Koen Bakker sees that our food system is creaking on all sides. With New Food Horizons, he wants to investigate how things can be done differently and, above all, better. To bring the first product, circular chocolates, well prepared into the market, he found support from the Market Readiness Program.
It is a sunny Wednesday afternoon when Koen Bakker opens a box of chocolates in a grand café in Franeker. The food pioneer from nearby Dongjum can barely conceal a sense of pride. Then again, these are not just any chocolates he shows off. They are circular chocolates, with sugared bread paste made from returnable bread added into the filling. It is the first product developed by New Food Horizons, a company Koen founded in January 2021.
New Food Horizons is basically a kind of voyage of discovery through the world of residual stream processing in the food industry, he explains. 'By pulling these residual streams apart molecularly, you can explore opportunities to reuse and add value to the various raw materials in a smart way,' Koen clarifies. 'Like, for example, using enzymes to convert returnable bread into bread paste. In order to use that bread paste for the ganache filling, I had to experiment a bit with chocolatier Cinty Molmans. With the first batch, mold occurred after several weeks. Simply because it contained too much moisture. We then decided to evaporate the bread paste. By concentrating the moisture through evaporation, you are left with a thicker caramel-like substance. Free of bacterial formation, therefore food-safe, and thus suitable as a circular filling for the chocolates.'
New food system
Koen is by no means new to the food sector. For about 30 years he has been active in the field both as an entrepreneur and as an employee. He has worked in the hotel industry, in corporate and party catering and he taught himself to be a chef. 'I really enjoy preparing food for others,' he says. 'You often build a very intimate relationship with each other that way. Over the years, my interest in food technology and solving food issues has also grown.'
And yes, even for Koen, the vulnerabilities of our current food system are becoming increasingly clear. He sees that the system is squeaking and creaking on all sides and that, in order to keep the planet livable, we must therefore deal with our food differently. 'But no one actually knows exactly what such a resilient and sustainable food system will look like,' he says. 'We have to discover that together by trial and error.'
With exactly that in mind, he started New Food Horizon more than two years ago. With the company, he wants to investigate how our food system and residual streams can be better connected. 'It is of course bizarre that worldwide about one-third of all food is wasted,' Koen argues. 'By looking at smart ways to utilize residual streams, I want to contribute to countering that waste. I am convinced that you can only change a system by being in the middle of it, working with relevant parties and demonstrating with concrete examples that things can be done differently.'
Van Hall Larenstein
Last fall, he stepped into the Food Application Centre for Technology (FACT), the research facility of Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, in Leeuwarden. Shortly before, he had read an article about an organic farmer who was forced to throw away a large quantity of broccoli with an abnormal color. Whether Van Hall Larenstein, the most sustainable college in the Netherlands, might be able to come up with a solution for that. At the same time, Koen explained the mission of New Horizon Foods. 'Soon I was alerted to a symposium where college and university students would present their ideas on new opportunities for returnable bread,' he recalls. 'I was most welcome. Then let me make a bonbon, I replied. That was fine. Gladly even.'
Only: some haste was required, as the symposium was already scheduled to take place a few weeks later. So Koen contacted Cinty Molmans, owner of chocolaterie ChocMans on Terschelling, whom he had met a few months earlier on the island. Together they eagerly set to work with the bread paste. With success, as it turned out. The presentation of the circular chocolates elicited purely positive reactions. For Koen and Cinty every reason to develop the product further. Ultimately, their efforts resulted in Two Blokes in Choc, the brand under which the circular chocolates are slowly being marketed.
It was no coincidence that Koen put his question to Van Hall Larensteijn at the time. Involving young people is an essential part of New Food Horizons' activities. 'It is Generation Z that will have to make the right decisions about our food system in the coming decades,' he clarifies. 'That's why I also approach college and university students to participate in discussions and think along with me. After all, they will soon fill key positions at food companies. I think they should therefore be given a voice in the story now. '
The meeting with Riegiena Eefsting was more or less coincidental, though. The Business Developer AgriFood of the NOM stood next to Koen during the symposium and complimented him on the result of the circular bonbon. She said she saw in him a good candidate for the Business Innovation Program Food (BIPF), an initiative of the regional development companies that offers support to startups as well as existing SMEs whose ideas can contribute to the food transition. 'A beautiful and valuable program,' says Koen. 'However, the 10 modules, which should eventually lead to a sound business case, take place in Utrecht. Since I still have a full-time job at Helwa Waffle Bakery in Hallum in addition to New Horizons Foods, that unfortunately became rather difficult for me, especially in terms of travel time.'
Market Readiness Program
Still, his curiosity was piqued. For perhaps there were other interesting possibilities. And indeed, on the NOM website his eye fell on the Market Readiness Program, another program that helps innovative entrepreneurs enter the market well prepared. It turned out that Koen was also eligible for this. 'Riegiena indicated she would like to be my coach during the program,' he smiles. 'That was great because, after all, she knows better than anyone else what's going on in the food sector.'
In the meantime, Koen has started the Market Readiness Program. It has brought him a lot, he says. By having conversations with potential customers you learn to think from their perspective," Koen says. Is my solution really a solution to their problem? If not, you have to be willing to adapt your product. As well as being flexible, I believe that as an entrepreneur you have to be curious. That is why throughout my career I have constantly sought contact with people inside and outside my network. Also with fellow entrepreneurs from other sectors. Simply because by having sincere conversations you can learn an awful lot from each other.
The program also taught him that you should not go too fast and keep focus. 'So first build the Two Blokes in Choc brand and increase your visibility and brand awareness,' Koen emphasizes. 'Only when I have that done will I start adding new concepts and products and to New Food Horizons.'