Nicole Freid & Lienemijn Verploeg – HAK

Nicole Freid & Lienemijn Verploeg – HAK

Nicole Freid is the Director Marketing & Innovation and Lienemijn Verploeg is Innovation Manager at HAK, a famous household brand in preserved vegetables and pulses. The company is active in The Netherlands and a select number of European markets and is market leader in the Benelux. Over the past few years HAK has successfully launched a significant number of innovations in different styles and packaging formats, which go far beyond its current core portfolio of jars.

Main KPI’s for brand growth

Lienemijn: “The most important KPI for growth is brand penetration. We know this KPI drives our sales.” Nicole explains that HAK also looks at other underlying brand KPIs like brand salience and mental share in the category entry points HAK has identified as most important.”

Innovating to stay relevant

Nicole explains that HAK’s mission is to help people eat more vegetables and legumes by making it easier and tastier according to the principles of their ‘green’ kitchen. Their innovations need to meet this mission at all times. “Our brand needs to be mentally and physically available and remain very relevant within the accelerated way how people have changed their evening meals. It’s different from 10, even 5 years ago. Back in the ‘old days’, it was very common for everyone to have the same evening meal. Every Dutchman had about the same diet. Potatoes, vegetables and meat. Later on, other meals were added such as pasta. Nowadays, the diet is a lot more varied. The differences in cooking styles in households has increased tremendously. The offer has therefore changed substantially over the past few years.

Today, a one-size-fits-all approach no longer exists. There are a lot more moments and places where evening meals are being offered. And a lot more offer in convenience in vegetables.  Whether it is Hello Fresh, (a sister company of or within food retail. A product portfolio needs to be adapted to remain relevant across various category entry points. If you want to stay relevant, but only stick to vegetables in a jar, you do not succeed, because that jar is connected too much to traditional meals (which is still the no. 1 meal amongst a shrinking majority. However, younger, more urban consumers don’t eat this meal at all anymore) Because these meals are eaten less and less, innovation truly is a way to stay relevant in new ways of eating and new menus of consumers.”

Main source for innovation

Nicole explains that their innovations stem from a lot of different sources. “Ideas can come from a lot of different angles. Whether it is a trend someone has spotted, inspiration we found abroad, or from insights and trends we gathered from consumer research. Twice a year as a multi-disciplinary team we sit together and (re)evaluate our platforms and fill our innovation funnel. We have a good innovation cycle in place, which is managed by Lienemijn, our Innovation Manager. Having said that, I think that everyone within their own position at HAK can contribute to innovation. It’s important that everyone is aware of this. Innovation is not something solely reserved for marketing, everyone has a role to play. That’s why we give innovation trainings to all our employees.”

Lienemijn: “Every week our NPD project team sits together and takes operational decisions and gives recommendations for Go/No Go decisions by our management team. As Nicole explained, commitment of our management and involvement of every employee is important. We want to bring our innovations to the market based on our vision and strategy.”

“If we, next to the planned innovation funnel, have a spontaneous idea that fits our vision and strategy and is a great opportunity, we can act very rapidly.  We are not limited to a rigor gate stage process (which we also have). HAK is a very agile organisation which is one of our great competitive advantages.”

What makes innovations successful?

Nicole describes what it takes for an innovation to be successful. “An innovation needs to realise additional penetration for our brand and draw new customers or fulfil new needs or new category entry points. Next to that we look at profit contribution, sustainable volume and rotation. We also look at innovation through the eyes of the retailer. Does this product deserve its spot in the store? Is it unique and does it add value to the existing offer? If an NPD does not perform according to our expectations, we take it off the shelf and replace it with something else. We are continuously trying to innovate to realise an optimal relevant assortment. But to do so, you need a well-filled funnel to be able to play that game.”

Nicole: “An example of a successful innovation is our ‘pouches’ with different solutions with vegetables and pulses, which have broadened the category and drew new consumers to the category and to our brand. Our competitors have started selling similar products, so we are not the only ones who think it’s a good idea. I see this as something positive though. It results in more attention for the segment, and in our role as market leader, we need to be first mover. It’s fine when others follow, we just have to make sure we are in front at all times.”

Lienemijn: “Another example of a successful innovation is our apple sauce 0%, which has no added sugars. It’s selling like crazy as it fulfils a relevant need, and it’s clear what the product is.”

Biggest challenges and pitfalls

Lienemijn explains why some innovations fail. “At the end of the day you need to reach the consumer. New concepts that aren’t supported, won’t work most of the time.”

Nicole: “A lot of it comes down to execution. Your idea can be great, but if something in the execution goes wrong, it will still fail. Excellent product quality in line with the taste of the consumer, packaging design, place on the shelf, etc, etc needs to be exactly right. Another thing is that some innovations aren’t relevant or distinctive enough. This is something which starts with the concept development, you need to be on top of things right from the start. It’s not because we put a HAK logo on a product, and it sells. It needs to be unique, relevant and add value in the life of consumers.”

A change in habit

According to Nicole, a truly successful innovation speaks for itself, and is something that fits into the life and habit of the consumer seamlessly. The relevance must be evident from the first instant. “The best innovations are the ones that feel so obvious, you are surprised it didn’t exist before. It’s all about behavioural change, which is something that isn’t always easy to accomplish with innovation. An innovation has to connect to something they are already doing, or make it easier or better.”

Lienemijn: “The apple sauce 0% is closely connected to the existing habits of the consumer. It is strongly in line with the consumer’s need to be more aware of sugar. That makes apple sauce 0% a no-brainer and explains why it’s doing so well. The same applies for our bean dishes in pouch.”

Nicole: “I feel innovations shouldn’t aim to realise a total habit change. An example is our Bolognese dish with lentils to help people eat more pulses. Helping people to eat more pulses is not something you can accomplish with a complicated dish. You want to make that happen with something the consumer already eats. Bolognese pasta is one of the most eaten meals in The Netherlands right now. So, we thought; can’t we tweak one little thing to help people eat more pulses – with lentils instead of minced meat – and still remain closely connected to the habit of the consumer.”