I want no-one in the world to be hungry’
Is it nice? The pumpkin soup is delicious. You can’t taste at all that it’s made from rescued pumpkins, discarded because they had a dent somewhere or were otherwise misshapen. This applies to all of the soups, sauces and stews produced by De Verspillingsfabriek (the waste factory) in Veghel, Brabant. In bottles, bags or tubs. For supermarkets, caterers, hospitals and Schiphol Airport, among others. They are high-quality, tasty products. Nutritious for the body and nutritious for the mind, if you delve into the underlying concept.
De Verspillingsfabriek repurposes food that was originally intended for people to eat (A) into human foodstuffs (C). The intermediate step B is the step Bob Hutten takes: ‘saving’ vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away. Simply because they are misshapen, too small or the wrong colour, or have a dent or some other irregularity. This is how caterer Bob Hutten combats food waste. He is an entrepreneur, an idealist and an ambitious man who sees the character Zorro as his hero: agile and smart, combative and virtuous. What injustice is Bob Hutten fighting against? “What I want is for no-one to be hungry. And that’s possible, because there’s enough food for everyone. As long as food remains food and is not used as animal feed and as long as we stop wasting it. In the Netherlands alone, ‘we’ throw away food worth € 5 billion.”
‘What I want is for no-one to be hungry. And that’s possible, because there’s enough food for everyone’
The corridors of De Verspillingsfabriek smell like ketchup, a smell that spreads far beyond the car park. Hutten walks past piles of crates full of the discarded parts of tomatoes, the remnants of the food chain that started it all. He still looks with astonishment at the crate of carrots, from which he picks one out. “Do you see anything wrong with this? Oh yes, there, a small hole. And here, these onions, a little piece of brown on the skin.” His factory is full of these kinds of vegetables: 1.5 million kilos a year are brought in from all parts of the food chain: from potato farmers to auctions. This figure is increasing rapidly each year. After processing, about the same amount leaves the factory as soup, sauce or stew. Because De Verspillingsfabriek doesn’t waste anything. Hutten: “Imperfection is the new perfection. Also on the floor above the factory, where the reception and offices are located: everything there has to have been discarded. From the wood used to make the walls to the seats for visitors.”
‘Making something high-quality out of something that’s considered low-grade’
Hutten: “I am part of the world’s 4001st generation and have given a lot of thought to the question of why we are ‘here’. For me, life is about discovering, developing and using your talent. As a caterer, I know about food. I’m concerned about wasted food and wasted talent. De Verspillingsfabriek is my solution to this problem: making something high-quality out of something that’s considered low-grade. We have made it clear that this is possible. And, in my opinion, the fact that we do so by working with people at a disadvantage in the employment market is the most innovative aspect of our approach. Because we don’t want to waste talent either.”
Let’s go back to the beginning: 2012. Bob Hutten speaks at a conference during which it becomes painfully clear how much food is wasted in the world. (Current figure: 35% of all food worldwide.) He presents ten ideas for reducing waste: one of these is to supply supermarkets with products made from residual flows and by-products from supermarkets. The pilot that Hutten carries out together with Toine Timmermans, programme manager for sustainable food chains at Wageningen University, and others at 14 supermarkets is a success. They immediately proceed and in 2016 De Verspillingsfabriek becomes a reality. Of course, there were lots of humps and bumps to negotiate along the way and, as the saying goes, unknown makes unloved. But it’s a waste of time to go into all of that. Much more importantly: the very first Verspillingsfabriek in the world is standing strong. Was it a creative idea? It was certainly new, in any case. And a hit, with an appeal that still attracts groups of interested people weekly from home and abroad to visit the factory for a guided tour.
‘Imperfection is the new perfection’
De Verspillingsfabriek now forms the basis of a much larger plan with the ambition to create a new system to reduce food wastage. Hutten is happy to explain. “Waste is a global issue. People everywhere are thinking about how to prevent and reduce waste and, if that doesn’t work, how to extract value from residual flows and by-products. But this is happening in a fragmented way. We need to create a structured system. De Verspillingsfabriek is the foundation for this; a game changer that has proven the need for and feasibility of such a system. We need to combine our knowledge and energy, and work together intelligently.”
To this end, at the beginning of 2019 more than 60 companies and organisations, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Rabobank and Brainport Tech, came together under the umbrella of the No Food Wasted foundation. The goal is for Dutch companies, organisations, scientists, governments and consumers to work together to reduce food waste by half throughout the entire food chain, from soil to mouth, by 2030. This will be achieved by setting up this new system, gaining insight into the extent of the waste, drawing up new rules on how to reduce waste and teaching companies and consumers how they can contribute to this. What would help to give this initiative a boost? Hutten: “I would really like Barack Obama as our ambassador but his wife Michelle would also be fine. So, if anyone has his mobile number…”