De Verspillingsfabriek makes mincemeat of food waste

Caterer Bob Hutten knows from experience that a lot of delicious and sustainable food ends up in the bin. But It doesn’t have to be that way. Which is why he set up De Verspillingsfabriek (roughly translated The Waste Factory). The factory processes excess food into tasty soups and sauces as its own contribution to fighting food waste. Bob Hutten sees it as an incubator for new food initiatives, in collaboration with Rabobank.

The 220 chefs who work with company caterer Hutten prepare fresh meals every day. And every week they use 30,000 kilos of vegetables, meat and other food products, most of them sourced from sustainable farmers and horticulturalists in the local area. The meals go to company restaurants in around 150 organisations including software supplier Microsoft Nederland, cable company Liberty Global, Eneco energy, the Bernhoven regional hospital and various local Rabobanks.

Throwing away two wheelie bins of food

No matter how high the quality, not all this food gets eaten. According to our calculations, every year in Europe almost €60 billion worth of food is lost during production and distribution, from farms right through to supermarkets and caterers Hutten: “Isn’t it weird that our chefs spend all day preparing food for a major event and end up throwing away two wheelie bins full of food? Of course, there are always people who don’t turn up, that’s unavoidable. But it’s just not right if we have to waste so much food as a result. Let’s try to prevent that.”

'The impact loan is great but it’s more important that the bank is working with us create an incubator for food initiatives'

- Bob Hutten, Founder De Verspillingsfabriek

Turning excess tomatoes into soup

Hutten is turning this societal problem into a business opportunity. His factory, which has been in operation since January 2016, makes soups and sauces from fruit and vegetables considered unsuitable for sale in the store because they are not perfectly shaped, or products which in supermarket terms are coming up to the final sell-by date.
Hutten: “Take our tomato soup. It’s bursting with excess tomatoes from supermarkets and tomato growers. People are really impressed by its full, rich taste. We’re developing a special brand to reflect this, which we’ll sell to supermarkets and the catering trade. It’s quite a challenge commercially: first consumers must want to eat it, retailers and catering businesses must want to buy the product, people must want to pay this price, and we must ensure sufficient scale to make production profitable. All that’s going to work.”
The idea originates from the successful pilot project which Hutton conducted with Wageningen University and 14 branches of the Dutch supermarket chain ‘Plus’ De Verspillingsfabriek is the first sustainable frontrunner to use a European Investment Bank impact loan with an interest discount. Hutten: “Our aspiration is to combat food waste. It’s great that Rabobank offers the impact loan. But for me it’s much more important that the bank is working with us to look at how we can create an incubator for new food initiatives. Which is why I’m happy to take advantage of the bank’s network to find solutions.
By working together we can innovate better and faster.”

Puzzle

So how can you combine tackling a societal problem with managing a business risk? Rabo-banker Jansen: “We have to colour inside and outside the lines. That means that we first look at how a customer can solve a societal issue and only then at how we can put the funding together.”
Account manager Bertens: “It was quite a puzzle for us to put this financing package together. Even though we were still finalising the solution, we confirmed to Bob that the deal would come together so that he could get on with his plans. And it worked. Now that we’re involved, other parties are interested in joining the project and a wider movement to tackle food waste is underway. And that’s what we were aiming for.”

Loyalty

The Hutton family business goes back to 1929. And has banked with Rabobank since 1995.Jan Hutten, Bob’s grandfather, started a bakery in 1929 in Veghel, which he later converted to a café-restaurant. Piet Hutten, Bob’s father, then developed the business into a caterer for local parties and events. Bob Hutten took over 20 years ago, extended operations beyond Veghel, and shifted the emphasis to company catering. He also committed to using sustainable ingredients, acquired a bakery employing people with speech and language difficulties and started Foodsquad, an innovation network of professionals, healthcare organisations and educational institutions. The company now employs 1,500 people.
Which may sound like a success story but, as Hutten points out, it wasn’t all plain sailing. “After taking over the company I had to pay off my acquisition debt. I wanted to invest in growth but was hardly making any profit. For many years we weren’t the easiest customer for Rabobank. But they always supported us and I’m grateful for that.”
“I’d like to turn that round,” says Erik Jansen, managing director of Rabobank Uden Veghel. “Things have calmed down now and you have a stable and profitable company. It’s your vision and ideas that attract people. That puts you in a position to make choices. We were loyal to you, but now you are loyal to us. And it’s up to us to demonstrate we’re still a meaningful bank for you.”