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Michael Luesink:

“Beans have a past, but we see a future in them”

The Year of the Bean meant a bean boost for the market. Legumes are on the rise, and there are plenty of opportunities to grow. Michael Luesink of BOON Foodconcepts, a start-up in beans said: “The food centre recommends 100 grammes of legumes per week. On average, the Dutch only eat about seven grammes per week. So we have a long way to go still.” BOON Foodconcepts has made it its goal to double the consumption of legumes of the Dutch by 2020. This is both a commercial and an idealistic goal. Meat is the most important source of proteins for many, but legumes are very suited to take over that role. And beans have more benefits, it’s good for health and environment. Unfortunately, many people don’t know that.

Michael: “Driving a Tesla is sexy, and everyone knows these are better for the environment. Beans aren’t sexy, but we have much more impact when the Dutch eat beans instead of meat for one day than when everyone drives a Tesla.”

For a young entrepreneur such as Michael, sustainability is an important issue. Moreover, it really affected him that the cultivation of beans decreased in the Netherlands. According to him, the Dutch should eat more beans again. He accepted this challenge as the subject for his terminal project for the Food Innovation course. He revived an ancient product and won the Foodmanship Award in the Design category. He was invited to join large multinationals, but decided to go it alone. “Only when I can follow my vision, can I reach these goals,” Michael says.

Michael Luesink of BOON Foodconcepts.

“The Netherlands used to be a proper bean country. Large fields filled with beanstalks as far as the eye could see, and they’d be drying in the fields in summer. We have a rich history and much knowledge regarding the cultivation of beans. Unfortunately, the Dutch started eating fewer beans over the years, and growers switched to other crops. I thought that was a shame. Beans are delicious and healthy, but the Netherlands doesn’t know that. I want to turn that process around, which is why I founded BOON.” 

BOON was founded in 2014, and things immediately started changing. The turning point came in 2015. The consumption of beans increased by ten per cent. That was followed by the Year of the Bean, which resulted in even better figures. Consumption increased by another 18 per cent. “When you compare the figures to those of meat and milk, the growth is unprecedented. The consumption of meat decreased by two per cent in 2016, and milk by one per cent,” Michael explains. “The entire category of beans has received a boost in recent years. Hak’s TV marketing campaign also contributed to that. We have a smaller budget, and are looking for more creative ways to reach people.”

Michael wants to be the most innovative bean producer of the world with BOON. Consumer research indicates that beans have an image problem.

“Consumers actually only know beans from tins or glass jars. That type of bean is often mealy, and needs to be rinsed off properly before use. All in all, consumers don’t think it’s an attractive product,” Michael continues. “Moreover, beans from the supermarket often end up on shelves in the pantry or basement cupboard for months or even years. Beans should be in refrigerators instead of basement pantries.” 

Michael thought of a two-track policy to change consumption patterns. Eating beans should be more attractive. Additionally, the bean’s journey to plates should be different. “We very much believe in fresh beans. We started making products that ensure beans from the supermarket end up in fridges. Because of that, we have a bigger impact on behavioural change and flavourful BOON products. A product in a refrigerator is more likely to end up on the consumer’s plate that week. There’s actually very little innovation within the legume category, compared to potatoes. Potatoes can be found throughout the supermarket, as frozen product, as snack, in ready-meals, pre-cooked, cool fresh, you name it. The bean just remained in its little jar.”

Under the guise of: “We’re not messing things up,” Michael developed a BOON innovation timeline, that shows how the fresh bean can evolve and innovate. 

It was important to seduce modern consumers to eat more beans with convenience, more flavour and inspiration. “Eating beans was always considered complicated. To fit the current diets, we developed three nearly-ready meals, white bean tomato, kidney bean chilli and chickpea curry, which also meet the requirements for healthy food. The meals contain legumes, vegetables, sauce and herbs and, if desired, the consumer can add a source of carbs, such as rice or wraps.” Beans are associated with heavy (winter) food, but beans can be eaten throughout the year. They can be processed into meal salads and other light meals. Recipes are becoming increasingly creative. On pancake day, he made pancakes with chickpea flour. 

But BOON Foodconcepts won’t be adding products like that to their range anytime soon.

“What we want, is getting beans into people’s normal routine. We won’t add brownies from field peas or chocolate spreads to our assortment anytime soon.” 

Michael does want to say that BOON Foodconcepts will bring two new innovative meal lines onto the market this year, inspired by world flavours.

The three bean meals are, packed in modern upright bags, on the refrigerated shelves of 580 Jumbo supermarkets. One of the targets is to further widen distribution. “It’s a matter of being patient. It’s not easy to get onto the shelves of large retailers all of a sudden. We had to fight hard for our spot on the shelves. The first few years, we invested a lot in setting up the supply chain and the organisation.” The bean meals can be ordered from Jumbo’s website, www.jumbo.nl. Another distribution channel is through food boxes such as Mathijs Maaltijdbox, Marley Spoon and Hello Fresh. They buy fresh beans and put these in recipes occasionally. Michael: “By cooking fresh beans for a short time and cooling them back down again, the beans retain their good structure. They’re beans with a good bite, that can be used for all types of recipes.”

BOON Foodconcepts is working on a lucrative cooperation model in which the entire ‘bean chain’ is involved. “We direct the entire supply chain from ‘farmer to plate.’ BOON Foodconcepts wants to put growers in the limelight again and to grow as many types of beans on Dutch soil as possible,” Michael continues. “We are active throughout the chain, and work closely with innovative growers. Mostly kidney beans are grown in the Netherlands traditionally, but also white beans and field peas. Much knowledge is available on that. We’re very good at it. 

The growers are also innovating, and by now, we are the only ones in the Netherlands who know how to grow chickpeas. Unfortunately, not yet in the necessary volumes, I expect that’ll take a few years.” Nine growers are currently involved. The bean area is about 20 hectares.

BOON Foodconcepts has an ambition to become the most innovative fresh specialist in beans. “No one has taken that position on the market yet. We think we’ll become that, or might even be already. Beans have a past, but we see a future in them. Flexitarian has become an important idea in the Netherlands, 68 per cent of people are self-proclaimed flexitarians. That’s a large group with an enormous potential. 

We develop new bean products with Dutch bean growers, food producers and retailers that are healthy, sustainable and very flavourful. They also have to easily fit into the existing diets of consumers, with as their goal, seducing consumers into a new, tasty and healthy diet. That’s how the ‘bean’ will get a larger share in the total food consumption, and a position it deserves as healthy, sustainable source of proteins. That’s better for people and the world.” 

Experts agree: It’s better for our health and for the planet if we eat more plant and less animal proteins. BOON Foodconcepts has many opportunities. The start-up is growing, and by now has five employees and two vacancies. “Our ambition isn’t to be in as many shops in as short a time as possible. What we do, we want to do right. Not just having trendy products, but devoting ourselves to behavioural change. We want to ensure that eating beans becomes part of a tasty and healthy diet for today and tomorrow,” Michael concludes.

More information:
BOON Foodconcepts
Michael Luesink 

Publication date: 6/19/2017


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