Growing Ideas: Local food freshens up hospital menus

Connecting farmers and hospitals for healthier meals

Hospitals aren’t exactly known for their nutritious and appetizing menus. Stichting Diverzio helps healthcare organizations make the shift towards fresh and sustainable meals by connecting them with local farmers and growers.

Before starting Stichting Diverzio in 2011, Koen Nouws Keij worked for large food companies. When he moved to the Nijmegen region in the east of the Netherlands, he found that the farmers and growers there preferred to have personal contact with their buyers. They didn’t want to sell their products anonymously in the global market. He wondered: How about supplying their products to local hospitals?

Learning about care institutions was an eye-opener for Nouws Keij. It turned out there was a lot of room to improve the food served in hospitals and nursing homes. Nouws Keij spoke with us about how working with fresh produce not only makes hospital meals healthier, but tastier as well. And when food tastes good, less of it is thrown away.

What is Diverzio?

In Dutch, “Diverzio” is an acronym for “sustainable procurement, fresh food, and healthy local economies for health institutions and the government.” We help hospitals and nursing homes that want to improve the quality of the meals they offer. This results in care patients eating well and consuming more of their meals. It also pays off for health facilities in the form of lower costs and less waste.

We developed a program that helps hospitals, nursing homes, and mental health institutions change the way they work with food. In October, for example, we are introducing this program at ten to fifteen care organizations in North Brabant. In addition we have developed a program for farmers and growers to learn how to make their business with regional care institutions profitable.

“The role of food in the healthcare sector is undervalued”

- Koen Nouws Keij, Diverzio

What problem are you solving?

Care institutions in the Netherlands spend one billion euros every year on food and drink, of which 30 to 40 percent is thrown away. That’s millions of euros that can be used to invest in better food, smarter procurement, and better meal preparation.

Our program brings that food waste to light. For example, many care institutions make extra meals as a precaution, but if these meals simply end up in the trash day after day, then that’s simply wasteful. Care institutions could bring their food waste down to less than 20 percent within a half year, and in the long term it’s even feasible to reduce food waste to 10 percent.

And did you know that the healthcare sector spends millions of euros on medication and nursing care to tackle malnutrition among patients? These costs can easily be reduced by serving tasty food. In addition, healthy food contributes to patient wellbeing as well as helping to shorten the duration of their stay.

Shortening the duration of hospitalization from four to three days by serving healthy meals has considerable positive consequences. It’s clear that the role of food in the healthcare sector is currently undervalued. There are so many possibilities in this area.

What plans do you have up your sleeve?

So far, we’ve helped one hundred care institutions to improve their meals and lower costs. Our ambition now is to get two hundred care facilities to make this shift. We also want more regions to create shorter supply chains between farmers and care institutions.

”Food should be good. That shouldn’t even be up for discussion”

- Koen Nouws Keij, Diverzio

We’re not doing it for the money; we do it for people’s health. We believe that it shouldn’t even be up for discussion whether food and drink in the healthcare sector should be tasty, healthy, and good. And that’s why we want to start a movement towards a new standard for food in care institutions.

If other parties pursue the same goal, we can achieve more than we can on our own. The best outcome for us is for Diverzio to become superfluous, because that means that we have accomplished what we set out to do.

During Dutch Agri Food Week, Diverzio launches their “Sustainable and Healthy at the Table” program in partnership with Rabobank ’s-Hertogenbosch and others. Things kick off on October 10 at Reinier van Arkel, the oldest psychiatric institution in the Netherlands. For more information visit the Dutch Agri Food Week website.

This interview is part of the Growing Ideas series, in which we take a look at the future of food and agriculture and offer a platform to innovative companies in these sectors.