Imagine an egg with a subtle BBQ taste, bringing the eggs and bacon experience, without the bacon. That is the taste innovation which enabled Gijsbert and Annegien Bos from the Netherlands to find their niche – with smoked eggs. With the first 100,000 culinary eggs already sold, they are planning to conquer the rest of Europe.
Gijsbert and Annegien Bos of the Smoked Egg Europe company have been marketing smoked eggs on a small scale on the Dutch market since 2020. Smoked Eggs Europe is a true start-up and that is why it received an Economy & Innovation subsidy from the regional government.
The product – smoked eggs – is a real taste innovation. The egg is still raw but has a subtle smoked flavour. Annegien: “Some say our eggs taste like bacon that has been cooked with the eggs, or a nice BBQ taste has been added”. The eggs are – like normal eggs – very versatile. You can do anything with a smoked egg: poach it, fry it, scramble it or use it in your favourite dishes, such as frittata, quiche, Shakshuka or sauces. It is also interesting to experiment with sweet dishes, like pavlova or cake, according to the couple.
The smoked egg concept originates from Australia. Before Gijsbert attended the Hotel Management School in Maastricht, he travelled through Australia with a friend for a year. During that time he met the Kos family, entrepreneurs in catering. Gijsbert worked in the catering business for a few months and became good friends with the Kos family. After that year of travelling and working in Australia, Gijsbert went to the Hotel School where he met Annegien, now his wife. They finished their studies and went abroad to work in different hotels all over the world before returning to their home country. In late 2018 the Kos family contacted Gijsbert to tell him that they had developed a new taste for raw eggs. They cautiously enquired whether Gijsbert would be interested in starting a trial in Europe with this innovative product.
In 2019 Gijsbert decided to visit the Kos family again to learn more about the smoked eggs. He wanted to experience the taste first hand and discover the opportunities in the culinary field. He also wanted to know what the smoking process involved and learn more about creating a business case. Following the visit, the Kos family phoned Gijsbert and Annegien to ask whether they could help them set up a company in smoked eggs. Gijsbert: “You would expect that they would prefer to keep this technique for smoking eggs to themselves but they have taken out a worldwide patent on this special smoking process. So they receive royalties on everything we produce. With no licence required after 10 years.”
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The Kos family wanted to have a reliable partner in the EU, say the couple. To be able to smoke eggs, eggs needed to be sourced. So Gijsbert and Annegien went looking for a poultry farmer in the region who could supply them with eggs. They chose a regional supplier because they wanted a product with a small carbon footprint. “We ended up with poultry farmer Harrie Beekmans who lives nearby in Oirschot. He is well known in the industry,” says Gijsbert. The couple asked Beekmans if he could supply them with brown eggs. Beekmans also put them in contact with Jan van Baast, who has an egg packing station and can sort and pack eggs.
Beekmans bought plastic trays that fit precisely into the smoke box designed by Gijsbert and Annegien. Beekmans: “Smoked Egg Europe pays me a fair price for my eggs. I also like the idea of contributing to an innovative project.” The eggs supplied by the Oirschot poultry farmer comply with the Dutch ’Beter Leven’ one star quality label of the Dutch Animal Protection organisation. In principle, both white and brown eggs can be smoked but the couple has opted for brown eggs. Gijsbert: “The reason is that we think that the brown eggs are visually more attractive after the smoking process.”
To ensure that we had the right start-up capital to be able to set up the company we applied for an innovation loan from the Rabobank.
In December 2019 they received the plans for installing the smoking system. The installation had to be done by an engineer. Gijsbert and Annegien put out a tender to get the best quotation and planning. Belgian engineer Wim Mostaert of Aximet submitted the best offer. Mostaert assembled the installation together with Australian engineer Jim Hocking of Unipulse. Gijsbert: “To ensure that we had the right start-up capital to be able to set up the company we applied for an innovation loan from the Rabobank. To be eligible for a Rabobank Innovation Loan you need to draw up a business plan and pitch your idea to Rabobank. Gijsbert: “This is a great exercise for a start-up because it forces you to make clear choices.”
After the loan was granted, they officially launched the business in June 2019. It was very low profile initially, with a simple prototype egg smoker in their backyard. Annegien laughs: “And that it did not go well right away. The egg smoker was placed outside and, because of the weather, the smoker did not run continuously. So it did not always work.” After a year of trialling the prototype, a large smoke generator and all the other equipment arrived from Belgium. Engineer Wim Mostaert assembled the large smoker. The prototype could hold 300 eggs, while the large smoke generator can hold up to 100,000 eggs. To house the new smoke generator since June 2020 the couple have rented a 400 m2 commercial site in Drunen in the Netherlands. Gijsbert: “We first ran a test here for 3 days and made various adjustments until the system worked to our liking”.
The smoking process in Australia is slightly different than it is in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the eggs are placed on nesting racks in a smoke box and the smoke from the unit next to the smoke box is blown over the eggs. Gijsbert: “This method of smoking is called cold smoking. In Australia they use the same technique but the eggs are washed before smoking. This is mandatory in Australia while in Europe we do not wash the eggs at all.”
The couple did not immediately operate at the maximum capacity of 100,000 eggs. For the time being, they smoke 10,000 eggs every 14 days. Annegien: “At the moment we produce on demand. As soon as the sales start to go up, we can make a better forecast and scale up the production.”
They initially wanted to begin with a higher production but the coronavirus pandemic and the measures that followed worldwide threw a spanner in the works. Annegien: “We actually wanted to fully supply the food service sector but it had to close due to the corona crisis. Sales to the food service industry look promising, as chefs understand what you can do with such a special product.” To make the most of the situation Annegien quickly changed the strategy of Smoked Egg Europe and started looking for buyers in country and farm shops and delicatessens. In addition, they have started exploring opportunities in larger retail and supermarket stores.
Gijsbert and Annegien say they have not yet earned a cent from the sales of the eggs but are mainly paying off the investments they have made. Gijsbert: “That is also the nature of a start-up. However, from the end of 2021 we must show growth. The bank also understands that due to the pandemic, we, like many other entrepreneurs, could not immediately start to grow to meet our targets.” The couple hopes to start earning serious money in early 2022.
More than 100,000 smoked eggs have already been sold to Dutch companies. Some of the eggs go to the Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo and the online supermarket Crisp. 6 eggs in a nice box (see photo) currently cost € 2.99. They are working towards their second target of 250,000 eggs. Annegien: “We are constantly acquiring new customers. We try to visit as many events and markets as possible and let consumers taste the eggs. The products sells itself, so to speak.”
And the couple are looking further afield too. Annegien: “There is currently a business in the UK that wants to purchase a trial license. They want to smoke eggs for the British market. On top of that we know of a company in the US that wants to start offering smoked eggs, too. They are not competitors because everyone has their own clearly defined licence. In fact, it will help us. Together we will put this unique product in the market and increase brand awareness.” Gijsbert and Annegien already ran a pilot in Germany via Go2Market between June and August 2021. And with success: they are talking to several German supermarkets and are also looking at Belgium and the Scandinavian countries. Gijsbert: “But, for the time being, the Netherlands remains core market. Our target is to be able to deliver 100,000 smoked eggs every week by mid-2022.”