Foodvalley Champion award helps De Nieuwe Melkboer thrive, despite corona setback

Foodvalley Champions Bart and Tom Grobben produce soymilk in The Netherlands, grown in Dutch soil. The Champion award strengthened their mission: to set up a local chain of plant-based protein products.

Right next to their parents’ dairy farm, Bart Grobben and his brother Tom started a new company, called De Nieuwe Melkboer. They grow soy and dry the beans on their family’s land, then turn them into soymilk in a factory in their town Enschede and sell it to cafés and restaurants. At least, that was the plan until covid came along. Just when De Nieuwe Melkboer kicked off its production, the cafés and restaurants in the Netherlands closed their doors.

On the right path

Luckily another event boosted their commercial presence and confidence in that same year. De Nieuwe Melkboer was awarded Foodvalley Champion 2020, a reward for the most innovative company in the fields of Protein Shift, Food & Health and Circular Agrifood. “That was an enormous encouragement and acknowledgement of us being on the right path”, says Bart.

It was an exciting moment, because Bart was well aware of the other candidates of the Foodvalley Champions awards in the category Protein Shift. “There was Schouten Europe, a big and well-known company that does great things. And there was FUMI ingredients, an impressive producer of egg-alternatives. We were proud Foodvalley put us on the same list with them.”

Interest from long distance

Part of the award was a promotional video, made by Foodvalley, introducing De Nieuwe Melkboer to the world. The effect of winning the award and the broadcasting of the clip was felt immediately, says Bart. “A lot of other companies watched the video and started showing interest. We even heard from people in Asia.” It was nice to be put on the map for potential partners and suppliers. Although not every connection was immediately useful. Long distance partnerships don’t fit into the concept of De Nieuwe Melkboer. Bart: “I would rather meet an investor in a one-hour drive than videocall and take a plane to meet maybe once a year.”

The exposure from the Champion awards turned out the be extra welcome in the year a pandemic broke out. Not only were De Nieuwe Melkboer’s first clients shut down, the brothers also couldn’t visit a lot of business events. Bart: “In a time where networking is complicated, exposure all the way to Asia is a great gift.”

Shift to retail

The award also included a one-year-membership to Foodvalley, which kept the Dutch soydrink producers in the business loop. Bart: “What are developments in the market of plant-based drinks and dairy alternatives? Which parties come and go? It was a big plus to stay informed.”

The most beneficial contact Foodvalley delivered The Nieuwe Melkboer was the Fastlane-programme they are now enrolled in. “Foodvalley told us about the programme coaching startups to become scaleups and then grow even further”, says Bart. He is very happy that De Nieuwe Melkboer got selected. The programme helps the company to become more mature and shift to retailers instead of cafes. De Nieuwe Melkboer’s milk is already sold to individual consumers in online supermarkets. And a new product is on its way. Bart: “A delicious, artisanal, farmer’s plant-based yoghurt, that we still need to find a shorter name for.” There are also plans for a spread, made out of residual pulp of the soybeans, that may be launched later next year.

In 2022 the Grobben brothers want to set up a local chain of plant-based products, with more Dutch farmers delivering plants and the brand De Nieuwe Melkboer selling various products.

The right partners

To make your plans work, you need to find the right partners, thinks Bart. It is his main advice for other innovators in the plant-based industry. His partnership with the factory in Enschede proved to be very helpful in enabling De Nieuwe Melkboer to start up quickly and cost efficiently.

And finding investors? Is that indeed working? “Yes”, says Bart. “Foodvalley is also really good at that: matching us with potential investors. We got in touch with several interesting parties.” It strengthens the brothers’ faith in local chains. Bart: “I am convinced you don’t need to search for anything in other continents.”

About the Foodvalley Champions award

Foodvalley Champions is the successor to the prestigious Foodvalley Award. The prize is presented every two years to the three most innovative companies in the categories of the Protein Shift, Circular Agrifood and Food & Health.

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