January 16, 2015. by Vera Hoynck van Papendrecht &samhoud food
Where do you start when dreaming of bringing Oddly Delicious meals to the mass? Fully aware of the existing predispositions about retail we had our eyes set on the largest Dutch retailer, Albert Heijn. To fulfill our dream to bring gastronomy to the world we had to think big and stand out in a market where there are so many entrepreneurs dreaming of a small space on the shelves. Albert Heijn could give us a head start: the power to scale, valuable insights gained by years of working in this field, highly qualified employees, and the ability to connect with the right parties. So there we went, finding the right contact person and seduce them with our offering of Oddly Delicious meals.
Once more, our network provided us the right entrance. The tension we all felt in our team – but did not talk about before our first encounter – turned out to be unnecessary. Our innovative way of looking at traditional recipes and twisting them by giving vegetables a new function in these meals captured their interest. The need for innovative products of high quality got confirmed. And our Oddly Delicious recipes provided an answer to that. Right time, right place, right offer. We got caught up in our mutual enthusiasm and before we knew it, we had brought all our ideas to the table – literally. They were delighted, we were relieved.
As we had no experience in, and ability to, produce meals on an industrial scale, we needed a production partner. Albert Heijn connected us to the partner they thought would suit us best. An introduction that we are still thankful for. We got connected to a flexible producer, with enthusiasm for innovation, and entrepreneurial. Together we established the USPs of the products to be developed. Our products had to break with the general idea that ready-to-eat is unhealthy, not fresh, full of additives, and lacks taste. And to increase the value of our offering, we added a challenge: making this happen without using any meat in our recipes, but still providing an attractive product for carnivores. And of course prices had to be controlled to make it affordable for a large public.
Go where others won’t go
Although common timelines may go up to twelve months from product idea to introduction, we were motivated to show it could be done faster. And without losing anyone in the process. We kept our goals realistic and went for six to nine months from start to introduction.
Ready, get set. The challenge began. Looking at current offering and how we could stand out, it was clear that the use of fresh ingredients, natural seasoning and fresh herbs were aspects our products could distinguish themselves from the existing offering. Freshness became a main feature. As did natural. So not using any unnatural products for taste, color, and preservation. And with 2-Michelinstar chef Moshik, who needs artificial ingredients anyway? But if you would have looked at the convenience shelf back then, it would have been difficult to find fresh herbs in any of the meals. Especially not the most vulnerable of them: our beloved basil. And there is good reason for that. It is almost impossible to make that work. But hey, we happen to love to break with the commonalities and go where others won’t go.
Destined to make it work
We punched a little above our weight, but were destined to make it work. A process of product development followed. We stretched ourselves and got stretched by others. Chef Moshik brought inspiration for innovation and set the standards by preparing high quality meals. Inspiration was returned when we were shown – or should I say confronted – with the complexity of the products. Some of our wishes were impossible to attain. More than once our innovative capabilities and flexibility got tested to overcome the limitations of large scale production. Limitations that we could have seen coming, but happily neglected as long as possible. . We were pushed to think differently. We learned a lot, and got more and more flexible, without lowering standards.
A sigh of relief could be felt when all parties were happy. We made it happen together: we found ways to make things possible in time, or in all honesty just-in-time. But there is nothing more efficient than that, is there?
Even though what you do has never been done, that does not mean it cannot be done. If I now glance at the convenience shelve, I smile and feel proud to see that we have helped pave the road. We could have never done this on our own. And I realize that this really is fast moving consumer goods we are working with. With our first challenge fulfilled, we have to stay relevant and think ahead. Keep on moving, make the road more solid to bring gastronomy to the world.
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