Purpose Day: The Dutch Weed Burger
What brought you on the idea of an alternative hamburger?
‘I am actually a filmmaker, a historian with a background as an animal rights activist. The idea was to combine those three cases by capturing the history and development of vegetable cooking. This plays an important role in a growing transition from animal-based to plant-based food. Together with Lisette Kreischer, a friend of mine that writes cook books on this subject, left for New York in 2012 to visit all kinds of different restaurants that have been innovating the biological kitchen.
“We filled up our plates.
These were businesses that were performing well, were operating in a non traditional vegetarian way, and were giving their own feel to the plates. Seaweed as a new protein source has already been on the rise for a while. After the necessary research (we filled our stomachs to the brim) I made a documentary about it. The documentary premiered in Washington at the Environmental Film Festival. The photos we took during our trip elicited a lot of reactions online: “Wow, where do you buy all those goodies?”. When the question kept recurring we decided to talk to a restaurant in Scheveningen about a new burger concept, based on seaweed. We tested it at a music festival and before we knew it the seaweed burger became a hit. I am really busy with it; I barely have time to make movies anymore. Maybe in the near future I can make a movie to show the success of The Dutch Weed Burger.’
How did consumers and the hospitality industry react in 2017? Is everyone enthusiastic?
‘The enthusiasm keeps on going. You can find The Dutch Weed Burger on the menu at 120 restaurants throughout the Netherlands. We are at a couple of big festivals, such as Lowlands. You can see that a new generation is growing up to find our burgers completely part of the world, part of their personal cuisine and food culture. The ‘older’ generation, let us say people over the age of 40, often still see it as a meat replacement, or as an alternative. While in the perception of the new generation they are just regular burgers you can find in the supermarket. We can serve a big market in this way. There is a huge group of flexitarians for whom our burgers are a godsend. The transition to eating less meat has proven easier when done gradually. Restaurants can also serve The Dutch Weed Burger to customers that are 100% vegan.’
If you look back now: what was the biggest hurdle for you to tackle to make TDWB such a success? What are your ambitions?
‘It was not exactly easy to transform a tasty, healthy, home-garden-kitchen recipe into something that could be mass produced. There is a lot involved. Before you know it, you are penalising the quality, which we did not want. The burger just had to be tasty, be affordable, and offer high quality; there is enough garbage out there
“The burger just had to be tasty, be affordable, and offer a high quality; there is enough garbage out there.
We want to stay traditional and grow consciously in moderation. People think of us as an ‘inspirational brand’ and we want to keep this status while we develop new products and become bigger.”
“In the future, we want to offer people something they can make themselves at home and look for partnerships with large market parties. We are planning on opening a restaurant, starting May 31st, in Amsterdam. If that works out I could see more restaurants opening in several European Cities: Paris, London, Berlin, Stockholm. It is not a dream, it is the big plan!”
You are a winner of the Purpose Award. What effects are you noticing because of that?
‘There are a lot of companies that are performing well and with their product solve a social, ecological or ethical problem. What you can see now is that the marketing agencies of big multinationals are also picking up on this fact. It is nice to see that purpose merges with corporate-socio-responsibility. But in what capacity is that actually true?
“The message is, to stay sincere
It could be that you as a company do not have a purpose at all. The danger arises that the concept will hold no meaning and will erode. To manage that, the message is, to stay sincere. I think it is a great thing that this movement just keeps on growing. In my opinion politics usually fails but business is on the move. I am a part of that now, and I like to grab every opportunity I get to rub it in to anyone willing to listen. The winning of the Purpose Award only strengthens my authority, which is nice.”’
What tip would you give other entrepreneurs who would like to do something with a purpose?
‘People used to ask children: ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. Nowadays you could ask the question: ‘what problem would you like to solve?’. I think that if you wanted to start today, there would be plenty to do. Right now the first challenge would be to tackle significant problems. If you could focus a business model around that, do it. Try to find it, because with that you simply deliver the most to the future.”•