Scale-up in the spotlight: Natural Spices

What kind of Scale up is Natural Spices?

Natural Spices, a charming company that began supplying herbs and spices in 1935. Today it is an ambitious scale-up company that procures not only herbs and species but also products such as sauces and salad dressings. Natural Spices produces semi-finished products for industrial clients and finished products for B2B clients and consumers. The majority of the production is meant for ‘private label’. Think for example of the herbs and sauces on the shelves at Albert Heijn or Action. In addition to the private label production, Natural Spices also has its own consumer brand. Since the start of the corona pandemic, Natural Spices has dedicated more time and attention to their own consumer brand, which resulted in significant growth in this particular brand.

Natural Spices attaches great importance to the use of natural ingredients. Pure spices that are good for your health and that do not contain any artificial additives. Consumers also have an increasing need for this, as they are more critical of the ingredients in products and whether these products contribute to their health. Natural Spices would like to think along and respond to this trend.

“We believe you can give flavor to life, in a healthy and responsible way.” -Yvo

Owner Yvo fully believes in this philosophy. He is a big sports fanatic and is very much concerned with healthy living and healthy food. He can therefore easily convey the message of Natural Spices from a great intrinsic motivation. Taking care of one’s health is something that runs in the family of Yvo. His father Yvan Keijlewer, from whom Yvo took over the company, has already reached his retirement age, but still likes to be involved in the company. Yvan is so healthy and sporty that you certainly cannot tell that he has reached retirement age. “It’s in our blood”, Yvo explains.

How did Natural Spices get to where it is now?

As previously stated, Yvo took over the company from his father Yvan, but how did the company begin and when did Yvo start at the company? The company started in 1935 and in 1967 it was taken over by Mr Schuuman. At the end of the 90s, Yvan took over the company from Mr Schuurman. He was already familiar with Natural Spices because he owned several butcher shops that had Natural Spices as their supplier for herbs and spices. Soon after Yvan took over Natural Spices, the company moved from Amsterdam to Watergang. The period after the takeover was so successful that in 2010 the company moved to a larger business location in Mijdrecht. Yvo himself joined the company in 2005. What began as a side job as a courier during his studies, resulted in Yvo taking over the company from his father in 2008. He was able to achieve this through a loan from the bank. It was a financial risk he could take thanks to his wife’s successful business. She was able to support the family when necessary and she encouraged Yvo to take this step.

The thrill of being a scale up

“I sometimes lose sleep over the high amounts we deal with. For example, you can buy a house from the machine we recently purchased.” -Yvo

Ever since joining the company in 2005, Yvo has already taken many steps. For example, the company transformed from a trading company to a production company. Moreover, when Yvo started at Natural Spices, he saw that the current target group was shrinking. In those days, they only supplied butchers and poulterers, not supermarkets for example. Now they supply to both groups. Furthermore, when Yvo joined the company the product range of Natural Spices consisted only of herbs and spices. With the mindset of ‘not betting on one horse’, in addition to expanding the target group, the decision was made to produce a wider variety of products that include sauces and salad dressings.

“If you step on the brakes, you also slow down your business. Dare to take risks.” – Yvo

The whole transformation process, and particularly the investments involved, did cause some tension for Yvo at times. In recent years all the profits made by Natural Spices have been reinvested in the company. In order to realize the growth that has been achieved, the company has mainly invested in people and machines. Natural Spices will continue to make investments in both areas, as the ambition is to grow even further.

Scale up: don’t be afraid of big dreams

Yvo likes to set the bar high and therefore has a big dream for Natural Spices: to become a top 5 player in Europe within 10 years. That sounds like a beautiful but distant goal. Fortunately, Yvo is an entrepreneur at heart and he immediately explains to us that these 10 years are divided into years and even months with separate sub-goals. A more short-term goal, for example, is that they want to grow by 30% each year. Setting an ambitious goal and having separate goals is fully in line with the scale-up method of Verne Harnisch.

“Our dream is to become a top 5 player in Europe” – Yvo

After hearing the goals of Natural Spices, it is not surprising to hear Yvo’s answer when we ask him about his life motto: “The greatest danger in life is not that you set your aim too high and don’t achieve it, but that you set it too low and do achieve it”. It is a variant of a famous Michelangelo quote: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark”. Yvo believes that you not only become more motivated by high goals but that it also makes the road towards reaching them more fun. It gives you more challenges as an entrepreneur.

The road to the goal

Innovation. A word that is used too often nowadays, but it does describe what Natural Spices needs to focus on to become a top 5 player in Europe within 10 years. “It’s important to look at other applications of the natural raw materials we use and to improve our current products,” Yvo tells us. Serious work is therefore being done in this area. For example, Yvo recently hired an intern to do research into the trends on which Natural Spices can best focus in the future. They are looking at adding healthy ingredients such as certain fibres and minerals, but also, for example, adding extra proteins and vitamins. The aim is to make the product even healthier without compromising on taste.

“Customers expect you to think along with them. You are not only a supplier but also a partner for your customers.” – Yvo

The most important strategic pillar

Customer satisfaction is the most important strategic pillar for Natural Spices. Yvo says he wants to do more than just deliver on the promises made. He wants to surprise his customers by exceeding these promises. This is very important to Yvo as he believes that a happy customer will recommend Natural Spices to other potential customers. Of course, this part is also being worked on ambitiously. Yvo and his colleagues regularly talk to current customers to find out what they think of, for example, the delivery time, transport and communication with the customer. He now knows for example that industrial customers choose Natural Spices because of the speed of the first phase of product development, the testing of samples and the provision of feedback.

