Scelta’s ‘Winnovation’ Makes for Mushrooming Business

On the job as managing director of Scelta Mushrooms BV since January, Martin Bolscher feels right at home at the Venlo-headquartered company in the northern Limburg region of Holland. Having previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry in the Utrecht area, he is a relative newcomer to the frozen food business. All the more reason then for the editors of FrozenFoodsBiz.com to pay him a courtesy call.

Marketing manager Jeroen Dekkers greeted the visitors on the first floor of the impressive Scelta Institute premises, which serve not only as the company’s center for sales, marketing and administration, but also house a test kitchen, R&D center, conference hall, restaurant and bar, and affords a spacious meeting place for corporate events and other social gatherings.

Upon being introduced to the new managing director and engaging in a bit of polite small talk, he got right down to business.

“Let’s talk mushrooms,” said Bolscher. “Here everything revolves around mushrooms which are sold to industrial food processors, foodservice operators and retailers. We also have a ceuticals business engaged in producing mushroom-based funginal food products that support health and immune systems in humans and animals.”

The company’s founder and enthusiastic ambassador-at-large, Jan Klerken, who wore the managing director’s hat for decades before relinquishing it, is now devoting most of his on-duty time and energy to product development, innovation (or rather, in Scelta parlance, Winnovation!), network expansion and spreading good will at home and abroad.

“My main job is to manage the daily business and offer support for the sales and marketing of the company’s product lines, which are produced by units in which Scelta’s shareholdings range from 25% to 100%,” said Bolscher.

The company branches in Holland are:

  • Kesteren-based Champi’mer, which annually produces over 50,000 tons of sliced, diced, quartered, halved and whole IQF mushrooms made to order for customers around the world who use them as components in pizza toppings, salads, soups, ready meals and other products. The factory also packs frozen mung bean sprouts.
  • Horst-headquartered Comé Mushrooms, where the specialty is preserving mushrooms in buckets, bags, cans and Ecopouches.
  • Scelta Essenza. Until recently the company’s operation in Broekhuizen was relatively unknown to the public. That’s because the patented, innovative type of vacuum-preservation process employed there to produce zero-waste Ecopouch packs was regarded as “top secret.” The technique involves boiling mushrooms in their own juice after they are placed and sealed in lightweight, flexible packaging. The result is an all-natural, shelf-stable product that’s ideal for use as soup stock or sauce.
  • The Scelta Products enterprise in Kruiningen is devoted to the manufacture of frozen mushroom-, vegetable- and onion-based snacks. It’s where award-winning Fingerfoodballs are produced. The low-calorie, high-nutrition vegetarian snack range features lightly breaded, spherically shaped mini croquettes loaded with six different flavorful fillings ranging from Mushroom-Spinach and Mushroom-Broccoli to Red Cabbage-Apple. Eating just four Fingerfoodballs provides 25% of one’s recommended daily consumption requirement for vegetables.
  • SceltaCeuticals is dedicated to the next generation of immune-boosting funginal foods delivered in capsule form to humans. It has teamed up with Sylvan Bio Europe (the world’s largest producer and distributor of mushroom spawn) in a joint venture to offer antibiotic-free murill feed for consumption by cattle and other livestock. Furthermore, the SylvanScelta union produces flour made of 25% Agaricus Blazei Murill powder, which supports and modulates the immune system. It is the basis for DoublePlus bread.
  • Belfeld is the center of Scelta Umami innovation, where concentrates are made in powder and liquid form by extracting flavoring from leftover mushroom bits and stems. In utilizing a “Waste2Taste” production process, nothing is wasted in Scelta’s stream of production.

Scelta-MD-MktphotoJeroen Dekkers (right), marketing manager at Scelta Mushrooms, proudly holds the Innoval 2014 International Award won by the Dutch company at Alimentaria in Barcelona earlier this year for its vegetable-based Fingerfoodballs snack product. Martin Bolscher (left), managing director, is confident that Scelta’s innovative new product development team will continue winning favor from customers and contest judges alike. “We develop ideas, which are turned into products that make people happy, and happy people bring us profits, which takes care of the continuity of our business,” said Bolscher.

“Ideas Man #1” on Team Scelta is Jan Klerken, who has been instrumental in driving the company’s success for the better part of 40 years. The partner ever at his side for more than three decades of the journey has been his wife, Marita. A dietician by training, she has worked at Scelta for many years in many capacities. Along the way they raised two children, both of whom now are in the family business.

