1-on-1 with Freke van Nimwegen from Instock: the Food Rebel

Photo: Freke van Nimwegen | Photography by Simone Schoutens.

We believe that innovative professionals are the pioneers of the changing world. That’s why every week we go in-depth with one of our favorites and pick up some lessons about what it takes to be a professional rebel. This week it’s Freke van Nimwegen, co-founder of Instock.

Freke, 29, started Instock, a restaurant, toko and food truck, which uses excess food from Albert Heijn supermarkets to make delicious creations. Together with her co-founders she was recently named in Forbes 30 under 30 and is on a path to change the way people use food and leftovers. Freke caught up with Roald Tjon to tell us a bit about her journey.

How did you start Instock?

Freke began as a trainee in responsible retailing at Ahold: “I started working there and one of the topics was food waste. I was also an assistant supermarket manager for a year as part of my traineeship.”

‘Over there I saw the amount of waste and what it all was: Perfectly fine fruit and veg, potatoes and bread. Together with three colleagues we thought we could do something about it.”

They entered and won the ‘Best idea of Young Ahold’ in 2014 and used their winnings to start Instock.

What did you learn from Ahold?

“I learned a lot about how large companies work in general and about sustainability and CSR in the food sector. Changing things in big organizations takes time and effort. That’s also why my colleagues and I chose to set up Instock as a separate social enterprise. Large corporations are often focused on minimizing negative impact, while the mindset of a social enterprise is geared toward increasing positive impact.”

Why did you decide to start your own venture?

“I don’t know if it matters to me if I’m working for myself or for a company. I would describe myself as a happyholic — someone looking for happiness in the workplace and who wants to feel energized by their work. I don’t mind working for someone as long as I like what I do and I see the bigger picture.”

‘I also want to be challenged. During the last year and half that I worked on Instock, not one day was the same. First we drove our ‘food rescue trucks’ ourselves to pick up the food waste from the supermarkets and we were also the restaurant managers ourselves. Now we’re focusing on the strategic aspect and where we want to go. I even worked on an Instock cookbook which is out in April.”

The Lesson: Focus on what challenges you and makes you happy.
Photo: Sneak preview and mini version of Instock’s new cookbook! | Photography by Simone Schoutens.

What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you knew six months ago?

Freke ran the NYC marathon and narrowly missed out on her goal of running under four hours: “I got a time of 4.07. I didn’t enjoy the last part because I had an app in my ear saying how fast I was running and I knew that I wouldn’t get under four. I couldn’t really enjoy the last part and I regret that.’

“Looking back, the only thing I would tell myself is that you just need to enjoy it, because that’s the most important thing.”

The Lesson: Whether it’s an athletic or professional goal, remember to enjoy the journey.

Would you consider yourself a professional rebel?

“I’m not the type to always start a discussion or immediately challenge things, but I do ask questions. I think that’s a certain type of professional rebel. It’s not the activist role. It’s more a role of understanding and then trying to change things by collaborating.”

Is there something people would be surprised to know about you?

“Maybe that I jumped from the highest bungee jump tower in the world - the Macau Tower, it’s 233 metres high. I’m no daredevil, but I do love the adrenaline rush.”

Which people have influenced you most?

Freke’s mom and dad work in healthcare and for the government and their influence made her to want to do something good for society. One memory from her youth stands out: “When I was four I was in the car with my father and we were driving home from a holiday. He got pulled over because there wasn’t a license plate on the trailer of the car, so he got a fine.”

‘I got upset, but my dad said, ‘Now the government can build new bridges with the money I have to pay them.’ The lessons here are that you can always turn a negative experience into something positive, and that you have to look at the bigger picture.”

Her boyfriend is another big influence: “He’s really different from me. I’m constantly challenging myself, putting myself in unfamiliar situations, not taking the easy road and he’s more focused on creating the right comfort zone. He’s always chilled out and knows how to be satisfied with what he has and this helps me to find the right balance.”

Any tips to other rebels out there?

“First of all, don’t stay frustrated about how things are in certain industries for too long. Well you can be frustrated, but do something with it: try to involve the decision-makers that you need. I also think that being positive and optimistic always helps.”

‘Secondly, you don’t have to have all the answers right away, but you need to work towards something. Learn by taking action: you can change and adapt along the way. Ultimately, it’s all about doing, just start small.”

The Lesson: Stay positive, involve the right people and do it!
Freke and our rebel reporter Roald Tjon. Roald has a big interest in innovative individuals and storytelling. He speaks to professional rebels and shares their stories.