Welcome to our exclusive Q&A Interview series in the run-up to Eco Life Scandinavia and the Nordic Organic Food Fair which return on 17-18 November 2021. we’ll be speaking to some of the biggest names in the natural health, beauty, sustainable living and the organic food and drink world. You’ll find out how they adapt to the current climate, their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities ahead. Plus, what they are doing to support their teams and local communities.
We’re delighted to talk to Linda Klock, Product Manager at Bobeldijk Food Group B.V..
Linda has been with Bobeldijk Food Group B.V. for three years, working in product management, as well as marketing for their plant-based meat alternative brand, Vegafit.
Can you tell us a little about the history of your company?
Bobeldijk Food Group was originally a butcher’s shop in Deventer, the Netherlands, and has grown into a producer of meat products such as meatballs, burgers and schnitzels. Over 10 years ago, Bobeldijk started producing and packaging plant-based products for retail and food service with the Vegafit brand. More and more customers also wanted to go with plant-based products and since then several international private label customers have joined. From the beginning of 2020 we stopped meat production and we only produce plant-based and vegan products.
What do you think can be done to educate consumers about the importance of moving to organic?
Whether it is the move to organic or to more plant-based food: I think the best thing is to show the consumer the impact of food. For example, on the packaging, so you will be nudged in the supermarket towards the ‘better’ product for the environment. It is all about informing the consumer in a way that is not too preachy. On our social media for example we communicate such serious topics in a light and fun way.
What role should small and medium-sized businesses play in developing organic?
My idea is that small and medium-sized businesses are the motor of innovation. It is the small scale that allows the small and medium-sized businesses to develop and launch new products very quickly. At Bobeldijk, we are a medium-sized business, but we deliver our products to big retailers all across Europe. We might be small, but we have a big impact on the organic plant-based and vegetarian offer in the supermarkets.
What do you think the impact of the COVID pandemic will be on the future of organic consumption?
Numbers already show that more and more people are willing to eat more vegetarian and plant-based because of the COVID pandemic. I think for organic the same is happening. This has a few reasons: people are more concerned for their health and immune system. They are willing to buy and eat more plant-based and organic products, because they are perceived as healthier. A recent study even shows that people with a vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian diet had a lower risk of developing moderate-to-severe COVID-19 (BMJ Nutrition, 2021). We are getting more and more conscious about our food and this will only increase in the future. Second, there is less confidence in the meat industry. The coronavirus may have been transmitted from animals to humans. In addition, there are many recent corona outbreaks in slaughterhouses. Plant-based food producers hardly have these problems.
How do you see the evolution of your business channel (Horeca, retail, online, B2C etc) after COVID?
We look to the future in a very positive way. Our category, plant-based products, is growing very fast in retail and will keep growing the coming years. Once foodservice will be fully accessible again, we will grow even faster. Also, in restaurants the demand for plant-based is becoming bigger, even big chains like McDonald’s and Burger King are adding plant-based options to their menu.
Do you have any plans or news that you can tell us about?
We just renovated our former meat factory to a fully plant-based factory, that is very exciting. Sustainability has been taken into account everywhere in this renovation. We implemented a heat recycling system: the heat released on the frying lines during the production of the products normally evaporates outwards. We recover this heat and use it to heat the water for cleaning the factory. This solution means we are less reliant on fossil fuels (natural gas).
Our products are cooled using an environmentally friendly, natural refrigerant. Chemical refrigerants are still used at the moment, but we are making the switch to natural gases. They are less harmful to the environment.
An oil management system is installed to prevent oil loss. The supply and removal of oil then goes through a closed system: a tanker supplies oil, fills the tank and gets fed to the machines through with pipework. This way you get a cleaner system and this leads to less oil waste.
For cleaning our machines, a CIP (Clean-In-Place) system is installed that pumps the water around. You can compare this with the operation of a dishwasher: less water is used than if you were to wash the dishes by hand.
What do you think is the next big thing in plant-based products?
We think after a lot of innovation in meat replacements, fish replacements are the next big thing. ProVeg indicates that plant-based fish is the most lucrative and promising product group in plant-based food. A great moment for Bobeldijk to innovate in this product category. We are proud to announce that we now also have a solution for the demand for plant-based fish. A wide range has been developed with the following five products: fried fish bites, fried fish fillet, fish nugget, fish burger and fish fingers. These products are made with a special fibre, with the aim of mimicking the characteristic structure and taste of white fish as closely as possible. We will show these products at the Nordic Organic Food Fair, in the Vegan Scandinavia area.