HAK CEO Timo Hoogeboom discusses the new production line for standing pouches in the factory in Giessen
Vegetables and legumes manufacturer HAK put its new factory into operation at the end of last year, equipped with a state-of-the-art filling line for standing pouches in various sizes. Alongside the iconic glass jar, the new factory is an important milestone in the strategic course that the company set in motion in 2012, said CEO Timo Hoogeboom. 'We are the first company on the market with this technology that can scale up to serious volumes and countless product market combinations.'
Vegetables, legumes, salad enrichers and dishes in standing pouches have become hugely popular among a predominantly younger target group of consumers in a short space of time. How do you explain this?
‘It’s lightweight packaging that looks modern, is easy to use, contains less moisture and gives more bite to the vegetables and legumes. This appeals to young people, the modern diners, more than the traditional glass jar. The fact that you can't see the contents and the shelf life is 12 to 18 months, rather than 36 months, is something that doesn't bother this category of customer so much. The traditional diners, who still make up roughly two-thirds of the total, prefer to stick with their trusted glass jar.'
What is unique about this new factory?
‘It is unique in that it is an all-rounder that is suitable for filling an enormous range of products: from beans, bean mixes, bean dishes, pasta and other sauces and soups to mixed vegetable dishes, vegetable mixes, individual vegetables and salad enrichers. These are available in portions for individuals to large-scale professional use. As a result, we are the first in the market with this automated technology, which means we can scale up to serious volumes and a huge range of product market combinations. In addition to being a first mover in the market, it also gives us the opportunity to become a cost leader. This makes us interesting to collaborate with on co-creating products with strategic customers within our current sectors and beyond. Within HAK, we can seamlessly combine this with our knowledge of concept and culinary product development.'
Until recently, HAK outsourced the filling of standing pouches to an external supplier. Has outsourcing become less appealing?
‘Since we began three years ago, we have already sold roughly 12 million standing pouches. The packaging has also been successfully introduced in Belgium and Germany, supported by media campaigns. That is why this investment is worthwhile. Having the new, fully automated line in-house means we benefit in terms of costs and efficiency, as well as guarantee exceptional quality and control of food safety. We now make more than 95% of our products ourselves, which means as a company, we have complete control over quality assurance, research & development and product development. And last but not least, this provides much more flexibility in terms of the variety of products that can be filled. We will also be producing vegetables and legumes in standing pouches under the label of third parties over the next few years. In the food service sector, subsidiary Peter van Halder will supply our HAK products in large-scale packaging.’
You speak of a milestone in the strategic course that the company set back in 2012. What exactly does this involve?
‘You can truly regard this new factory as the completion of the first phase of our strategic transformation from traditional canned fruit and vegetables producer to a producer of a vast range of products based on vegetables and legumes for any time of day, in any place and for any type of consumer. It is a significant moment on the way to our mission to make it easier and tastier for people to eat more vegetables and legumes anytime, anywhere.’
HAK also entered the supermarket refrigerated product category for Foodservice with limited shelf-life in 2017. Does this fit in with the strategy as well?
‘Yes, definitely. We now have three underlying and very different technologies in-house – vegetables in glass, standing pouches and vegetables in supermarket refrigerated sections – that enable us to launch a broad range of products onto the market for any type of consumer. That is why we can set our sights much further than the Netherlands: the market in Northwest Europe covers 110 million consumers with a similar vegetable eating pattern to the Netherlands, which is definitely interesting and very promising. In Germany, we are now focusing on the popular ‘ready meals’ with legumes and vegetables in sauce that, when combined with rice, pasta or a wrap, make a full, healthy and tasty meal. The takeover of the German distributor Foodeko in 2017 was a fantastic first step in that respect, as we have been able to progress from local distribution to national distribution with a number of successful products, firstly with apple sauce, then legumes.'
What can we expect in the years to come?
‘Think new product concepts, new recipes and new formulas, always with natural ingredients, no added sugar and low salt content. We are turning away from narrow product applications more and more, and putting extra focus on how we can help people to eat more healthy and tasty vegetables and legumes.'