Sliced-tomato ends; mushrooms with brown spots; pallid pumpkins: Caterer and gourmand Bob Hutten could no longer stand to see so much good, fresh, products thrown away by wholesalers, supermarkets and restaurants. Together with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research and the PLUS supermarket at Rozenburg, he mapped out where in the chain the losses occurred, and figured out how to save residual streams for human consumption (after processing).
The project resulted, by the end of 2015, in the establishment of The Surplus Food Factory, where ‘waste’ vegetables, fruit and meat are processed into tasty, fresh and sustainable soups, sauces and ragout. The soups are sold in supermarkets under different brands, including Barstensvol. The plant is the largest of its kind in Europe.
Hutten and his employees – he’d rather call them collaborators – in the Surplus Food Factory have already saved 1.5 million kilos of food; an incredible achievement. And, at least as important, is the thought-leadership that the initiative brings. "The Surplus Food Factory is an important catalyst for systems thinking around reducing food waste," says the entrepreneur. “Companies realize that they have to collaborate with other chain partners if we are to achieve substantial improvements. And they also start to see that reducing food waste can be profitable."
If it were up to Hutten, collaboration to reduce food waste would not be limited to chain partners. "I want to involve all parties, from vegetable growers to retailers, from restaurants to educational institutions and, of course, consumers."
In Innovation Centre THREE-SIXTY, where The Surplus Food Factory is located, Hutten organizes expert meetings, workshops, exhibitions and educational programs. This has led to many superb new initiatives, such as a recent collaboration between The Surplus Food Factory and the Association of Dutch Food Banks. "Unemployed people will, without payment, prepare healthy meals in the factory for customers of the Food Bank," says the entrepreneur. "We offer them food-industry relevant education, both during preparation and when we serve the meals." The pilot will start at the beginning of 2019.
In this way, more and more parties are gradually seeing the sense in the systemic approach Hutten articulates. One such party is the TCEF, where the entrepreneur has been a member from the start. "We map out food waste streams, establish rules and guidelines and come up with practical examples of how companies and consumers can reduce food waste," says Hutten, who now sits on the board of the Taskforce. "We hope that with our knowledge and results, we can inspire public and private parties in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, to do the same."
Cutting by half the amount of food wasted in the Netherlands is the goal of the Taskforce Circular Economy in Food and its members. The Taskforce motivates and supports companies to connect initiatives, accelerate innovation and achieve positive behavioural change among consumers. The initiative thus brings the circular economy ever closer.