Stand up for Startups: Meet Jack
Meet Jack is a pioneering, female-led food startup from the Netherlands that produces meat alternatives from unripe jackfruit. In our latest Stand up for Startups webinar, we sat down with the founders to chat about their entrepreneurial experiences. We’ve summarised all of the best bits for you across two blog posts. In part one, we focus on jackfruit as a star of the plant-based sector, and how Meet Jack is coping with the coronavirus pandemic.
Meet Jack founders, Kaline van Halder and Marjolein Pleune, met over 25 years ago at university. They had always talked about setting up a company together, usually over a couple of beers. In 2017, those chats finally turned into a tangible plan, when they decided to take the plunge and start a business making meat alternatives from jackfruit.
Since then, the pair have created a full line of products and raised two rounds of funding. They have participated in several incubators and accelerator programmes (including the ProVeg Incubator), and are now in talks to launch Meet Jack with Albert Heijn, the biggest retailer in the Netherlands.
Kaline says that a major turning point for them was raising 130% of their target during a crowdfunding campaign. “In order to launch the campaign, we had to make sure many other elements of the business were ready, for example, the packaging, branding, and product and strategic plans.
“As a result of the campaign, we had resources, we had some money, and we had validation. When people choose to fund you, they are not just enthusiastic about your company, they are actually putting their money where their mouth is. That is very meaningful.”
Meet Jack on jackfruit
Kaline and Marjolein were inspired by jackfruit while travelling in Asia and, as Kaline is half-Filipino, she already had some experience with the fruit. But what makes jackfruit such an attractive ingredient?
Marjolein: Jackfruit is completely unprocessed. We use unripe jackfruit, which has natural meaty fibres, a neutral taste, and contains no sugar. In terms of processing, the jackfruit is taken out of the skin and put through a blast freezer. It’s then transported from Asia to Europe where it’s seasoned and cooked. This is very different to what happens to [more processed] soya products, for example.
Kaline: We really thought about where we can create impact. We want to create meaty, savoury street food dishes that would satisfy carnivores. Jackfruit naturally offers the attributes that we need to achieve that. Our best-selling product is a plant-based alternative to the traditional dutch bitterballen which can be found on every menu in the Netherlands
We have set ourselves the challenge to be THE bitterball on the menu. We don’t want our products just to be in the vegan section. Eventually, we hope that you will order a portion of bitterballen and have no idea that there is no animal meat in it. You will just eat it with your beer and think, ‘wow this is delicious’. Our whole product line is targeted in this way – to seduce meat lovers in order to reduce global meat consumption.
Meet Jack on COVID-19
During the webinar, Kaline and Marjolein emphasised that launching a startup has not all been plain sailing. There have been plenty of challenges along the way – not least, the coronavirus pandemic.
Kaline: COVID hit us really badly because we were moving to get a piece of the pie from the food-service sector, and were not yet looking at retail. Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, people had been ordering hundreds of kilos of our products for events and festivals, and restaurants were calling us every day. February was our most successful month since we started our company, and, then in March, we shut down. No clients, no phone calls, nothing. After two years of working on Meet Jack, Marjolein and I took our first salary in February, and, in March, we felt like it was all over.
Kaline: For two weeks, we thought, what do we do now? We just had to jump back on the horse – it was either eat or be eaten. So we decided to move into retail. This was also around the time that we got accepted to the ProVeg Incubator. That really helped us to move into retail at a faster pace. We developed new products and started knocking on doors. Now, in autumn, retailers are getting interested and we’re in talks with them.
“We just had to jump back on the horse. It was either eat or be eaten”
Marjolein: COVID was a new starting point for us and now we think we can be successful in the retail market. Although we were growing very fast in the food-service sector, behind the scenes, we were not ready for that growth. This COVID-19 period gave us an opportunity to better organise and structure ourselves. We hired two people to work on marketing and operations and we closed a partnership deal with a logistics company. COVID-19 may have set us back from a financial perspective in 2020, but, in the long term, this has been a beneficial time for us.