“To be able to surprise customers, you also need a very cool product, of course.” – Yvo

The barrier to BHAG

To reach the big goal (also called Big Hairy Audacious Goal in scale-up terms) of Natural Spices, there are of course a lot of steps to be taken. According to Yvo, the biggest step is the growth of the management team. At the moment the team consists of about 25 people and Yvo’s idea is that this should grow to about 100 people. The goal of the management team is to create a well-functioning management layer with which Yvo can spar well and which ultimately can take the company further.

The key ingredients of Natural Spices

The key ingredients of Natural Spices are to continuously reinvent and improve every day. Natural Spices is not a scale-up for nothing; Yvo sees a challenge in improving his company. By actively thinking along with his customers and learning from his mistakes, he ensures that his company can produce the products faster and better and that the customers are more and more satisfied.

However, a company would not be a company if nothing ever went wrong. For Yvo, an example of when something went wrong was the time when he was mainly busy working on internal matters of the company. He therefore had too little time to go outside and be in contact with customers. Consequently, the results deteriorated and Yvo took less pleasure in his work. Naturally, this had to change. In order to solve this problem, Yvo started investing in hiring new people and thus created space for himself to be active in the commercial field in particular.

When we ask him what he would do if his diary were empty for the whole week, his answer is not very surprising: “schedule appointments”. Yvo explains to us that, at the moment, his diary is always full and that he feels that it does not go well if it is empty. However, due to the busyness of recent years, he has had to find a balance between work and private life.

“As I have more freedom I can clear my head better and think about the future of Natural Spices.” – Yvo

The role of digitization at Natural Spices

‘’Digitization helps us to measure how efficient we are in other areas: cash flow, labour, production, margins, customer satisfaction, stocks, etc. It also allows us to better manage these areas. All in all, digitization makes everything easier to understand and allows us to steer better and thus achieve greater returns. But digitization goes further. Customer satisfaction is the common thread within our company. Our customers demand more and more transparency. With the aid of digitization, we are able to provide better insight into our processes (lead times) and can therefore make better plans. This planning is of great importance to our customers. Because we are also becoming more efficient in other areas, we can grow faster and better and thus realize our goals/ambitions.’’

With family, you should walk and not talk business

A good balance between work and private life is important, but how do you do that when you have a business together with your father? We wondered what Yvo thinks of the saying ‘with family you should walk and not talk business’. Yvo tells us that the saying is indeed often true. Fortunately, in his case, it is not. His father is his best friend, both in business and in private, and by now even Yvo’s wife Mari-Jon Keijlewer works for the company. A tip from Yvo: “Make sure you don’t work on the same things so that you can really take ownership of your own work.”

How Yvo and his family make each other better

Yvo’s experience shows that a lot can be learned from each other. His wife used to run her own employment agency and is therefore very strong in inspiring and guiding people, an area in which Yvo can improve according to himself. She has ensured that the ‘we’ feeling within Natural Spices has become more prevalent and that applicants are more likely to fit in with the team and the DNA of Natural Spices.

Yvo has also learned a lot from his father. They have many similar characteristics such as perseverance, stubbornness and entrepreneurship. When his father decided to sell the butcher’s shop in the late 1990s and go all-in on herbs and spices, a lot of people thought he was crazy, says Yvo. Years later, Yvo joined the company, despite his studies and promising job opportunities. Just like his father years ago, he saw the potential of the company and took the plunge. Even then, a lot of people thought Yvo was crazy. For both Yvo and his father, the great leaps into the deep have worked out very well.

“My father is a go-getter and very stubborn, just like me.” – Yvo

Entrepreneurship is a top-class sport

Most entrepreneurs would agree that entrepreneurship is a top-class sport. If Yvo had not chosen the top sport that is entrepreneurship, it would probably have been martial arts and, more specifically, boxing. Yvo has practised various martial arts since a young age and still, in addition to his busy work, he boxes every week. Boxing seems further away from business than it actually is. Boxing is a technical sport, not a simple power sport as is sometimes thought. You have to learn to anticipate and, just like in business, keep getting better. Yvo’s inspiration is Mike Tyson. Yvo has a deep respect for people who achieve great things from nothing. Whether in sport or in business.

Yvo combined his love of boxing and his success in business by setting up a foundation, together with a number of other entrepreneurs, to help young boxers, who are not so fortunate themselves, on their way. Stichting Pro-Boxing offers help to people who do not have the means to realize their dreams. Pro-Boxing provides materials and even mental support. Just helping people a little further, that is what Yvo wants.

“If you have a good business, it is nice to be able to give something back to society.” – Yvo

Yvo does not only help people with the Pro-Boxing foundation, he also participates in the Second Home initiative. The Second Home initiative gives people with disabilities the opportunity to work for a company and receive support. Yvo believes it is important that these people are not only able to work for him in the company, but that they receive proper guidance. This allows them to develop into confident colleagues and gives them a push in the right direction. “It is very cool to see the growth of these people up close”, Yvo tells us.

Advice for other scale-ups/entrepreneurs who want to digitize?

Don’t start too late 😉 . But definitely think about what you really need (MVP), do not just start digitizing because you think it’s good for your business. I started the digitization process with an Excel sheet. If you see that it works, you build on that.

Get even more inspiration

Natural Spices has kicked off this series of scale-ups in the spotlight and we are already itching to go to the next entrepreneur to get even more inspiration. And who knows better what we want to know from the next entrepreneur than an entrepreneur himself? That’s why we asked Yvo to give us a question. We will ask the next scale-up entrepreneur what drives him or her and what he or she gets out of bed for. We are curious!

Grow your scale-up during our free event

Always wanted to know how you can save time and energy by working in a data-driven way, so you can focus on the things that can really make a difference? Discover how you can grow your scale-up through digitization during our Round Table! The date of this event will be announced soon. Inspiring speakers and innovative insights will give you the right tools to reach your next growth phase. Read more information or register here.


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