“Make something that both consumers and producers understand and want”
Since this year it has been forbidden in Germany. Next year it will be forbidden in France. But in the Netherlands, it still happens every day: killing male chicks the day they hatch. Male chicks are ‘useless’ since they won’t lay any eggs. Wouter Bruins and his business partner Wil Stutterheim started working on a solution to this problem in 2011, when they were still students.
Away from the hype
They were pleasantly and proudly surprised when their company In Ovo was nominated as Foodvalley Champion in 2020. Of course, they themselves knew that they were rapidly developing a machine that could determine the sex of a chick before it was born. But around that time many companies said they were working on the issue. “When the world heard about the ban in Germany, people from all over came up with over-promising solutions. Everyone thought the problem would be solved within half a year.” As a reaction to this ‘hype’, In Ovo decided to work on their new technique in silence. But Foodvalley NL didn’t lose sight of them. “It was awesome that Foodvalley suddenly e-mailed us: congratulations on your candidate championship.”
Serious attention was not always a given for In Ovo. “When you start out as students, absolutely no one believes you. Everyone thinks you are cute and nice, but that doesn’t boost your credibility.” What doesn’t help is that the company is located in Leiden. “We are always asked why we aren’t located in Wageningen.” When In Ovo was nominated, Bruins did not know Foodvalley NL was not limited to food-stronghold Wageningen, but was already connecting food companies all over the Netherlands. “It is important to be organised like that. Especially in the food sector, where we are not that good in organising ourselves in thinking and acting differently. It is important that Foodvalley NL brings everyone together and lifts us to a higher level.”
When In Ovo won the Champion Award, they were introduced to the network of Foodvalley NL. The meetings were not what they could have been without Covid-19, but Bruins still had the feeling that In Ovo became part of the ‘Food Family’. “Foodvalley NL has many stakeholders in its network. It helps a lot if such a organisation puts you on a pedestal. We also met with Rob Jetten, the current minister of Climate and Energy.”
In Ovo has grown significantly since 2020. The company has installed two new machines and hopes to have doubled its workforce from 30 to 60 by the end of this year. "We have been very careful to build up our team, because in the end that is the most important thing," says Bruins. Perhaps Foodvalley NL can help, he thinks aloud. "They surely know people in the sector who have a lot of experience and would like to take on an adventure in a scale-up." In Ovo's mission is simple: to increase animal welfare and reduce co2 emissions.
In Ovo has just secured new funding of €34 million. Bruins and Stutterheim will use that to scale up production of their Ella gendertyping machines machines and to organise retailers and producers to end the killing of male chicks. In Ovo is also working on other means of improving the poultry sector. Despite the environmental burden, the sector will be around for many years to come, Bruins believes. "Many things in this sector are done inefficiently. There are many opportunities to make it better. In Ovo is now building a solution that monitors the hatching process, to prevent 'second-grade' chicks from hatching and being killed," says Bruins. "It sounds difficult, but that's how it works."
Does he have any tips for new Foodvalley Champions? Wouter laughs: "That does sound very fatherly." But he does have some advice. "Make sure you make something that both consumers and producers understand and want. To continue without their support is very outdated. Consumers today know what they want. And farmers are very smart, don't underestimate that."
About the Foodvalley Champion 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.
Questions? Get in touch
Jolijn Zwart- van Kessel
Innovation Lead Circular Agrifood
+31 6 82096140