How To Turn Our Food System Into One That’s Simple, Concise and Logical?
— By Twentie Four
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Every week we’ll sit around the kitchen table of a different impact entrepreneur to discover their secrets, to see how they live and, not unimportantly, to score a free meal. ;-)
This week we are at Arthur Nijhuis’s home, cofounder of Rechtstreex.
Due to his work at Unilever, Arthur was aware of the weird things happening in our current food chain. Confident to do it completely different, he opened up a store in his basement where he started selling only local products. With success, because Rechtstreex can now be found in Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Utrecht as the instigator in linking the farmer to the consumer. It’s a company with a headstrong vision. For example, Arthur doesn’t negotiate prices with the farmers, as he perceives this to be an old-fashioned way of working.
Go out and ask neighbours to join his mission
Arthur: Marijke, a befriended cheese farmer, confirmed from a farmer’s perspective what I had seen happening with my former employer. Together with Maarten, my current businesspartner, we have thought and talked about it a lot: how do you turn something complex, in this case our food chain, into something simple, concise and logical?
How did you shift from talking to taking action?
Arthur: After having many conversations about food, I thought it was time to take action. I opened up a shop in my own basement and started looking for people who wanted to buy our products. I typed out our message on a piece of paper, which I put into hundred to two hundred mailboxes. Ringing doorbells was still a step too far for me. Within three weeks, we received about thirty positive reactions. Some of these people still buy their products from Rechtstreex today.
How did you feel the first time people came to pick up their order?
Arthur: It was exciting. I was quite nervous. People come to pick up something and pay for it. It is better be worth it. We did and still do everything from our basement in my house. Today, it looks a lot like a shop. But back then, it was used for storage. People were literally standing in the middle of our camping gear.
Rechtstreex as the Middleman?!
You started with one store. How big is your company now?
Arthur: We operate in three regions: Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Utrecht. In every region, we work closely with multiple district chiefs. These women (most district chiefs are female) are the binding factor in the neighbourhood. On Monday morning, they notify Rechtstreex what has been ordered in the neighbourhood. In this, we play the role of logistics provider, a distributor.
Isn’t it ironic that now you have become the Middleman?
Arthur: We have learned that you can’t escape this. There should be one party that picks up the products at the local farmers, otherwise every district chief will come to them. It’s a fair point to make. But in the end, it is all about working with the farmers as directly as possible.
In what ways do you differ from standard supermarkets?
Arthur: With our system of district chiefs, you provide the neighbourhood with a trustworthy local shop. In the past fifty years, these have gradually dissapeared from every neighbourhood. The big, anonymous supermarkets where people go these days, do everything effortlessly perfect. Nothing could be criticized. However, what could be done better is the rotten system behind it. For us it is very important that the farmer receives a fair price. For every euro the consumer spends, the farmer receives 63 eurocents. Finally, another thing that doesn’t happen in the current food chain: we make sure that farmers and buyers really talk to, see and meet each other. With Rechtstreex, we strive to build a socially integrated food chain.
No price negotiations with the farmer
How do you reach impact?
Arthur: When a company wants to work sustainable, it is often seen as a foundation-ish job. As something you just like to do. However, we are concerned with the question: how do you produce real change? The food chain is complex. We are concerned about the distance which has to be travelled, the emission from the vans in which the products are transported, but also the local economy. I’d rather give the work to local companies.
Why do farmers participate?
Arthur: Quite a number of farmers have realized that the current system is no longer sustainable. The way in which we interact with the world, the soil and her products is no longer sustainable. The soil becomes exhausted. As a result, the nutritional value of products has decreased dramatically in the past decades. Thirty years ago, a broccoli had a certain nutritional value. This value has shrunk considerably.
Does money play a role for farmers who want to participate?
Arthur: We provide farmers with a fair price for their products. With Rechtstreex, we have never conducted a price negotiation. We just don’t do this, because we believe this is an old-fashioned way of working. First we hear what kind of beautiful products the farmer has to offer. Then, we give him the exact price he wants to receive. If the farmer prices himself out of the market, he will notice this soon enough. His products will not be bought.
Finally, what will the future bring?
Arthur: Right now, we want to expand Rechtstreex. We are active in three regions, but in 2017 we would like to operate national (around ten regions). If we are successful, the business and impact model has been proven and it becomes easier to expand to even more regions and possibly also other countries. But we, as two down-to-earth entrepreneurs, take babysteps. So our first goal will be to realize the fourth and fifth region.
What would be the best thing that could happen with Rechtstreex?
Arthur: As a human being, you show different behaviour in one day. In the morning you want to have breakfast, around noon you would like to eat lunch and in the evening you eat again (whether this is at home or at a restaurant). How wonderful would it be when you would encounter Rechtstreex products everywhere, with the warranty that these are all good and local products. That would be amazing!
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Twentie Four is a web series that follows 24 impact entrepreneurs for 24 hours around the globe.