Nearly 80% of all agricultural land is used for livestock (growing feed and grazing), and the meat industry’s devastating effects on the world have added fuel to the fire behind action against climate change. Diet has become one of the easiest and most widely used ways of reducing an individual’s carbon footprint. One study in the UK showed that a heavy meat eater (someone who eats more than 100g a day) can reduce their footprint by a third just by reducing their intake to 48g of meat a day and going vegetarian can cut your emissions in half. Reducing your impact doesn’t have to mean going vegan. It’s about reduction. It’s about being aware, taking responsibility for your own impact and acting on it, even if that means slightly less meat in your diet. Small shifts in diet can have a much larger global impact.
Facilitating this move towards plant-based diets are companies like Holie Foods. They’re a startup determined to reduce the land used for animal-based agriculture so that plants, humans and the climate can flourish as well. Both their hummus and granola are made with 100% plant-based ingredients and there are no extra additives. Simple, beautiful, tasty food with a purpose. Introducing Co-founder Merick Schoute.
Why did you start Holie Foods?
It sounds a bit idealistic, but I wanted a life where I could do something that gave me energy and at the same time create a company that was good for the planet. I’m very passionate about nature and if you’re passionate about nature you’re automatically worried because of the current situation. All of our products are locally sourced, 100% plant-based, and we invest a big percentage of our sales into planting trees. This year we’re going to plant our own forest in Holland and depending on sales it’s going to be up to 3000 – 6000 trees.
We don’t even pay our own salary yet, but it’s really important for us to do these things from the start so that nature is in the DNA of the company. You only have one chance to build your brand in the right way. I do realize that few people are going to switch to a completely plant-based diet overnight, but it’s not about that. It’s about showing people that they can reduce their impact and still eat tasty food. That’s why I founded Holie Foods with a former chef, our products have to be delicious; we’re not about comprising on taste, we’re about showing people how good nature is at providing delicious, healthy food that can benefit the Earth on a much larger scale.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I love coming into a friend’s house, seeing Holie Foods sitting on the table and hearing that people are enjoying the product. Seeing the impact it can have on someone’s life is really exciting. And no two days are the same. When I worked at a corporate, I had a mono-focus on commercial targets and developing products and that was about it. I felt emotionally flat through good and bad days. Now it’s completely different, there are always different things to be done and there is a real purpose to the work. It’s so much more fulfilling. Our aim is to have a positive impact on people and the planet, and because we’re really in control of achieving that aim, it feels good.
What’s the hardest part of being an entrepreneur in the plant-based world?
The hardest part is I’ve come to realize that most people aren’t as far along the ‘awareness line’ as you want them to be. You come up with solutions for problems and sometimes the problems are only relevant to a small number of people. The world is changing but it’s not going as fast as you think it is. For instance, we’re in Amsterdam and it seems normal that plant-based foods exist, but we also sell our products in the east of Holland where vegan, plant-based, health foods are barely known. That does become frustrating because you believe you’re having a big impact, and we are in many ways, but sometimes the breadth of the impact may not be as big as you think and that can be hard.
What’s one mistake Holie Foods made in its first year?
We developed a healthy, vegan breakfast cereal for kids, but it was a mistake because it was way beyond the focus we saw for the future. Our main target group isn’t kids at all, but we saw an opportunity to have a positive impact there, especially given how unhealthy a lot of cereals are. We were lured by the opportunity and went too fast. I guess it stemmed from a belief that we could offer a solution to a problem, but we were too optimistic and it ended up being not right so we had to kill the idea. Our product range at the moment is small and I like that. It’s where all of our purpose and focus is, it’s not diluted, and that mistake came from a dilution that had consequences for the quality of the product. That’s not to say we won’t create new products in the future, but at that early stage, it was wrong to try and create too much.
Why did you personally adopt a vegetarian diet?
I don’t think it’s realistic that Holland will become totally vegetarian, but if people ate meat once or twice a week, some of the problems would be nearly solved. Of course, not all problems, you’d still have animal suffering and other issues but definitely in terms of the effects on the climate, you’d see a real move towards a solution. What really drove the change for me was the realization that reducing your meat intake or stopping it all together is healthier not only for the planet but for yourself as well. When I was growing up, especially among men, there was the perception that if a meal didn’t have meat in it, you’d miss out on essential nutrition and that’s just a lie. It’s just marketing from the meat industry. Being vegetarian is also cheaper, you become a better cook and there are endless possibilities of beautiful, tasty food. You don’t have to compromise. I don’t miss meat anymore at all, and if anything, I feel fitter and healthier than when I ate meat. Having that diet touches everything in a positive way; yourself, animals, the earth. The question becomes why not.
What have you learned through running a purpose driven company?
Focus. We’re in supermarkets where there are ten thousand brands, so you have to be aware that people get so much information and see so much, and that why it’s so important to have a primary focus so your brand and purpose can speak clearly. I think we still need to improve on that but that’s the main lesson. It’s hard for people to distinguish between real purpose driven companies and those who just use it as just a marketing tool, and to cut through the bullshit, you really need to have a concise message that people repeatedly see from you.
We’ve also learned that it’s important to be a radically transparent brand; we’ll never claim to be a perfect company and there are always things to work on. Our packaging at the moment for the hummus is plastic, but it’s 100% recyclable and 90% made from recycled plastic. We could go to 100%, but the cup would be all kinds of crazy colours. I really hope we can do that in the future, but at the moment people would just see it as weird, and we don’t have the resources to explain it. That’s a moral decision to make but it would devastate and confuse the Holie Foods brand. Maybe we’d get a load of PR, who knows. It’s not perfect but it’s the best way at the moment.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start an impact business?
Test your idea with the people around you and really make sure that what you want to do you can make happen. I chose a purpose that was close to my personal values, knowledge and network so I knew where to start. In the end if you know you can do it and the people around you are enthusiastic, make the jump. It won’t happen if you do it half way. Sometimes I look back and wonder what was I thinking leaving my stable job and going into this, but it really was the best decision.