“Making people happy with cookies!” A simple yet very effective business mission. Marijntje van Benthum grew up in a bakery and started her own company Van Eigen Deeg, a few years ago. A sustainable cookie brand with beautiful flavors and pure raw ingredients.
As a baker’s daughter, Marijntje grew up between cookie dough, rotating mixers, delicious scents and fresh treats. ‘Van Eigen Deeg’ was therefore born out of her predilection for the bakery trade. Yet ‘baker’ was not exactly the answer that Marijntje used to give to the question ‘what do you want to become when you grow up?’.
How did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
‘Ever since I was a very young girl, I knew I wanted to do business. Still, I started my career working for employers. But when we made the decision to move to Nijmegen, that ‘entrepreneurial itch’ suddenly started to surface again. Sometimes you just need an external factor, a push in the right direction. I just knew one thing: I want to make people happy. Preferably with a very concrete product. And then of course the link was quickly made. You can make everyone happy with cookies! And if you can also make really beautiful flavors that you are proud of… well then the circle is complete!’. Marijntje’s company ‘Van Eigen Deeg’ was born.
How big was the step to really start doing business?
Marijntje: ‘The step wasn’t big for me. Of course I already know the baking business and I was just ready. I also had a good picture in my head of what my life as an entrepreneur would look like. And of course it’s important to discuss this with your partner. Because you’re not an entrepreneur on your own, you’re in this with your whole family, so they have to be on board.’
Marijntje got a new business partner last year, Ellen van den Hoven. She also made the switch from fulltime employment to entrepreneurship. Ellen: ‘I actually never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. Marijntje asked me for advice about the supermarket industry and I immediately thought: what a great company, I want to know more about this.’ And Marijntje saw in Ellen the business partner she had been looking for for a long time. But finding a partners is not as easy as it seems. It’s not exactly a job for which you can post a vacancy. There has to be a real connection there and mutual trust. Ellen: ‘One thing led to another and we have been partners ever since. We are both creative foodies to the core and really believe in the philosophy of sustainable business, so as business partners we have a great fit.’
Marijntje adds: ‘My fear of not becoming an entrepreneur was greater than my fear of starting my own business. Every time I walked past a bakery I thought: if I don’t ever set this up myself, I will feel a sting every time I pass a bakery. My motto is always: never regret the things you didn’t do!’
How did your parents feel about you following in their footsteps?
Marijntje: ‘My parents were really proud and happy that I started ‘Van Eigen Deeg’. It’s so valuable that I can always ask my father for advice. He sometimes even bakes with me in our bakery! What I really took with me from my parents is: always experiment. My parents always tried to find that one new tasty recipe. You have to keep tasting and trying, that’s what baking is all about. You should not always want to calculate everything in an Excel, that doesn’t make the cookies taste better. The cookies taste best if you keep focusing on taste and good products. And that’s what we aim for every day! And by always sticking to your core and your origin story, you will automatically grow. Fortunately, we have been lucky enough to see this happening over the last few years.’
What makes your cookies so unique?
Marijntje and Ellen: ‘Quite simply, the kitchen cupboard principle! What we mean by that is, when you open your cupboard and see our cookies, you immediately know which ingredients are in the cookies. Our cookies are developed as pure as possible with recognizable ingredients. This gives you that real artisanal feeling, but produced in a completely sustainable way.’
With ‘Van Eigen Deeg’ you are working on circular production of the cookies. Responsible enjoyment from packaging to biscuit. What is important to you in this development process?
Ellen: ‘Working with good quality raw materials and good suppliers. For example, we are now working with a supplier who proactively tipped us on “saved cranberry seeds”. And those seeds are now incorporated in our new cookies.’
Marijntje: ‘Good partnerships are important. Because you cannot create a sustainable business chain or a circular business on your own! You need sustainable partners. Through CSR Netherlands (MVO Nederland, ed.) I came into contact with ‘Verspilling is Verrukkelijk’. With this initiative, beautiful products are made with ‘rescued’ products, such as the previously mentioned ‘rescued cranberries’ or ‘rescued bread’ or even ‘bierbostel’ (a remnant after the fermentation process in beer brewing, ed.). On this, we’re working with our partner Oersoep from Nijmegen.’
Ellen: ‘We notice that more and more people place value above money and work that way. There is a shift going on in entrepreneurship, collaborations and in what the consumer wants. Production chains are being exposed more and more and steps are being taken to make those production chains more sustainable.’
Recently you started with ‘cookie as a service’. For this you went back to the drawing board.
Marijntje: ‘That’s right! A while ago I had contact with Rob Groenendaal from Mercator Launch about loans for startups. ‘Van Eigen Deeg’ seemed the ideal candidate for this loan, but because our company was founded just over 5 years ago, we were not eligible for this starter loan. But once in contact with Mercator Launch, we thought it wise to do the IMPROVE-program for our ‘cookie as a service’ concept.’
Ellen: ‘During the IMPROVE-program I gained a lot of good insights and developed a good business case for ‘cookie as a service’. And then came corona. We had a lot of cookies left. Especially our small biscuits for bars and restaurants we couldn’t sell anywhere. Our regular retail sales already went very well, but our online sales have really taken off since corona. With our online sales, we responded to various special moments such as King’s Day and Mother’s Day. We have launched online campaigns as a test case for this. And these campaigns really turned out to be a hit. People even ordered cookies for Zoom meetings!’
What inspires you to do better every day?
Marijntje: ‘The way to a (wo)man’s heart is through her stomach, haha 😊. It is our passion for food that makes us want to try new things every day. And the fear of not doing it. I hear so many people say ‘I want to start up my own business too’. And it really gives us a kick that we actually did it! We celebrate our successes and look further at new things, how our flavours and production process can be even better and more sustainable. Our dream is to be the most innovative cookie brand on the biscuit shelf. We want to become the Tony’s Chocolonely of cookies! We don’t want to wait until creating a sustainable biscuit production process becomes easy, we want to be pioneers. We want to be bold and just do it!’