Of all the African cashew nuts we eat in Europe, 90 percent are shelled in Asia. A detour of 12,000 polluting kilometers. Detour cashews? That’s got to stop, thought start-up entrepreneurs Hayo de Feijter, Roel van de Weijer and Freek Wessels. In partnership with Mama Cashew in Tanzania they decided to do something about it. Together they started a cashew hull factory in Tanzania, caught the attention of Lidl and launched the Johnny Cashew brand with which they are now conquering the cashew-loving Netherlands. So, how did they do it? (hint: DGGF Startup financing via Invest International helped along the way).
“I can say very well,” says Hayo. “The cashews from Mama Cashew’s factory in Tanzania are increasingly reaching Dutch nut fans without a 12,000 kilometres detour. Lidl are packing our cashews in Lidl ’Way to Go!’ Fairtrade packaging. And, of course, this year we launched our very own Johnny Cashew brand. The striking bright yellow bags are for sale at Pieter Pot, Gorillas and Wereldwinkels. You can also eat our cashews at cafes and restaurants and you’re likely to spot us in sustainable Christmas packaging by the end of the year. We don’t sit still! The volumes are good, so we are happy with that, but building a brand takes time.”
“Our cashews travel on average 12,000 kilometers less than most other cashews on the supermarket shelf. The nuts come here directly from Tanzania, saving 57 percent in CO2 emissions. Detour CO2 (omreis CO2 in Dutch) is our new slogan. In addition, we ensure better working conditions for the peelers and less food waste. We put all nuts in the bags, including the broken ones that are usually sold at dump prices. We also work with farmers’ cooperatives who get a better price for the nuts they grow. A win-win for everyone.”
Meet the Johnnies! From left to right: Hayo de Feijter, Roel van de Weijer and Freek Wessels.
“We have known each other for a long time and all three have a background in the food and agri-business. For example, I grew jatropha nuts in Tanzania and I had a potato and onion farm in Mongolia. One day, the question arose: why are cashew nuts shelled in a different place than where they are grown? From the farmer straight to the supermarket and then the snack board, it must be possible? You could say that Johnny Cashew originated on the proverbial beer mat, sometime in 2020. More than two years later we are in the shops and there is a real cashew peel factory in Tanzania from Mama Cashew. It’s nice, right?”
The cashew nuts still have to be shipped to the Netherlands. For this Johnny Cashew uses the Good Shipping Program, which:
“Replaces fossil fuels with sustainable variants. We will make up for any remaining emissions through a reforestation project in Tanzania by the non-profit FORLIANCE. We are going for as green as possible and are working towards a carbon positive chain.”
“No. As often happens when you focus on something, people come your way who fit an idea. We met Dutch Maria and her Tanzanian husband George who were already thinking about starting a cashew hull factory. They started Mama Cashew based on our purchase . In what used to be an empty hall, there are now 600 FTEs, mostly women, who peel the cashews every day for a living wage and good working conditions such as insurance for the family and a good lunch.”
“You can have such a good idea and be so enthusiastic, but you won’t get very far without funding. DGGF is then a very nice instrument. Previously, you’d have to knock on the door of a commercial bank for this, they would first want to see figures and know how many cashew bags have already been sold. With the start-up financing, we investigated the idea and feasibility as a starting point to set up the business.”
“The combination of Lidl, Fairtrade, and a good cooperation partner in Tanzania, and the impact that it creates, were enough ‘tick boxes’ for Invest International to help us. And this is exactly what has given us the necessary springboard for success. Especially as it takes a long time between growing, harvesting, peeling and processing cashews. It takes a while before you finally make money. Thanks to DGGF, we can grow and make an impact together.”
“We want to grow the Johnny Cashew brand and production to the next level. We are in talks with other interesting retailers. The yellow bag must spread across the Netherlands and Europe. We are also looking at how we can do business even more sustainably and we have focused all our efforts on a fair cashew chain so that everyone benefits from it. As we say on our site: towards zero CO2, zero waste and zero poverty.”Read more on Johnny Cashew