Farmers in South-America have been growing quinoa for thousands of years. In the Netherlands the crop is cultivated on a commercial scale only since April 2014. Since it is such a new crop, Dutch Quinoa Group could set up a local value chain from scratch. Therefore, it is sustainable in every sense.
Rens Kuijten has been interested in quinoa for a long time. After several years of research Kuijten and his business partner founded Dutch Quinoa Group in 2014. Now he is one of the directors of the company. Dutch Quinoa Group, a Foodvalley Member, supplies quinoa as an ingredient to the food industry, and quinoa products to retail and catering industry.
“In April 2014, the first farmers in the Netherlands sowed quinoa,” Kuijten remembers. “We wanted to gain experience in growing and process the crop successfully. One of our main concerns was security of supply. That is why we dedicated the first two years to resolving technical issues, and organizing the value chain; from grower and processor to the sales on the local market. By the end of 2015 we had a working value chain with a network of growers and a scalable processing line. As a result we could build up a supply, and offer the food industry and retailers security of supply.”
“At the end of 2015 we also started to focus more on product development and marketing. We wanted to make consumers more familiar with quinoa and stimulate the demand. The demand is the key factor for the amount of hectares and the number of growers. We started with 13 farmers in the Netherlands and now there are 40, and we even have a waiting list.”
At the beginning of 2016, Dutch Quinoa Group introduced Lola Quinoa, a brand for retail and catering industry. The brand name is an abbreviation of ‘low lands quinoa’. “It was not our aim to build a large international brand, that was not realistic. We launched the brand to make our company and the value chain more visible. We wanted to tell consumers the story behind the product and our growers,” Kuijten points out.
Dutch Quinoa Group built the value chain with all the ethical values in mind. “That is our philosophy. We wanted to show that we do not only meet the high quality requirements of the Dutch consumers, but also take into account the impact on the environment and point out that it is a local product, established by local people with local ethics and standards. The farmers can decide not to cultivate the crop anymore. For them it is an extra crop option that improves soil fertility, but it also provides the opportunity to spread risks.”
A second reason for the Lola Quinoa brand was that interaction with consumers taught them valuable lessons. “After all consumers are the clients of our B2B clients. But we aspire to become a centre of expertise; therefore we need contact with all the parts of the chain, including consumers.”
Copy the system
Dutch Quinoa Group sells their products mainly in an area of around 500 kilometers in Northwest Europe, but also in Poland, Greece and Switzerland. However, the company intends to implement the Dutch system internationally. These value chains in other countries should be orientated locally, just as the one in the Netherlands. “We don’t want to transport quinoa all over the world, so these value chains are also local. The cultivation techniques will be adapted to the local conditions.”
Dutch Quinoa Group is involved in the plant breeding of Wageningen University & Research, and took on a worldwide license to commercialize quinoa varieties based on R&D of the knowledge centre. “At the moment we are strongly expanding our network of local quinoa production partners around the world with Wageningen varieties. These varieties have some benefits. For example they are ‘non-bitter’ and therefore easier to process without using water, while maintaining taste and important nutrients as fibre and minerals.”
There are many opportunities with Quinoa. It is a draught tolerant crop that can also grow in salty conditions, and in different climates. “Originally quinoa grows in the Andes region. The name comes from Quechua. It means ‘grain that grows where grass can’t grow’.
In the media and on the internet quinoa is often called a ‘superfood’. Dutch Quinoa Group, however, does not use this word in their communication. “Quinoa is not a panacea, but a natural product with a high nutritional value. It is a glutenfree source of high quality proteins, is high in fibre and minerals, and has – in its natural form – a low glycemic index. Superfoods are a hype that may soon be over, while we created a long-term vision. However, the company benefited from the product becoming more popular, and consumers becoming more conscious about food and the way products are produced. It made it easier to get financing and convince clients that there is a market for the products.”