Growing Ideas: Apple rejects make a buzzworthy beverage

Cider with a social and environmental mission

Dutch apple growers wanted to make a difference with their market rejects. Enter De Fruitmotor, a diverse cooperative that produces cider from imperfect fruit. And farmers aren’t the only ones drinking up the benefits…

Roughly 6 to 9 percent of the apples from the Netherland’s fruit-producing region, the Betuwe, do not meet supermarket standards. These apples may be blemished or simply the wrong size. Although other uses can often be found for them, that only brings in a couple of cents per kilo. So apple growers asked the founders of De Fruitmotor to come up with an idea to make their rejected apples more profitable. Thus Krenkelaar apple cider was born.

Bruised apples for biodiversity

“We make cider from blemished apples, called krenkelaars, which is an old-fashioned term,” explains Fruitmotor Co-founder Hilde Engels. “They are not good enough for the supermarket shelves but great for making apple cider. Our Krenkelaar Appel Cider was recently named Best Dutch Cider and is now available throughout the Netherlands.”

De Fruitmotor is a cooperative uniting fruit growers from the Betuwe region with fruit processors, suppliers and consumers from around the country. Together they make it possible to ask a fair price for each partner in the chain. De Fruitmotor does more than process and sell waste flows. “Part of the proceeds goes into a biodiversity fund, which is used to pay for the creation of flower borders, hedgerows and nest boxes to improve bees’ habitats. We rely on wild bees to pollinate the fruit. The better the pollination, the better the quality of apples,” explains Engels. The economic, ecological and social ‘profit’ is used to benefit the region, for instance by partnering with workshops. “In many companies, the profit goes straight into the owner’s pockets and society is left to foot the bill. Companies don’t have to pay for the pollution they cause and the fact that some people are side-lined. Our aim is to include all social costs in our price.”

The cider is currently bottled in Germany, but De Fruitmotor wants to establish a small bottling plant in the Betuwe. Engels: “That will allow us to create more jobs in the region and enable us to employ people who are distanced from the labor market.”

"Our aim is to include all social costs in our price"

- Hilde Engels, De Fruitmotor

An open cooperative

De Fruitmotor is a chain cooperative, meaning the organization does not employ growers or produce the cider itself. Engels explains: “We work with a range of partners – from growers and processors to sellers and consumers. By working together we are able to optimize the entire chain as opposed to just one link. We look for reciprocity – sales partners who also plant a bee hedgerow in their garden or consumers who can help out at a tasting, for example. That way they can experience something themselves or give others an experience.”

Anyone is welcome join the cooperative, even consumers. All members have a voice in the policy and the organization and each membership is tailored to what that party needs. So consumers receive a discount and can participate in activities. Co-founder Henri Holster, who works at Wageningen University, helps growers by sharing his expertise. “Besides improving biodiversity we look at things like natural pesticides,” says Engels. “How can we prevent issues like fungal diseases? And if pest control is necessary, how can we either reduce the amount needed or use a natural solution?”

New pulp products

To date, De Fruitmotor has processed 76 tons of apples into cider, leaving a lot of apple pulp after pressing. “It is a wonderful challenge to turn that pulp into a marketable product as well,” says Engels. “We’re hoping to introduce it at the end of the year. Our long-term aim is to make cider or other products from pears and soft fruit like strawberries, raspberries or other berries.”

De Fruitmotor’s cider is on sale in shops focused on sustainability and at the Dille & Kamille chain in Belgium and the Netherlands. Their philosophy of ‘natural simplicity’ fits Krenkelaar to a T,” believes Engels. “We organize tastings in their shops and are currently in talks about setting up workshops.” She has her sights set on other popular “eco-stores” in the region, “but we still have their management to convince.”