Student - 1 juni 2017

‘They call me the insect girl’

tekst:
Linda van der Nat

She has installed extra cupboards in her student room as storage for all her little boxes of insect snacks and pasta. Evelien Donkers is still a student but is already working for a French insect product company and trying to conquer the Dutch market.

photo Sven Menschel

Evelien Donkers sometimes takes little boxes of freeze-dried grasshoppers to birthday parties. ‘Especially if I suspect they are going to be a bit boring,’ says the MSc student of Food Technology. ‘When you put a box of insects on the table it always causes a stir.’ It has already gained her a big network. ‘They call me the insect girl.’

Donkers speaks so passionately about her fruit-and-nut bars containing mealworms, her savoury insect snacks, and her pasta made of insect flour that the only surprise is that she ended up in this job by chance. ‘For the Entrepreneurship Master’s track, I took the course called New Venture Creation, in which you have to launch your own product on the market. My idea wasn’t picked, but that of a fellow student from Italy was. She wanted to make granola bars with insects. I wasn’t very keen to do that. People started saying that insects were the food of the future ten years ago, but it still hasn’t happened so I was sceptical. But because I got on well with her, we worked together anyway.’

Starting offer

They wrote a business plan, built a website and baked bars made with insect flour in the Italian student’s oven. It went extremely well: the pair got a 9 for the course, received 5000 euros in starting capital from StartLife, and entered a competition in Denmark. Sadly, their collaboration broke down. ‘She was super-meticulous and I wasn’t. I’m not sloppy but I like to get on with things. She was very temperamental and would yell her head off at me when things didn’t go her way. I was fed up with that.’

I do everything from sales and marketing to purchasing insect flour

Meanwhile, someone who works at the French company Jimini’s had spotted their website. Donkers: ‘Jimini’s has a staff of about 20 and wanted to expand abroad. This man was doing some competitor analysis and he rang up with all sorts of questions. There was a real click so at the end of the conversation I said I still needed somewhere to do an internship and asked him to talk to his boss.’

Donkers arrived at Jimini’s headquarters in France on 14 July, a national holiday. ‘I said I wasn’t going to live in France, didn’t intend to learn French, and wanted an internship allowance of 600 euros. And I demanded a job in the company after my internship. It was my starting offer but the director said yes straightaway. I was the first food technologist at the company, and he was keen to have me. Now I take care of all the company’s marketing in the Netherlands.’

Determination

Donkers organizes tasting sessions, visits shops and speaks at conferences. ‘One day I’m handing out muesli bars at Radboud University in Nijmegen, and the next I’m talking to a big supermarket. I do everything from sales and marketing to purchasing insect flour. I’m not paid what I’m worth but I have a great deal of freedom to allocate my time as I wish.’

Now that she has found her place, Donkers is extremely ambitious. ‘I am good at networking and leading people. Eventually I want to be an associate in this company, and they know that.’ Whether she owes her determination to her years as a judoka – Donkers got a grant from the Niels Smith top sports fund – she cannot say for sure. ‘I like getting on with things. Action, not talk. The main thing I learned from judo was that nothing is impossible. Hard work got me a long way as a not particularly talented judoka because I showed my ambition and gathered the right people around me.’


Re:ageer