She apologises for the mess on her desk. Among the papers is an example of the 'Heemskerk clock' - a beautifully designed cardboard clock that depicts a healthy meal or snack at seven times of the day. This is to inspire consumers. But it is also because our eating habits are changing from the traditional three meals a day to eating multiples times during the day. Fruit and vegetables are playing an increasingly dominant role in this.
At the head of the table are the newly designed packages of the recently launched sports salads. Exercise is good for you - we know this. We run, do boot camp, and exercise more, just at home, at any time of day. What a pleasure to then be able to replenish the spent calories with a healthy salad! The 'mess' on the table reflects how dynamic the company is; that it is in continuous motion. "With our products, we play in on the trends", says Jantine Star of the Dutch vegetable processing company, Heemskerk. "In the past, we were a production company. To put it bluntly, we produced what we were told to produce. Now, we are a market-orientated company. We stay on top of the markets, and we also take our own initiative to develop new products for our customers."
The company was founded in 1960 when ready-made was still considered 'lazy'. The market for processed vegetables was small, but Wim Heemskerk carved out a place for his company. The explosive growth in this sector only began in the late '80s. More and more two-income families began shopping at supermarkets, rather than at speciality shops. In 1995, their first big factory was built. "We will have to make this work until I retire", Cor Heemskerk said at the time. Only five years later, in the year 2000, a building of 10 000 m2 was added. Two more extensions later, and the building is 26 500 m2 in size. For the sake of clarity - Cor Heemskerk has not yet reached retirement age.
Nine out of ten new concepts don't succeed
It is bustling at Heemskerk. An enormous amount of creativity, enthusiasm and energy goes into its growth and new product ideas. The company wants convenient and healthy to 'simply' be tasty. They also want to add real value to shelves as well as consumers eating patterns. They are continually challenging themselves to achieve this.
The company now supplies more than 220 products to both retailers and the foodservice industry. These vary from traditional bestsellers such as soup vegetables and kale to a wide variety of ready-made salads. In 10 years, these are going to make up 18% of the company's turnover. Items like casseroles, wrap salads and ideas for platters like strawberries dipped in chocolate and carrots with a hummus salad are also on the programme. "Mind you, nine out of ten product concepts do not succeed. On average just one makes the cut. These numbers mean nothing. Innovation is in our genes; we are compelled to change. Consumers have also become more critical. They want to be surprised and challenged when shopping. That is where we come in. After all, there is so much ingredient know-how here. On the other hand, we do not only supply a trendsetters market. We do not have to be at the forefront. We choose trends that our target group is interested in."
'Carrots are crucial to us'
Since we are visiting the processing plant in Rijnsburg on behalf of Bejo Carrot Magazine, the conversation naturally turn to carrots. This is Jogchem van Daalen, the company's Sales Manager's, area of expertise. "Carrots are extremely important to us", he says. "Definitely for 'hutspot', which is still one of our bestsellers. But also for many other products. Carrots are a healthy product with a lovely colour. You can, for instance, give a mostly green leaf salad a fresh, colourful tint by adding carrots. In some dishes, carrots act as a sweetener, in others they provide a bit of a bite. It also has a nice feeling in your mouth, is available year-round and is a relatively inexpensive vegetable. So, yes, we are happy to have carrots. It has become a constant - you only miss it when it is not there."
By definition, the variety of choice is the Imperator. Most of these come from the Netherlands, with the remainder coming mostly from Southern Europe, Germany, Scotland, Spain, Portugal and France. "Taste is, of course, essential. But taste is also subjective. With the Imperator variety, we are opting for certainty. It is a variety that simply tastes good, has a nice bright orange colour and is also readily available."
'Not a burden, but a pleasure'
Heemskerk is looking forward to the future where healthy living will be a prominent feature in people's lives. When you think of health, you think of fruit and vegetables. "Look, let's admit it", says Jantine. "I don't do it. It must be convenient to lead a healthy life. The dishes and snacks must be given to you, as it were. 'What's for dinner' must not be a burden; it must be a pleasure." Heemskerk's goal in all this? "We want you to have a healthy snack available at any time during the day. Perhaps there will be dishes which will have carrots as the main ingredient, not just a 'filling'. We already have, for example, carrot spaghetti and a casserole that contains carrots, sesame and a vinaigrette. And how nice is this: a dash of oil on some carrots, which are then grilled in the oven? Or chocolate-dipped carrots or carrots dipped in hummus…? The carrot is, and will remain, indispensable."