Every week, we highlight one women founder. This week, Laura Hoogland, founder of SUNT, is put in the spotlight.
Did you know that bananas are the most wasted food worldwide? After harvest, almost 60% of banana biomass is left as waste. Globally, there is a waste of 114,08 million metric tons solely of bananas. Export bananas are subjected to strict quality control proces, to ensure that the bananas reaching the final destination are complying with the required standards. If bananas aren’t in the optimal state of maturity, of the right size, presenting some slight bumps, or insect pickets, they could get rejected in the selection process. Not to mention those that do not pass customs once they arrive in European ports. A pretty big food waste, to which Laura Hoogland, founder of SUNT, wanted to put a stop.
How it started
Before SUNT, Laura worked in events, advertising, and PR for big companies, where she spent her time discussing what colors were suitable for big campaigns. During this time she started questioning the impact she was leaving on the world. In 2018 came the decision of quitting her job.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was 12, I wrote my first business plan, but obviously, I was too young. I rushed through my studies because I really wanted to get out there and get to work”.
Although being aware of how much food was wasted, the idea of SUNT didn’t come directly. “I always had something against food waste, it was stuck in me somehow. To see how much food, which was still good, was thrown away. I couldn’t understand how some people were facing hunger, while others were throwing the food away as if it is nothing” explains Laura.
After some research, she discovered bananas were pretty high on the list of food being wasted. “I felt like if I was going to solve any problem, then it must be a big challenge” and that’s how SUNT was born, in 2019. It all started in her kitchen and her own banana bread recipe when she got a meeting with Albert Heijn. Today, SUNT has three products made of wasted and/or rescued bananas: banana bread, granola, and donuts. The products are available in the Netherlands and Belgium.
From Ecuador to the first Banana factory in NL
“I started out with a farm in Ecuador. I knew that at the beginning of the banana chain there is a lot of waste already in the selection. But then after a while, I realized how many perfect bananas were being transported to Europe. Millions of them were getting discarded at the European ports” continues the founder of SUNT. Indeed, bananas produce a gas called ethylene, relevant for its growth and ripeness process. Whenever the production of ethylene surges in one, all the other bananas around that, will be affected too.
The latter is one of the main reasons to discard bananas, although perfectly eatable. Something that let Laura reflect on. “It felt weird to solve a problem in Ecuador, while we have such a big waste stream here. So that’s why we’re opening our first banana rescue factory in October. We’ll be rescuing bananas from the Dutch and Belgian harbors” explains Laura. From the rescued bananas, a puree will be produced both for SUNT’s own products, and for other manufacturers.
In Ecuador, the peeling of bananas is done manually by 40 to 50 women, which wasn’t possible in the Netherlands. “We had to come up with a solution to automate the process. So we build a machine that automatically peels a banana, otherwise, the product would have been too expensive. Unfortunately, sustainability is not the main reason for people to switch to a raw material, it must be cost efficient” says Laura.
Another challenge faced by Laura was the customs law. Unlike avocados or kiwis which have an import tariff, depending on the value of the product. In the case of bananas, it’s a flat fee, paid per ton of bananas. In short, if an avocado is not good anymore, you pay a little, while for a banana you still pay the highest price.
„It’s really unfair because banana puree gets imported for 0 percent, while if you want to make puree out of discarded bananas, we have to pay between 80 and 140 euros a ton, which gives banana puree from Ecuador, an insane competitive advantage,” remarks Laura.
Eventually, Laura and her team found a way to make the customs laws more advantageous and are expecting to export the concept to other European countries. On the list, is Germany, where in SUNT will be available 2023 and the UK might be next.
“In Germany, or the UK they all have the same problems, a lot of bananas don’t get imported because it’s cheaper to just throw them away. By doing what we do, we’re showing that reusing bananas is better than throwing them away. We generate cost efficiency for importers while improving the food chain. Even farmers are benefitting, because with the extra money they can focus on other aspects, for example, sustainable transportation” continues Laura.
The Future of SUNT
The future of SUNT is bright: “We really want to challenge the bakery industry. There is a way to eat a delicious donut without feeling bloated or guilty. Muffins, doughnuts, brownies, cookies we want to have a better alternative for those and that’s what we are working towards”.
And their goal? “Make the bakery department of retailers, more sustainable and healthier. Our donuts, which are vegan and made of 30% of fruit, aren’t fried, but baked in an oven, making them 50% less fat” explains Laura, who want to show how for every traditional product there can be a better alternative.
While SUNT is counting to focus mostly on banana waste, being the most eaten and imported fruit. The concept ideated by Laura can be extended to other fruits as well, mango, pineapple, kiwis, and more. To whoever is interested in getting into food waste and rescuing other types of fruit, get in touch with Laura, she is more than happy to help out.
Want to read more about amazing woman founders? Click here to read our other Founder of the Week blogs.
©Photo credits to Frank Poppelaars