"People want to eat more vegetables and plant-based foods but don't really know how to do that successfully," says Rogier Hilkes, Managing Director of Hak Fresh. This Dutch company focuses on fresh vegetable solutions. He says enticing consumers will increase vegetable consumption. Hak Fresh is doing that with flavor but also by making it as easy as possible for people to eat vegetables.
For example, it roasts, grills, and blanches its vegetables without additives. That makes these products more convenient while also extending their shelf lives. "And grilled or roasted vegetables taste much better than raw ones. You use good flavors to coax consumers into eating more vegetables. You can enhance the temptation by adding color."
Anytime, anyplace, anywhere
Hak Fresh's parent company, Hak - well-known for its canned vegetables - finds that people are very familiar with the company when it comes to preparing hot meals at home. However, it wanted to help increase vegetable and legume consumption at other times and for different types of meals.
So, four years ago, it set up a branch for freshly processed vegetables. Since 2020, that branch has been called Hak Fresh. "We use this fresh branch to try and give substance to our anytime, anyplace, anywhere principle," says Rogier. The range includes ready-to-eat oven dishes with grilled vegetables, salad solutions, and tapas based on grilled, roasted, and marinated vegetables.
Along with introducing these added-value vegetable concepts to consumers, Hak Fresh also sees added value in the out-of-home sector. Rogier says the pandemic laid this channel flat for a long time. However, interest in it is now gaining momentum because, upon re-opening, many eateries have acute staffing problems.
"In our talks with people in the hospitality industry, we found that these bulk packaged consumer market items are very well suited for relieving kitchen staff. The establishments can then serve wonderful vegetable side dishes without much work or food waste," he continues.
If you adapt packaging to customer needs, you can prevent food waste. And those products intended for the hospitality industry have a ten-day shelf life, Rogier says. Hak Fresh is currently testing products with restaurateurs, and the concept is being further rolled out in the out-of-home sector. "That will allow us to introduce people to many more vegetables for their meal solutions through third parties, such as the hospitality or foodservice industry."
Convenient and healthy
Convenience is becoming noticeably more important for consumers. "People's lives are becoming more and more pressured; we're all as busy again as before the pandemic," Hilkes adds. The focus on health, too, is increasing. "It was happening pre-COVID, but the pandemic has undoubtedly boosted the need for healthier lifestyles and healthy eating occasions. More and more, people are looking for healthy convenience."
To address this, Hak Fresh has a product innovator tasked with finding dishes and meal times where vegetables could be incorporated more. Grilled and roasted vegetable tapas are such an example. "Traditional tapas restaurant menus often feature vegetables, while supermarket snack fridges are usually filled with sausage, cheese, dips, and a few olives. By studying those tapas menus, we've developed a vegetable tapas series. These bring color, flavor, but also health and vegetables to store shelves," Rogier continues.
"Also, those products' attractiveness means they can easily be considered an indulgence, along with the other goodies in supermarket snack fridges." Perception is essential here, he explains. "Many people love vegetables but don't immediately consider them tasty." It helps if products are unusual. Something like color can be a surprising element. The MD says since grilled and roasted vegetables retain their color, these products attract more attention in stores.
When it comes to sourcing, Hak Fresh focuses on buying fresh vegetables locally, whenever possible. "We're trying to source more and more locally. A lot of our vegetables are local. But it's difficult - especially in the winter - to purchase, for example, locally-grown bell peppers." There is a focus on PlanetProof too. "We have daily fresh deliveries, so availability plays a role, which isn't as consistent as for a seasonal company like Hak. However, we want to eventually move to fully sustainable sourcing," concludes Rogier.