Jack Bean: “What Starbucks Did with Coffee, We are Doing with Plant-based Food.”

Jack Bean founder Mathijs Huis in 't Veld
© Jack Bean

When vegans go out for dinner, they often just have a limited choice in conventional restaurants. And even if the choice is broader, personal standards on sustainability and quality have to be put aside. Young startups like “Jack Bean” from The Netherlands can be a solution for this problem. They offer their guests fully plant-based meals with a high focus on taste, sustainability and a no-waste-policy. We interviewed the founder Mathijs Huis in ‘t Veld about his holistic concept.

You are saying: “What Starbucks did with coffee, we are doing with plant-based food”. What does your business model look like?
We aim to build a multi-channel plant-based food brand that will inspire people to eat less animal protein and more plants. In this early startup phase, we focus on building a chain of fast-cuisine restaurants. Eventually we see a lot of potential in other retail channels as well. Starbucks has made quality coffee mainstream through its own stores but is also available in supermarkets and with shop in shops. We aim for something similar with our food brand.

You’ve started a prototype pop-up store already between the 6th and 11th of march. How did this trial go?
This was a perfect opportunity for us to test our menu with a very diverse audience. We had a lot of guests who typically eat meat, but were interested to try our food. And their reactions were great. People really liked the food and we had several guests that did not even notice that the food was 100% plant-based. This was an important confirmation for us that people are open to plant-based food, as long as it is tasty, accessible and affordable.

When are you opening your first Jack Bean and where?
We just opened our first location in Rotterdam, across from Central Station in a busy business district.

What is your target group for this concept?
Jack Bean’s target audience are workers and business people around Rotterdam Central District. Lunch is our busiest peak and we also see that a lot of people take our food home after work or they eat it on the train. Our guests like the fact that we offer an affordable, healthy alternative to the food that is available for lunch in this area. the fact that it is plant-based is hardly an issue, which is a good thing in our view!

How are you promoting your restaurant?
We had a lot of media coverage in the local media and were fortunate enough to be able to run an ad campaign on a huge tv screen next to our location. Furthermore, Instagram and Facebook campaigns have further strengthened the buzz around Jack Bean.

Do you have any plans for expansion within the next 3 years?
We have two strong investors on board (Dutch social investors DOEN participations and Ifund) and together with them we are now focused on opening three restaurants and a commissary kitchen in the Netherlands. Besides Rotterdam, this will be Amsterdam and probably Utrecht or The Hague.

How do you assess development of the market for plant-based food (restaurants) within the next 5 years – national and international?
In our market research, we visited European plant-based hotspots such as London and Berlin. The client base for plant-based food is relatively larger than in the Netherlands, but it seems we are catching up here as well. Many small vegan restaurants are opening all over the place, catering for the growing group of people that want to eat vegan. However, we must not forget that this is still a small group of people. In order for plant-based food to become more mainstream, we need larger brands to adopt quality plant-based menu items as well. Chains like Pret a Manger and Leon have quite an extensive range of vegan and vegetarian options in the UK. I believe we also need authentic brands that dare to commit to a 100% plant-based food range. This is something we hope to add with Jack Bean, and I’m sure more new innovative brands will do the same in the next coming years.

You are focusing on running a “no-waste” business. Why, and what does this look like at Jack Bean?
My co-founder Pepijn Schmeink is a well-known sustainable chef, with a lot of experience in reducing food waste. At Jack Bean we want to take this to a next level. Our ultimate aim is that no edible food is wasted. Our Ultimate Burger is a nice example. We use beans and grains in our bowls. The leftovers at the end of the day are collected and re-used in our burger mix. We also add the pulp of our fresh pressed juices, which would otherwise be wasted. Our burger patty is almost fully made of leftovers! An important challenge we have is in the use of disposables. We use as many compostable disposables as possible, and at least recyclable. The problem with take-away food is that you can’t control the collection of the waste. A compostable box in a mixed trash bin is most probably still burned and thus wasted in our view.

The same goes for coffee cups. In order to recycle these properly, they would need to be collected separately from other waste streams. This is not yet happening. In the near future, we would like to join forces with other entrepreneurs around our locations to collectively collect and recycle coffee cups in order to tackle this problem.

What is your advice for the food sector? 
My advice and hope for the food sector is that they dare to look beyond financial profit more often. Especially large brands have the power to make a huge impact for people and our planet. I hope their leaders and shareholders have the guts to take larger steps than they are currently taking towards a more sustainable global food consumption pattern. I feel confident that innovative startups like Jack Bean and many others can help them to make a change, by showing that doing good can also be an interesting business model.