“I want to make Westland a little healthier”

Tholen – Traditionally, the emphasis in Westland has been on growing and exporting products. But why are these not on the plate of the Westerners themselves? Thomas Vollebregt (27) changes that: “We grow such beautiful and healthy products, but we are not very good at marketing them in the West Country itself,” he says in the August edition of the trade magazine Primeur. Westland was missing. With Mealo, I want to make Western Norway a little healthier, a fair price for the products and a healthy meal for the residents.”

From Westland to Westland
Thomas worked out the idea for Mealo during his Horticultural and agricultural education in Delft. Mealo is an online restaurant with a healthy menu that focuses on people living in Western Norway. Instead of pizzas, Chinese or chips, they can more easily choose healthy and ‘own’ products via Thuisbezorgd.nl and/or Mealo’s website. The healthy meals are made fresh daily and consist of many vegetables that are largely grown ‘around the corner’.

For example, the spicy peppers in the Poké Bowls of Mealo are sourced from his university friend Leander van Onselen, who has a nursery of more than 5 hectares of pepper cultivation. Although the majority of the hot peppers are destined for export, Leander thinks that it is ‘very nice’ that a part of them stays in Vestlandet for local consumption in this way. Another Westland supplier of Mealo is Boerengoed, an initiative that sells products from Westland growers and products through various sales points in Westland, the so-called Farmshops.

Leander van Onselen and Thomas Vollebregt

Poke Bowls
The demand for food delivery is growing strongly nationwide. Within this, Thomas sees a demand for healthy that has not yet been properly filled. “The hot meal delivery offer is primarily fast food with little health value. We consciously fill in the healthy part and that is definitely needed in Western Norway. Poké Bowls are something that is very popular in the cities and it is also one of our best-selling dishes,” says Thomas.

His belief is that the demand for healthy convenience will only increase. “You notice that there is a huge focus on healthy food. It starts at a young age. Primary school children are brought up with a focus on a healthier lifestyle. Unhealthy treats in the classroom are often no longer allowed in schools, and the Fristi package is often already taboo.”

Most people order an easy meal at the weekend, and Mealo is also very busy on those days. Thomas also experiences an increase in demand during the week. “There are already really good days in between. Some people order 2 Poké Bowls every Tuesday at the same time because, for example, they don’t have the time or desire to cook because of sports. You also see that people like to eat something easy, tasty and healthy on their birthday.”

A fresh easy meal comes with a price. “Including delivery, a meal now costs around 15 euros per person. We notice that people find our value for money good and at this price we can make a living too. We started with a meal price of 10 euros in mind, but that turned out to be impossible. That price has no relation to shopping, preparation, washing up, etc. The current price, compared to the average hourly price for a freelancer, is quickly recouped.”

The strength of Mealo is that everything is freshly made. Poké Bowls can also be prepared very well mise-en-place by cooking rice and preparing all ingredients in advance. Mealo does not. “I don’t believe in ready meals or semi-finished products. We start from scratch every time. When an order comes in for a Poké Bowl with Chicken, that’s when we go to work. When delivered, it is still lukewarm, and that makes a big difference with a Poké Bowl that comes out of the fridge.”

Flying start
Mealo got off to a flying start two years ago in corona times. He was still busy thinking about his concept when the first lockdown was announced. Thomas originally had tendency to put everything on hold. As a young entrepreneur, he didn’t want to take too many risks, but his entrepreneurial heart spoke fast and he put extra speed into it when he realized that there might be a great need for his healthy concept. It was a busy two years. When everything went back to normal and people started spending money on other things, Mealo saw demand drop a bit at the beginning of this year, but luckily the orders are currently back to the level during the coronalockdowns.

This has been achieved, among other things, through targeted marketing campaigns via social media. Thomas has 20 types of ads ready, with special messages for hot or rainy days, which he posts via Facebook and Instagram. He can turn these ads on or off on a daily basis. About two-thirds of the revenue comes from social media marketing, the rest comes in via the platform Thuisbezorgd.nl, which Mealo has joined. For a customer ordering via Thuisbezorgd.nl, the affiliated restaurants must transfer 14 percent of the order to the platform. “You won’t hear me complain about that percentage, it works very well for us because in the end it costs less than the marketing costs I have to incur myself to get customers. You can promote yourself more on the Thuisbezorgd platform for a fee, but we don’t have to. The listings that people see are based on reviews and the number of orders. We score very well in this regard, because we have a lot of satisfied customers, so we are already at the top of the list.”

Thomas sees further growth opportunities for Mealo, but also by developing healthier formulas for the delivery of hot meals. “I have enough ideas to bring to the market. The basis for this will always be fresh à la minute cooking. I want to develop further towards a single kitchen with several healthy meal concepts like Mealo, so that we can work more efficiently. I would like to outsource delivery. “Unfortunately, there is not yet a complex logistics network that I can connect to in Western Norway. Hopefully, it will come. Thuisbezorgd.nl already delivers that in many large cities,” concludes Thomas.

This article previously appeared in Issue 7/8, Volume 36 of Primeur. See www.agfprimeur.nl.

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