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Food Heroes against food waste

Like just about every other event that normally involves around talks and interaction with the public, this year's Food Waste Fest also went digital. During this virtual celebration with a large variety of webinars, good initiatives to prevent food waste were presented.

Over the past few years, Dutch Design Foundation has worked with various partners on the European Food Heroes project. Here, Agri-food and food processing companies worked together with the creative industry to seek innovative solutions to deal with food waste. For this project, teams of growers and farmers, working with designers, have developed new, tasty products of unused parts of vegetables, such as leek cuttings or oyster mushroom stalks. But how do you market these products successfully?

The Netherlands and Belgium

Marjon Krol of ZLTO, initiator of Food Heroes, introduced the webinar from Den Bosch. In Antwerp, Melanie van Raaij of Innovatiesteunpunt updated international viewers about the Flemish approach in Food Heroes. It is clear that the timing of popular products has to be spot-on. A few years ago, a delicious leek kimchi was introduced before the market was ready for it. Back in the studio in the Netherlands, Ingrid van der Wacht took over the presentation on behalf of Dutch Design Foundation. She highlighted the success story of Botanic Bites of Doreen Westphal and oyster mushroom farmer Mariëlle van Lieshout, resulting in enthusiastic reactions from the chat participants in the webinar: “I also want this in Belgium!”

Oyster mushroom stalks in your meal

Ingrid interviewed Doreen, who, together with Mariëlle, was nominated for a Food Heroes Award for Botanic Bites. During Food Heroes Lab, Doreen and Mariëlle came up with a new application for the mostly discarded, edible oyster mushroom stalks. Today, these can be found in several vegan dishes. Ingrid: “Surely, the final product must have been preceded by a long process?" Doreen: "Indeed, we have carried out extensive research and have tested many variations. This ranged from chips to Pulled Veat instead of meat, paddo bites and occasionally Zwarma, Zpeckjes and Easy Vegan meals."

Continued development

In a video filmed in her mushroom cultivation rooms, Marielle explains how she has managed to reduce the mushroom waste by as much as 10%. Only 5% of the oyster mushroom stalks are discarded these days. In her studio, Doreen talks about her career switch to the world of food as she wanted to create a positive impact by concentrating on healthy food and a sustainable planet.

Creating a greater impact

“But how could you create even more of an impact than you are doing now?” Ingrid asks. "Our approach reduces CO2 emissions, decreases meat consumption and produces less waste. Let's all eat my products for an even greater impact", Doreen says with a smile, "In vegan alternatives, one always has to look for a 'bite' in a dish. Using the oyster mushroom stalks, that 'bite' is created naturally". Ingrid: “Should everyone go vegan?” Doreen: “Reducing meat consumption is in any case good for our environment.”

Tasting the dishes

Botanic Bites is regularly awarded prizes. Ingrid: “Is winning an award important?” Doreen: “It certainly is! It puts a spotlight on what we are doing and makes it just a bit easier to get our products onto the shelves. Due to COVID-19, it has become more difficult to let people taste our product. Positive feedback from the media certainly helps. For instance, we would usually be present with our food truck at Dutch Design Week, where thousands of people would be introduced to our dishes. Unfortunately, this was not possible this year."

For the supermarkets

Botanic Bites has developed tasty meals under the name of Easy Vegan that are easily cooked up at home. Doreen: “Simply add coconut milk to the Thai Yellow Curry, for instance, for a delicious, wholesome meal for two." The meals can be ordered via botanicbites.com. “When will they be available on the shelves?”, Ingrid asks. Doreen: “We are working very hard to get this done. We expect them to be available in several supermarkets by next year, also outside of the Netherlands. We are hopeful that 2021 will provide us with many more opportunities so that we can introduce everyone to easy vegan cooking."

The Food Heroes project is a European collaboration that is sponsored by Interreg NWE.