Successful workshop 'Business with plant substances'

Focus on the substances of the plant

The bio-based economy offers opportunities for entrepreneurs in horticulture. But how to turn these opportunities into concrete business? What cooperation is required? That was the topic of the workshop 'Business with plant material', which was organised by InnovationQuarter, Topsector Tuinbouw & Uitgangsmaterialen and Biobased Greenport West-Holland on April 25 in Zoetermeer.

The workshop was well attended, with dozens of participants from all sides of the chain: from growers to researchers, and from buyers to suppliers. Paul Monincx (Topsector Tuinbouw & Uitgangsmaterialen) opened the meeting with a short introduction about market opportunities, after which the plenary part of the meeting started, with three speakers.

Natural soap

Alexander Prinsen performed the kick off. The founder of Van Blankensteyn told about his search for natural cleansing agents. Van Blankensteyn is producing natural soap products. The link to plant materials and horticulture is easily made. A lot of natural products contain substances which clean excellently. "Ask tomato growers, they often clean their hands with a few tomatoes."

A first test in producing an all-purpose cleaner based on orange rinds has been successful according to Prinsen. The test showed that, when treated in the right way, more substances are released: humus acid (for collecting metals) and a growth substrate for plants. "No waste is left."

'Healthy spaceship'

A similar research will start shortly - in cooperation with SIGN - with tomato stalks, and Prinsen sees more interesting opportunities for cleansers based on horticultural products, such as enzymes from ornamental crops. "We want to democratize the availability of degradable cleansers: the grower should be paid for both product and waste."

Condition is that the development of healthy business cases and finding the right partners - particularly buyers. Van Blankensteyn is in this stage: they are researching the possibilities for their own factory in Rotterdam.

But Prinsen is not only interested in making money; working with plant materials serves a higher purpose: "Healthy soil means healthy food, which means a healthy person. Together that makes a healthy spaceship 'Earth'.

Children of our children
A company that is also working with substances, but with a different business model, is Verstegen Spices & Sauces from Rotterdam, a family company founded in 1886. Marianne van Keep, Director of Sustainability: "We are a family company, and family companies have a longer horizon. We are working for the children of our children."

The choices Verstegen Spices & Sauces makes are in the same vein. The company is active in the field of renewable energy - for example a research into electric cooking - and takes the situation in the countries where products are being bought into account. "Why would we grow peppers in the Netherlands when it can be done cheaper in another country and the people there are dependent on it?"

Transparency and cooperation
Transparency was central in Van Keeps' presentation. Retailers and consumers want to know more and more where a product is from, how it is made, and what is in it. For Verstegen Spices & Sauces this means: being able to indicate which farmer grew what pepper. "That is why we are looking into the possibilities of block chain."

Van Keep also pointed to the importance of cooperation, which for good reason is one of the 17 'world goals' of the Sustainable Development Goals: Partnerships for the goals. "We will have to cooperate, also in the field of knowledge. Having what your neighbor does not know is no longer added value."

Herbs with a story
Back to the production of, for example, pepper on Dutch soil. Van Keep does not believe in it. Firstly, enormous quantities are needed. And according to her it is also more difficult to tell 'a story' about pepper being grown in a Dutch greenhouse. The business model is insecure. "Look at vanilla: the prices are all over the place."

But in spite of all the doubt about the chances for exotic herbs from Dutch greenhouses, Van Keep did not close the door on interested growers. "I don't believe in it, but I want to be sure because we might be wrong."

Expensive process
The last speaker was Ronald Geerts, technical and legal adviser at Van Eeghen Functional Ingredients. This company is making ingredients for sports beverages and food supplements, and knows best which opportunities there are for products with specific substances.

According to Geerts there are three critical factors in making such a product successful: legislation, product, and market. In the field of legislation it is, for example, important to know that plant substances for use in food supplements are not regulated in the EU, and that there are strict rules when making health claims. "That is an expensive process without certainties."

High value
For the aspect Product, Geert showed a matrix, with simple products with low investor's costs on one side, and complex products with high investor's costs at the other side. Products for which the producer or supplier wants to make a health claim are among the last type.

There is a Market for all types of products. But the more complex, the higher the possible revenue is. And complex is the goal for many companies, because if you do not develop yourself, you risk your 'simple' product being copied by others.

"What do growers have to do? Think about where you want to go, and find a party that has the right channels for this. And try to sell products with as high a value as possible."

Rose hip and 'zero emission'
After the speakers it was time for the World cafe, a form of work which was introduced by Peter van der Sar of Topsector Tuinbouw & Uitgangsmaterialen. All participants were divided over a number of tables: at each table one type of bio-based case was being discussed: from new horticultural crops to complete concepts with zero emission.

In two rounds the participants indicated per case which expertise they could contribute. This produced four concrete business cases, varying from a new chain for growth, processing, and sale of rose hip or California poppies to a completely new business model with zero waste. Participants could indicate afterwards which case they would like to be more involved in, the organizers told during the closing meeting.

For more information:
Greenport West-Holland

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