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Conquering the world with local herbs

The mission of Hrbs is to make local food accessible to city dwellers all over the world. Founders Nina Sickenga, Tessa Duste and Philip van Traa have already conquered the Dutch market with their service model for fresh herbs, crops and sprouts. Now, Hrbs wants to move into foreign markets. Denmark and Iceland, to be precise.

Several years ago, Hrbs received a Starters International Business (SIB) voucher from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency for individual coaching. Together with a consultant, the company examined the possibilities of expanding abroad. 'Our company was still young at the time and it was actually too early for us. We did not want to rush into it,' Ms Duste says.

Clarifying goals

Ms Sickenga continues, 'Thanks to the coaching process, however, we did start to schedule hours to work on our foreign ambitions. After all, you want to make the most of your time with a coach. Normally, you tend to be too busy with your daily activities to set that kind of time aside. It has helped us clarify our goals.'

Realising international dreams

Now that Hrbs is an established company, Ms Sickenga and Ms Duste feel the time is right to realise their international dreams. Once again, they asked the Netherlands Enterprise Agency for support and received a grant for demonstration projects, feasibility studies and investment preparation projects (DHI). In addition, Hrbs was recently one of the winners of the Oranje Handelsmissiefonds (trade mission fund). The DHI grant allows the company to examine the feasibility of attracting foreign investments for their herb service. 'Through the Handelsmissiefonds, we are receiving a year's worth of help to make our foreign expansion a success. This includes airline tickets and expert advice,' Ms Sickenga explains.

A foothold in other countries

Iceland and Denmark were easy choices for Hrbs. 'We already had our foot in the door,' Ms Sickenga says. 'In Iceland, we are already working on an assignment with our other company, MOSS, a green architecture agency. In Reykjavik, we are working on a green oasis for a Biodome – a covered, green meeting place. The client wanted to branch out into local food outlets and asked for our help once again.'

In Denmark, Hrbs was approached by a group of entrepreneurs wishing to set up a Danish franchise. Ms Sickenga, 'This appealed to us, because they already know the market. If you already have a foothold in a country, it is easier to do business there. It helps if you have contacts who know the local culture.'

Expanding abroad

'We have been very active in publicising the fact that we want to expand abroad,' Ms Duste recounts. 'Because we submitted grant applications and participated in the Oranje Handelsmissiefonds, we can now take steps in this direction. If we had simply looked around in silence, we wouldn't have made any progress at all.'

The talks are still young, but Ms Sickenga and Ms Duste feel positive. Ms Sickenga, 'You can never be 100% sure that things will succeed abroad. In the meantime, we must also make sure that our base in the Netherlands remains stable. In the long term, however, it remains our ambition to make local food accessible to all city dwellers worldwide.'