Vegetable processing the circular way

“We waste absolutely nothing”- vanRijsingengreen

A vegetable processing company in the Netherlands has transformed its business model to convert waste streams into income sources. Farmers benefit too: crops unsuitable for the fresh produce market are now turned into valuable food ingredients.

VanRijsingengreen is an umbrella of companies in the southern Netherlands that process and sell vegetable products using sustainable methods. The family-run business focuses on supply chain integration in which everything is demand driven. Its large order book makes it possible to gear production to demand and determine at a relatively late stage which grower will produce for what market.

When size matters

“Obviously, scale is important”, says Hans van den Bighelaar, Director of mother company Van Rijsingen Beheer B.V. “We need to be big enough to be able to link supply and demand. We even need sufficient waste flows! Once we’ve found a market for a waste flow, it’s important to be able to deliver a steady stream of waste of consistent quality because that’s what buyers expect.”

“Buyers can expect consistent quality”

- Hans van den Bighelaar, vanRijsingengreen

Adding value by reducing waste

A second reason for the company’s success in fighting waste is that processing waste flows is a part of its DNA. Gerbrand van Veldhuizen, another Director of Van Rijsingen Beheer BV, explains: “Our mindset is not so much reducing waste, but extracting the most value from raw materials. Carrot peelings are a raw material to which we can add value. That type of waste flow can ultimately change a company’s business model.”

One of VanRijsingengreen’s main products used to be fresh fruit juice. However, the juice’s limited shelf-life and an erratic market proved to be difficult factors. Following in-depth research, the company shifted its focus to ingredients and began producing juice concentrate instead. “Juice concentrate is much easier to store and to export,” says Van Veldhuizen. “As a bonus, carrot fiber is already proving a very promising ingredient.”

“Carrot fiber is proving a very promising ingredient”

- Gerbrand van Veldhuizen, vanRijsingengreen

Awareness

“In combating waste, the first step is awareness of what’s being lost,” says Van den Bighelaar. “It starts with explaining to staff what the value of a product is. Things that used to be thrown away are now collected and sorted into containers clearly labelled to show their destination. That makes it visible to everyone that these are products that are being prepared for consumption and thus still have value.

“However, ‘waste’ that is reprocessed into ingredients has to meet different criteria from waste that will no longer be used in the food chain. Think of refrigeration, for example. Business processes must be designed to accommodate the distinction. And that’s where scale comes in. Small businesses might not be able to meet the relatively high setup costs.”

High-value secondary product: carrot pulp left over after juicing.

Stable chains and new knowledge

Waste is not just tackled in the company’s factories: it starts before the first seed is planted. Proper crop planning can help demand-driven cultivation. “Because we have a good overview of which growers grow what and for whom, we can see at any time which product is suitable for a particular market and purpose,” explains Van Veldhuizen. “And if a particular crop does not meet the specifications to be sold as fresh produce, the grower no longer needs to throw it away. We can process it into a food ingredient instead. Granted, the grower will receive less money for that crop, but it’s better than nothing at all. In that way, focusing on adding value ensures more stable chains.”

“We’ve also gained a great deal of new knowledge,” adds Van den Bighelaar. “We’re constantly learning because we’re intent on adding value to vegetables, and on tapping into new applications and market opportunities.”