Growing Ideas: The ketchup that smashes tomato waste

The Ketchup Project helps Kenyan farmers earn more

Condiments from The Ketchup Project reduce food waste and generate more income for farmers in Kenya. After launching its well-known tomato ketchup in 2016, the Dutch start-up will release a mango ketchup this November.

Sjoerd Dijkstra, Manager of Sustainability at DSM, was working in Kenya on a development project when he witnessed the staggering waste of tomatoes in the country. From this experience, he conceived of a business that would turn this loss of produce around. With the collaboration of co-founder Anne Janssens, a wind energy entrepreneur at Windcentrale, The Ketchup Project became a reality.

The Ketchup Project rolled out their first 5,500 bottles of ketchup in 2016 thanks to a crowdfunding campaign. Another round of crowdfunding followed in 2017. Now the start-up is looking for an investment partner.

Janssens spoke with us about rethinking Kenya’s tomato harvest and adding value to fruit using sustainable processes.

What is The Ketchup Project?

We make ketchup out of crops from Kenya that would otherwise go to waste. We wanted to make a healthy ketchup, because over time ketchup has degenerated into a tomato sauce full of sugar. Traditionally it was a fine, artisanal product that also could be made out of other produce such as sweet potato and pumpkin. Together with the chef of a Michelin star restaurant, we worked out which ingredients we wanted to use. Following our tomato ketchup, we are launching a mango ketchup in November.

“Ketchup has degenerated into a tomato sauce full of sugar”

- Anne Janssens, The Ketchup Project

What problem are you solving?

In Kenya, tomatoes are harvested only twice a year, which results in huge surpluses throughout the country. Not only does the price farmers get for their tomatoes decline, but also 70 to 80 percent of the tomatoes are wasted. Meanwhile there is a shortage of tomatoes in between the two harvesting periods. These fixed harvesting periods are embedded in the culture but are actually unnecessary given the country’s stable climate. We ensure that the farmers harvest weekly so that they can supply tomatoes on an ongoing basis.

In addition, we dry the tomatoes and mangos and make ketchup from them. By improving farming techniques and developing a supply chain, we counteract waste and increase farmers’ incomes. We buy the dried tomatoes and mangos at a fixed high price. This not only ensures that the farmers have enough income to provide for themselves, it also allows money to be saved for community projects. These savings have already paid for the installation of electricity in the village.

“In Kenya, tomatoes are harvested only twice a year”

- Anne Janssens, The Ketchup Project

What is your biggest challenge?

We have set up a farmers’ cooperative for the drying of crops. The drying facility is located in the community and runs on solar energy. This facility must comply with international food safety standards, and that requires a lot of time and effort in a country where they are not used to such procedures. Around 80 percent of our time is spent on developing the cooperative and on making sure the drying facility is operating in accordance with regulations.

We are planning to set up a second cooperative in 2019. We’re looking into whether the drying facility can run on biomass. Mango pits and peels generate enough energy to dry the flesh. We thought it would be nice if we could also utilize the waste from the fruit.

Anne Janssens: “We have set up a farmers’ cooperative for the drying of crops.”

What plans do you have for the future?

We’re searching for bigger clients to create a more stable outlet for our product. They might have to be from outside the Netherlands, since ketchup is not very big here. We eat our French fries with mayonnaise, while in other countries they dip fries in ketchup. Our ketchup was being sold for a while by a large Dutch supermarket, but it’s impossible for us to tell our story on the shelf. We are focusing for the time being on finding engaging partners that can help us introduce our product in the right way. We may make another attempt to reach out in the course of next year.

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.