Dutch innovation gets vegetables moving up the menu

Fruit vegetables market

Being innovative with vegetables is key to getting people to increase their consumption

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It is commonly understood that we should eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to stay healthy, and research shows that by increasing our fresh produce consumption we reduce the risk of disease. Most people, however, do not eat enough at all. So how can we redress that balance? And how can we be innovative with vegetables – products that everyone takes for granted? Produce Business UK turns to the speakers at the London Produce Show and Conference seminar Fresh From Holland: Innovative Concepts to get some answers

Consumer science

Since 2013, Herman Peppelenbos has been Professor of Green Health at the HAS University of Applied Sciences. He is also programme manager customised Food at the Food & Biobased Research Institute, part of Wageningen University and Research Centre where he has led many projects including Cater with Care.  His career has involved considerable research into ways of preventing malnourishment among frail, elderly people. 

“I have always liked vegetables which was not considered ‘normal’ by many people. I was intrigued by their unimportance in most restaurants, where the meat is always specified on the menu but vegetables are not.  As a researcher, working on post-harvest quality of produce, I wondered why people did not buy these high-quality products. At the same time, the rise of diseases relating to an unhealthy lifestyle came more and more into the news and often a link with fruit and vegetable intake was made. These things influenced my thinking on the subject.

“A few years ago, the ‘GroentenFruitHuis’, a collective of fruit and vegetable companies in The Netherlands, asked me to write a research proposal on how to stimulate fruit and vegetable consumption, with a different approach since other methods used didn’t work.  A problem and a challenge a the same time.”

Peppelenbos’s work with malnourished elderly people has been another key driver in his approach to produce-industry innovation.  “One size fits all doesn’t work when it comes to nutritional recommendations and food liking. So with product development you have to know the preferences and needs of your target group.  With regular food products instead of expensive additives, you can actually solve health related issues.”

Looking at ways to encourage people to increase their produce intake became an opportunity to create a new niche.  Peppelenbos explains: “The main challenge is the availability of convenient and attractive products at other eating moments than dinner and at other locations than at home.  Compared to the competition for instance for snacks (cookies, candy bars, crisps, sweets) there is almost nothing based on vegetables. It is a big opportunity for the horticultural business, and the food industry as well.  We now focus on product innovation (food design) and consumer science: we select target groups, eating locations and eating moments, develop products (with companies) and test eating behaviour in real life settings.

Herman Peppelenbos
Herman Peppelenbos

Tasty Tommies

Yvonne Vanlier is marketing and communications manager at Greenco, an entrepreneurial company selling snack vegetables and salads.  She has 20 years experience in food retail and before joining Greenco worked for Koninklijke Peijnenburg BV, Edah Supermarkets, a premium brand manufacturer in the Netherlands.  

“I have always worked in the food sector becoming interested in a healthy lifestyle and how marketing could help people make the right choices. I love to build organisations, teams and brands. When Greenco asked me to join them, I did not hesitate. What triggered me the most was being challenged to build a brand in a category where brands are not common. This is about positioning, becoming unique and distinctive (on other elements than price).”

Initially the focus was on positioning Tommie’s tomatoes as a healthy snack for children so as to counter problems with obesity. Over the years as competition grew stronger, it became clear that the concept had to be reconsidered. 

Vanlier explains: ”For Greenco to grow further, it had to make important choices as to the brand.  We had to address a broader public (and not only children) at various moments and ‘need states’. The complete brand was relaunched and a new positioning statement was formulated; Cheerful Vitamins for Every Day). But how do you interest customers in a product that is new for a specific moment? We had to become relevant: work, sports, on the go and school.”

“Building brands in this sector is not easy and many people do not believe it is possible. Working on the positioning taught me there is a lot to win; it is not common to eat vegetables on the go or in between meals. And that is the ultimate chance for Tommies snack vegetables.”

Vanlier has found this to be a fascinating concept because everything adds up.  “The whole idea of cheerful vitamins triggers innovation, packaging and communication,” she says.

While marketing is crucial in creating an innovative brand, Vanlier points out that there are risks that have to be borne in mind.  “I always look at innovation from the view of a potential customer group,” she says. “Why would someone want this new idea? What ‘problems’ does it solve? I have learned that marketing is important when it comes to innovation, but should be ‘serving’ it. You have to make a business case.”

Yvonne van Lier
Yvonne Vanlier 

Salad love

Maarten van der Leeden, Rijk Zwaan’s account manager for retail & trade in the Netherlands has been dealing with a slightly different challenge for the past few years – how to get people to love their salads.  Rijk Zwaan is a family owned vegetable breeding company that sets out to create innovative solutions.  Research and development, led by the needs and tastes of its customers is seen as a key driver in business development. Van der Leeden has been working at Rijk Zwaan for seven years, and was formerly sales manager at Anthura BV.

As a specialist in social media, he has been focused on ways of communicating with consumers to change the image of vegetables. Lovemysalad.com has been the main driver in this respect. 

“I have been working on this site for about five years,” explains van der Leeden. “The website started in Australia and is now active in many countries. I liked the idea.  For us at Rijk Zwaan it has been a very useful tool to increase consumption of vegetables by the creation of story ideas.  It provides inspiration and a way of sharing ideas, how to prepare and use vegetables.”

This social salad network takes in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Van der Leeden says “it can be difficult to measure results, there are definitely lots of followers and lots of new people involved.  We see a lot of ideas coming up on the website and there are good communication links between all groups of users.”

As he points out there is a constant need to be innovative in methods of communication in order to persuade and encourage people to eat vegetables. “Our challenge is to be innovative, to get the story into the community. We can do much more if we all work together from the beginning.”

Maarten_van_der_Leeden
Maarten van der Leeden

Inspiring chefs 

Remco de Boer is director of Sous Fresh, supplying fruit and vegetables to wholesalers, chefs and food service companies. He began working at the company in February 2015.  Prior to that he was a director of PeDe BV – a company offering one stop shopping for fruit and vegetables sourced from around the world.  In addition to his involvement with Sous Fresh, de Boer acts as Interim director of Fruit World Breda. 

At Sous Fresh, the emphasis is very much on the provision of fresh produce with the shortest possible timescale between producer and customer. Innovation has always been a key feature of the business, with a focus on identifying different methods of using fresh produce.  By offering semi-convenient solutions such as pre-washed and prepared vegetables, Sous Fresh has sought to make life easier for chefs.  Given the nutritional benefits of eating more fruit and vegetables within a sector unused to focusing on this type of produce, de Boer and Sous Fresh realised that there was considerable scope for innovation.  There was an opportunity to show how fruit and vegetables could be essential gastronomic ingredients.

By collaborating with Valstar, a provider of customised fresh produce services, Sous Fresh has pioneered a concept known as The Chefs Inspiration Box, a special monthly selection of fruit and vegetables, complete with recipes and product information.  The aim is to encourage professional chefs to explore new ways of including fresh produce in their menus. As a result, this enables chefs to show they are different, offering innovative dishes. It has also led to the creation of a new award the Sous Fresh Inspiration Award in which chefs can compete to use vegetables creatively.

Remco de Boer
Remco de Boer  

The London Produce Show and Conference stage 1 seminar programme takes place on June 9, 2016 from 10:00am – 5:30pm on the Balcony of the Great Room at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Find out more or register here.

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