Quinoa as the new potato: how GreenFood50 and Foodvalley NL created growth together
Foodvalley NL guides gamechangers in their innovations that enable the transition to a more sustainable food system. Pioneers who help consumers to live greener and healthier lives play an important role in this change. In this second episode Jeroen Wouters, Lead Global Connections talks to Marc Arts about his company GreenFood50 and the growth they achieved together. "His drive, openness and willingness to interact with his customers and business partners are quickly driving Marc forward."
The name of GreenFood50 is not accidental. GreenFood is logical and the '50' stands for the fifty million people with whom the world's population is growing every year and whom we need to feed in a sustainable way. An incredibly complicated question, but Marc Arts is convinced that he and his team can help formulate part of the answer with locally grown quinoa. "I come from an entrepreneurial family and was always into ingredients. I wanted to do something with that," he says in his office on the campus in Wageningen. "During an inspiration trip to Latin America in 2014, I discovered quinoa. Its vital properties are amazing: healthy plant proteins, vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fatty acids and a low glycemic index. I discovered that after decades of breeding by Wageningen University, that same year the Dutch Quinoa Group had started growing it in the Netherlands. For me, everything fell together then."
Jeroen Wouters about GreenFood50
Marc Arts about Foodvalley NL
The whole chain
Arts hopes that quinoa can become the same success story as the potato. "It is also a crop that originates from South America and that has, of course, become enormously successful here. Here too, the first thing to do was to look for techniques and applications and we are now in that phase with quinoa as well. The main benefit of the WUR cultivation program is that we can now grow quinoa locally. Until recently it could only be imported from three South American countries, but thanks to the new varieties we can produce locally and sustainably." Growing quinoa requires little water and processing the crop is also energy efficient. "The WUR developed a quinoa variant that does not suffer from the bitter membrane that is supposed to protect the plant in the high mountains of the Andes. As a result, we do not need to rinse and then dry, which makes the process very green: simple processing, few kilometers and grown without pesticides. We have also stepped into the cultivation process ourselves so that from the base we now have control over the quality. We keep the whole chain in our own hands so we can go very far in sustainability and quality."
Top sport and connection
The foundation was there. Now it made sence to Arts, who has long experience with ingredients at DSM, to develop quinoa ingredients and applications together with enthusiastic young Wageningen-based food technologists. But then it's a matter of going to market. A challenging job for a company that still needs all its energy to discover, test and innovate. In order to gain access to a relevant network that could help GreenFood50 in various areas, Arts ended up at Foodvalley NL. His main question was in which markets there is a real need for innovative ingredients based on quinoa. Jeroen Wouters was his logical partner here. He made the first contacts that brought GreenFood50 into the picture at top sports center Papendal. "That was during a Foodvalley Expo at Papendal," Wouters explains. "Chef Erik te Velthuis puts together meals for the athletes there. Together we were convinced that the good proteins and amino acids of quinoa fit perfectly in a top sports diet and that's how the link with Marc was established. That connection is really in our organization. Which partners do you find interesting and what feedback do you need from them? The match between Papendal and GreenFood50 was there immediately." Arts: "The translation of our ingredients into practical recipes and products with a cook is a crucial step for us. If you come somewhere to tell your story, people will want to know what you can do with our quinoa ingredients. And it only really convinces when you can taste a quinoa granola or burger."
The following year, Arts traveled with Wouters and products to Food Matters Live, an international event on food and innovations in London. With the baggage from the first collaborations in Papendal, it was a warm entry into the international network of Foodvalley NL and to top it all off, he won the Food Matters Live Innovation Award for his quinoa ingredients. "The collaboration with FoodValley NL gives immediate credibility," Arts recalls. "And of course, as a start-up, we alone could never put on something this big at an international meeting. The following year in London, we established ties with a major sports nutrition party in England that has since sourced all quinoa in their products from us." Wouters looks back with satisfaction at the steps GreenFood50 managed to take in the network. "The first time the quinoa was introduced, the second time we went on the road the concept won an award, the third year Marc was there with products to sample and by the fourth year he had built a supplier relationship with an international customer. That, of course, is fantastic to see."
The development of GreenFood50 came as no surprise to Wouters. "I see a gamechanger in Marc because he is open, driven and not afraid to interact with potential customers. He has experience as an entrepreneur, knows very well what he has in hand and where he wants to go. That combination of knowledge and the drive to really make a difference in the protein transition and in the field of health gives a lot of power. If you can make your entrance into our international network under the flag of Foodvalley NL, things can go fast. Large and specialized parties see our network as a testing ground where new and good things happen and that reflects on GreenFood50. Marc has a good story within Europe because both the primary production and the end product can be made here. And that can be spread further. Production and processing are scalable, so if the market grows, GreenFood50 is ready to move with it. In the coming time, we will work with GreenFood50 to link up with multinationals and map out what questions, investments and innovations are involved. Together we can define what problems we need to overcome so that GreenFood50 will become the partner that intended partners need in the future."
GreenFood50 and the innovation voucher
Marc Arts: "One of the first fruits of the collaboration with FoodValley NL we were able to reap immediately: we were eligible for an Innovation Voucher because we had managed to present our idea well. This is a promise that FoodValley NL will assist with the knowledge and costing of our innovations. As a result, we were able to take much bigger steps much more quickly in the crucial initial phase of our development. You can't innovate without partners and Foodvalley NL is an important party in that."
The power of quinoa
- Food mile friendly. WUR has managed to breed quinoa from a regional crop from South America to a food source that can be grown locally anywhere in the world. Because the crop requires little water and tillage, it can be grown sustainably. In addition, the seeds must be dried within twelve hours to prevent mold growth. This means that the fields must always be within a reasonable radius of the processing plants, so the quinoa always travels few food miles. A stark contrast to the meat substitute soy imported from tropical regions.
- Allergen-free and without additives. The purity of GreenFood50's quinoa is so extremely high that the quinoa is guaranteed to be allergen-free and without additives and therefore fits into any diet.
- Food & Health. The proteins and amino acids make quinoa a perfect plant-based protein source that can help in the much-needed protein transition. Whereas the first generation of meat substitutes consisted of more than twenty ingredients, GreenFood50 developed prototypes that consisted of no more than five or six natural ingredients.
- Vitality and confidence. The fact that top athletes embrace GreenFood50's products inspires great confidence. After all, in a world where it all comes down to hundredths of seconds, athletes and coaches leave nothing to chance. It is therefore no wonder that the extreme confidence in the ingredients and their health has now led to GreenFood50 supplying global baby food producers.