The Corona Rebuild Program of Oost NL and its partners helps businesses navigate the coronavirus crisis. The results are extremely positive, as is made evident by the impressive story of Wageningen-based Foodcase International.
Approximately sixty businesses from all over the country have completed the Corona Rebuild Program (see videoclip), some with great success. An especially impressive example is Wageningen-based Foodcase International. Since its establishment in 2012, it has specialised in meals with an extended shelf life. After multiple years of research, it has been supplying long shelf-life, frozen and fresh food to the aviation industry since 2017. The company has a portfolio comprising forty airlines from all over the world. Foodcase’s global operations are managed by a team of ten employees from the Wageningen University & Research (WUR) campus. “The team is relatively small, but we work with specialised food producers from all over the world”, explains CEO Wilbert de Louw. “Our expertise is highly specialised; the demands of providing food for airplanes is a good example of that. The taste experience on an airplane is different, the space is limited, and packaging should not rupture when the air pressure changes, for instance.”
Foodcase is also active in Asia, so De Louw already felt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in January. March was when thing really started to go downhill, however. “The world shut down. All trade stopped, just like all development paths. Multiple debtors were unable to meet their financial obligations and we had to find a solution for products that were already on their way. It was an intense period.” It soon became evident that aviation would not resume for some time to come, so Foodcase’s survival was in serious jeopardy.
De Louw was considering solutions for the short and long term. The NOW scheme gave some relief, just like the COL that was recently awarded by Oost NL. Foodcase’s participation in the Corona Rebuild Program (something that had been recommended by said Oost NL) turned out to truly crucial, however. “My expectations weren’t very high”, De Louw admits. “Once you are in full survival mode, it can be difficult to take a step back and take an honest look at your company. Going in, I just thought: ‘There’s no harm in trying.'”
“My expectations weren’t very high.”
Our participation in the programme turned out to be just what we needed. “We started off by examining the acute issues and subsequently thought about a strategy for the future. The moderators steered the whole experience well and having a group of diverse entrepreneurs exchange ideas was of added value. I was able to help another entrepreneur, for instance, by bringing him into contact with one of my relations.”
Inspired by the moderators and other entrepreneurs, and thanks to a lot of serious thinking and conversations within our own organisation, we arrived at the solution. ” Providing food and drink for healthcare was an early idea we came up with, but that market turned out to be overcrowded. We then turned our attention to hotels. In a lot of countries, hotels were no longer allowed to provide buffets for their guests. Our speciality, packaged food, turned out to be a perfect solution. One of my relations is the CEO of a hotel chain and he was interested in a business case straight off the bat.” That got the ball rolling and Foodcase was able to quickly add multiple hotel chains to its client portfolio.
“We found our core, our expertise, and found a way of making different use of that.”
After a disappointing April, the current financial figures are nearly back to normal thanks to the new business deals. This is very promising. Foodcase’s altered business model is more than just a short-term solution for the coronavirus period. “We had been considering broadening our market for a while. This is a great addition, especially as it will take a while for aviation to return to what it was before.”
It is highly unlikely that we would have been able to manage this without the Corona Rebuild Program. “We are responsible for taking the necessary steps, but the programme has made us think a certain way, and we realised what works for us and what doesn’t.” The Rebuild programme also stirred up De Louw’s passion for entrepreneurship. “It might sound strange, but difficult times like these can also be fun for entrepreneurs, as there is a certain challenge. I noticed the same feeling in others. My passion for entrepreneurship was really stirred up. I look back on the programme as a highly positive experience.”
More success stories
Foodcase is a special success story, according to Ingmar Janssen and Daniël ten Holder of Oost NL. They are both programme managers and moderated the training sessions. Ten Holder: “The circumstances surrounding the pandemic made Foodcase unlock a market opportunity that they did not have access to before. We always recommend that people look outside of their own companies. Talk to people in a sector and discover what drives them. Wilbert did a wonderful job and he has also provided good guidance to everyone in the business so that they will be able to take on the new activities. After that, it was all about hard work. Credits go to Wilbert, he demonstrated excellent entrepreneurship.”
“Talk to people in a sector and discover what drives them.”
Foodcase is not the only success story of the programme. Janssen: “Another entrepreneur saw part of his business evaporate, zoomed in on a market that he was not yet familiar with, and in doing so successfully offset the lost turnover. Just like in the case of Foodcase, these are clearly measurable results. Sometimes results are less concrete, but still point to a successful outcome. One participant realised that he was partly focusing on the wrong activities. Another made a cost saving by having a similar realisation. Everyone has their own unique story and experience their own type of success.”
Janssen and Ten Holder were impressed by the participants. “They were all able to think well on their feet and open their eyes to the new reality. I found that flexibility very impressive”, says Ten Holder. Janssen adds: “The future impact of the pandemic is uncertain, and that was even more so the case back then. Everyone naturally focuses on the issues of the day and it is hard to take a step back and take an objective look at your business. We tried to help the participants do that. In such circumstances, true entrepreneurs always float to the top.” Ten Holder: “All our programmes focus on the market and on listening to your clients. As an entrepreneur, they are your touchstone. Especially in times like these, when the problems are significant, that is crucial.”