‘It’s important to have the courage to take that step forward.’

Interview Distrivers Van der Zee
Interview Distrivers

In 2022, De Groene Weg started working with Distrivers on an organic meal concept for institutions like hospitals and nursing homes. We speak with Jeanine Hiemstra (Marketing & Innovation Manager at Distrivers/Van der Zee) and Albert Ensing (Purchasing & Production Director at Distrivers/Van der Zee) about this collaboration and the challenges facing organic products in the food service sector.

Jeanine: ‘Our customers are increasingly asking us for sustainable concepts. What sustainability means varies greatly from customer to customer. It’s typically determined by the sustainability teams within organisations and based on the guidelines in the Green Deal for Sustainable Care (Green Deal Duurzame Zorg). There has been a greater focus on locally sourced products, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. A key aspect is shortening the supply chain and making the whole value chain more localised. This means considering not just where the farmer or livestock is located, but also where the feed comes from. What we’re also seeing is that ‘eating less meat’ is a sustainability strategy.’ ‘But eating less or no meat is not necessarily a healthier choice, especially in institutions where the residents’ health is paramount. Meat is a sensible part of a healthy diet,’ Albert adds. Jeanine: ‘Increasing the use of organic products as part of a strategy to be more sustainable is not always the most obvious decision. Sometimes, buyers for institutions still question whether organic is the most sustainable choice. And whether organic products are actually healthier.’

‘Botmas in Friesland focuses on regenerative agriculture and their approach immediately appealed to us. They believe that you must take care not to deplete the soil, but to keep it healthy so that it can provide healthy products. This is also directly aligned with our focus on regional economics,’ Albert says. ‘So we made a firm decision: whatever happens, we’re just going to go for it! It’s important to have the courage to take that step forward. We began searching for customers for this concept and Botmas developed a cultivation plan based on our findings. When it came to the organic meat within this concept, there was really only one party that fit the bill: De Groene Weg. They’re the largest and most professional organic meat supplier in our country. Moreover, they’re accustomed to working in a demand-driven way. Selling to institutions like hospitals and nursing homes is very different from selling to the general public through retail outlets. Purchasers for institutions don’t see the final product; they just place an order for 900 100-gram braising steaks. Their chef would prefer all these steaks to be as consistent as possible in terms of their size and how they are prepared, if only to avoid complaints that one resident has a bigger piece of meat than another. I know that De Groene Weg can take this into account in the early stages and that they understand our needs. That’s very reassuring.’

Jeanine: ‘To answer the question of whether organic food is healthier, we’re going to work with Botmas to research the nutrients in their organic crops. We believe healthier crops free from pesticide residues are more nutritious. We hope this research will provide evidence of that.’ Jeanine: ‘We’ve started our organic meal concepts in collaboration with Botmas and De Groene Weg quite cautiously. We’ve only recently opened the concept up to a wider group of customers. We’re also going to research customers’ needs within the hospitality industry and their willingness to pay for organic meat. We can see opportunities here, especially for organic processed meat products. We also need to think carefully about how a restaurant can properly communicate the message about organic products to its guests.’

Established in 2000 as an offshoot of traditional butcher Van der Zee, Distrivers focuses on producing, distributing, preparing and supporting all meal services within care institutions (hospitals, nursing homes, mental health care facilities). This encompasses everything related to food and drink in these institutions, for patients, clients and restaurant patrons. The company has been part of HANOS since 2007. In 2022, Distrivers launched a meal concept offering customers a menu featuring organic ingredients once a week for 6-8 months, with potatoes and vegetables from Botmas (www.botmas.nl) and meat from De Groene Weg.