Do not waste anything. That is the mission of the Helmond company, VanrijsingenGreen. "We sow, harvest and sell vegetables sustainably. And we create added value from what is left over, processing it into products such as carrot pulp and kale juice ", says Jan van Rijsingen, former director of the family business and now board member of the Taskforce Circular Economy in Food (TCEF). TCEF is one of four national platforms launched within the REFRESH project.
“We only produce what will be sold. That is why we agree new contracts every year with our buyers and growers ", says Van Rijsingen. The company also maintains control over sowing and production planning. "We work with varieties that are appropriate for both the fresh market and industrial processing, and use weather and climate models for our cultivation plans. In this way we ensure there are no obstacles to processing for our customers and factories."
For almost ten years, VanrijsingenGreen has been processing carrots, that haven’t sold at auctions and wholesalers, into carrot juice and puree: "Some carrots are too big, or too small, or have unsightly markings", says Van Rijsingen. "Supermarkets and restaurants would reject them, although they are top quality." The company has its own factory in Helmond where, every year, many thousands of tons (around 100 truckloads) of these carrots are processed.
What they are doing with carrots, must be possible with other vegetables, goes the thinking at VanrijsingenGreen. So, in 2013, the entrepreneurs established the Endless Project, a public-private partnership between Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, VanrijsingenGreen and three other companies. Their goal was to take vegetable production and processing ‘waste’ as high as possible on the Moerman ladder: a globally-accepted scale of the possible responses to food waste, with prevention as the ideal, and incineration of residual flows as the worst, solution.
The project, which completed end 2017, provided Van Rijsingen and his colleagues with valuable insight. "We have learned so much about the drying of vegetable fibres, about which applications best suit which markets, and how to l organize processing of of residual-flows", he illustrates.
VanrijsingenGreen now has 30 different vegetable products in its range, originating from a variety of residual flows. "In addition to carrot juice and puree we produce, for example, kale juice and kale concentrate," Van Rijsingen illustrates. The products go to various buyers in Europe and further afield, such as the USA and Japan.
The greatest challenge is to create value from the whole product, the entrepreneur emphasizes. "When you make juice, some pulp remains, and you have to find a purpose for that," he explains. "And the customer has to pay for it; otherwise your processing costs are greater than your profits."
Creating added value
There are so many possibilities here, such as making vegetable powder to increase the fibre content of existing foods, and producing pulp: already a proven base for innovative products and applications.
VanrijsingenGreen has now closed the carrot reuse circle. "We are now looking at applications for other vegetables."
Van Rijsingen is proud of what his company has achieved. "We are continuing to significantly reduce waste deriving from potato, vegetable and fruit processing, striving for a fifty per cent reduction in 2030 over current levels," he says. The entrepreneur notes, with understandable satisfaction, that a new generation of growers is already looking at production differently. "It's no longer about volume, but about valuing the whole product."
Van Rijsingen and his successors are working on scaling-up the revenue model for processing residual flows. "By 2030 we aim, annually, to process 100,000 tons of waste streams in our factories."
This can only happen if chain partners share their knowledge with each other and work together transparently, emphasizes Van Rijsingen. "In collaboration with Food Tech Brainport, we are creating a development lab where companies from all over the world can investigate obtaining value from residual flows." The lab is expected to open in 2019.
Companies focussed on maximising ‘waste’ value can also turn to the Residual-Flow Processing Cluster, an initiative by VanrijsingenGreen and Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. "The cluster is open to companies from all relevant product groups. Participants are therefore not immediately competitors", illustrates the entrepreneur. The aim is to unlock existing knowledge on the basis of the questions the companies bring in.
Initiatives such as the Development Lab and the Residual Flow Processing Cluster are in line with the agenda of the TCEF. "Unlocking knowledge and stimulating innovation in companies is a key goal of the agenda", says Van Rijsingen. He sees his role as that of an ambassador: "The more companies that participate, the greater the added value we can derive from our residual flows."
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.