Turning surplus fruit into sustainable materials for leisure, lifestyle and beyond

As part of their minor on the Willem de Kooning Academy of art in Rotterdam, Hugo de Boon and Koen Meerkerk were assigned to organize a one-day event with maximum exposure. They heard that market vendors have to pay 12 euro cents per kilogram to destroy leftover fruit. This is how their sustainable concept was born. We talk with Hugo and Koen about the evolution of the fertile idea to an official business with worldwide recognition.

“Isn’t it baffling that the market vendors on Rotterdam Blaak throw away 3,500 kilograms of leftovers each day, of which a substantial part consists of fruit, and that they have to pay to get rid of it?” Hugo starts. “With our company we fight food waste and help out market vendors at the same time. Vendors were more than happy to provide us with their surplus fruit. After experimenting with turning different fruits into stylish materials in a class room, we graduated cum laude. Because of the positive reactions we decided to evolve our concept into a real business,” he continues.

Fruitful cooperation
At the beginning, they tested all kind of fruits: bananas, peaches, mangos, pineapples. They made a smoothie of the whole fruit except for the pith/stone and noticed the big differences in the characteristics of different fruits. Mango was one of the fruits with potential in terms of color and substance, so they started looking for coatings that could improve its performance. “At exactly that moment Frans van den Heuvel of Stahl reached out to us, because he was triggered by an article that appeared in a national newspaper,” Koen says. “Just a few days later we visited the Stahl headquarters for the first time and a fruitful cooperation started.”

Hugo and Koen are not reluctant to show their gratitude towards Frans. “In fact, Frans is our hero,” they emphasize. Together they tested different water-based polyurethanes to prevent stickiness and to improve characteristics such as water resistance and performance. In a short space of time impressive results were booked, for example an increased pulling force from 22 newton to 140 newton! Hugo and Koen still visit Stahl and Stahl Campus® for all tests varying from coatings and solutions to improve performance, but also for experimenting with different patterns and developing showcases for events.

Future and ambitions
The sustainable fruit materials are not on the market yet. “We want to further optimize the performance of our products before we bring them into the market,” Hugo says. Because of the showcases for, among others, the Dutch Design Week for which we created a chair out of surplus mango’s, they have been contacted by well-known international companies that are seeking for these kinds of sustainable innovations. But the duo does not want to rush things. They strive for top quality and will market their natural products when they are satisfied with their look, feel and performance. When this will be? Time will tell.

They also have big plans for the future. The initiators do not want to limit themselves to specific industries. They imagine a future where their product is just as commonly used as leather. In fashion, automotive, interior. You name it.

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