and are in a position to make choices. We have been loyal to you, but now you are showing loyalty to us. It's our turn now to demonstrate to you in what ways we can support you.'