Interview with Dr. Geoffrey Hagelaar
Dr. Geoffrey Hagelaar is a professor at the Wageningen University and leader of the “Definition of business models and novel sustainable logistics systems tailored to SMEs” work package (WP).
What is the main role of your organization in this project?
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) has two roles in this project. One of them is the research role and the other one is the business management.
The research role is to investigate the needs and barriers of SMEs to introduce new technologies and innovative the business model. And the business management role relies on connecting all the knowledge coming from the laboratories and our more general insights into business models for SMEs in piloting activities (WP4).
What are the first findings after analyzing consumer needs and preferences towards minimally processed F&V and F&V-based smoothies?
Preferences and needs of consumers are of outmost importance and act as main pillars of building business model prototypes because that’s on the consumer side and ultimate consumer needs to be served.
The same thing goes to the company. The consumers are not shaped for the new technology, they are confronted with it, and they need to get used to it, familiar with it and they need to see the benefits of it. That means that the communication with consumers is very important. Being able to communicate with the consumer will give you an insight of their preferences and their needs.
The 1st insight I think it was a very important one and is that the F&V processing technologies are not at the top of the mind of the European consumer. However, the specific benefits that those technologies can bring are on top of their mind. They see the benefits of health and nutritional benefit.
Thinking in terms of business models and business model innovation, central concept is the value proposition, the proposition that the company does towards their consumers: “this is what you can expect from us, and this is why you have to buy it from us”. That value proposition could be built around health and the better retention of nutrition, which are broadening by these technologies. The message to the consumer could be built on the benefits and the effects of the technology and not of the technology itself. That message seems to be more powerful for the juices and smoothies than for fruits and vegetables as a whole.
Another finding related with the sustainability part of the research was that the reason why consumers tend to throw away juices is because of the loss of taste and aroma. This is a benefit from the new technologies because they can reduce the loss of taste and aroma, bringing along the shelf-life to the F&V juices and smoothies.
As an overall conclusion, is not the technology itself, but the effects of the technology on the sensory health, the appearance linked up with waste and nutrition. This is of importance for the consumers to buy and of importance to reduce the waste.
What are some of the hardest challenges when designing business models prototypes?
For me, to get all the information shopfloor ready is the biggest challenge in designing the business models prototypes.
This model prototype is the design that is going to be tested as starting point for the pilot companies so, for each separate company there are specific business model prototypes which need to be tailor-made to the shopfloor of the company. That is bringing together the more general information that we gathered up to now and our analysis and conclusions from it, and also linking that up with the laboratory results. Then we need to try to come up with “how could such a specific company introduce now that technology?”. It is also very important to know the exact performance of the technology in the sense of quality, but also on quantity.
So, for me, there lies the biggest challenge to develop the prototypes for which we also need the specific information of the companies as well. That really means an intensive collaboration between the knowledge institutions partners and the companies because they need to shape themselves with our support into the way they can benefit from the technologies that they are going to validate as well. That translation is really of importance and for me is THE challenge.
To finish, what do toy think that are the main concerns/threats for SMEs in the adoption of novel technologies?
On the one hand, we see the real benefits for the consumer and for society, that are the selling points of these technologies. When talking about introducing the technologies to SMEs, then SMEs could benefit from that as well because it seems to be a market for it. In business model terms, we can talk about capturing the value and that has to do with costs and benefits. The costs of these new technologies are rather high, and for a SME specifically, that would be a difficult point, in the sense that bigger companies have their savings and more access to financial capital. For SMEs is another story. If they introduce themselves in new technology, they must be sure that there will be a success because they spend the money that they have. They need to have the security that they will get return on investment.
On the other hand, in the business model plan that is going to be developed, there are some options which could ease the financial uncertainty of costs and benefits. For example, by collaborating with a company that already have worked with this kind of technology. Or co-operate with a company that has a better market access. You can co-operate vertically (within the supply chain) with your suppliers and distribution channels, and horizontally (working together with companies), sharing technology and distribution channels.
All of these depend on the specific situation and insights of a company, as well as the open discussion with the pilot companies, to really be on top of what they can do and what’s possible for them. The solution should be realistic in the sense of selling and producing.