Thirty-year old Jan Klerken Junior, who has been learning the means and ways of mushroom commerce since he was a lad, carries a business card that identifies him as “Flavor Maker.” His 26-year-old brother, Jules, works in the snacks division and manages the Fingerfoodballs goal scoring campaigns on selling fields near and far.

In the span of time their father has championed the “mighty mushroom,” literally billions of the wholesome “white wonders” have been sold by Scelta and shipped to customers – many of them leading brand name food producers – in more than 80 countries around the world. The senior Jan was nurtured in the mushroom trade too. In fact, his father cultivated edible fungi at the very site where the Scelta Institute stands tall today. He started the dynasty, initially known as Champex, in 1963.

In 1973, at the age of 15, Jan started his career. Ten years later, Holland’s first IQF mushroom company, Champifiri, began operations. Another ten years on, in 1993, Scelta Mushrooms was born.

Jan Klerken Sr. likes to call Scelta’s foremost product “Dutchrooms.” This is for good reason, as what it sells is grown almost entirely in Holland, a country that ranks as the world’s third largest producer of mushrooms. In addition to its primary sourcing area in Venlo, raw material is procured from suppliers across the nation – most of which utilize state-of-the-art technology to sustainably grow and harvest high-yield mushrooms in controlled cellar settings.

As an ambassador of a realm that ranks as the largest European supplier of frozen mushrooms, 85% of which are exported, Klerken is also fond of calling them as “super food.” The reason, detailed in the company’s 50 Years of Mushroom Experience booklet, is explained as follows:

“The tiny miracle of nature is packed with essential minerals like iron, phosphorus, copper, potassium and selenium (a powerful cell-protecting anti-oxidant rarely found in vegetables). The mushroom contains hardly any fat, sugar or salt, yet is high in fiber and protein. It also is a source of vitamins B, C and D…With powerful anti-oxidants (such as L-Ergothioneine) and rich in the fifth taste – umami [a Japanese word meaning delicious or yummy], this makes the humble ‘champignon’ a true champion…”

“Scelta Umami concentrates naturally enhance flavor of food and can thus replace MSG. At the same time, they enable producers to use less salt,” pointed out Managing Director Bolscher. “As governments around the world increasingly promote the reduction of salt usage in foods for health reasons, we see big opportunities for our mushroom powder to play a more important role in the future.”

That is an important part of Jan Klerken’s playbook, as spelled out in the “The Scelta Code” section of the 50 Years of Mushroom Experience publication. Looking down the road, he states:

“In five years time, all product groups will have been redefined, taking into account changed consumer behavior…The growth of Scelta will be attributed in particular to the ceuticals, immunity-enhancing products based on beta-glucan; and the healthy product range for children from Kokkerelli [a health and nutrition-focused Kids University for Cooking, of which Scelta is a founding partner], and the new generation snacks will take wing.”

Regarding Kokkerelli, which is situated not Far from the Scelta Institute at the former Floriade site (Villa Flora) in Venlo, Jan is thinking about basing himself there at some point. The idea is to spend about 50% of his time on R&D and marketing, 25% on himself (health, traveling with Marita, and giving lectures), and the remaining 25% working to establish a political party for and by business entrepreneurs.

Why not? With Martin Bolscher on the job, Jan no longer needs to worry much about tactical decision-making. Instead, strategic and creative thinking about food product development and fellowship can be first and last on the priority list of things to do

After almost six months at Scelta, has Bolscher been surprised by what it takes to master and manage things in the wide world of mushrooms?

“Yes, every day! But usually in a good way,” he told FrozenFoodsBiz.

What is on the agenda for tomorrow?

“My main focus will continue to be on increasing our food business,” he replied. “Mushrooms may be a traditional product, but there is nothing traditional about the way the passionate people at Scelta conduct business. We will continue to stand out by reinventing ourselves while developing and promoting new product lines.”

Having previously served for eight years as managing director of a company that specializes in making pre-mixes for animal feed, one can also expect him to find ways to expand Scelta’s murill feed sales among producers of healthy supplements for livestock diets.

One way or another, the odds are that Scelta’s business will continue mushrooming well into the foreseeable future! – JMS