Redefining the meaning of fast food in the Netherlands, Anouk Snelders hopes Health Food Wall will become the new normal in hospitals, universities and offices across Europe.
“I seek to blur the line of fast food — an easy and affordable, but unhealthy option – and make that option healthy. So people don’t have to choose anymore,” explains Anouk Snelders, founder and CEO of Health Food Wall.
The company, founded in 2018, supplies those seeking for a quick, nutritious fix, with whole, vegan and vegetarian options. Its automats and smart fridges have taken the popular concept of FEBO (automated vending machines) in the Netherlands, and turned it into an opportunity to nourish an evermore-busy society correctly.
Vegan for health, non-vegan for health
Snelders grew up in the Netherlands but only discovered her passion for health after a gap year in the US. “I gained quite a bit of weight there, so when I returned, I started to live a really healthy lifestyle,” she says. On a mission to help others with similar health journeys, she got a degree in nutrition and dietetics in Amsterdam.
The Health Food Wall owner worked as a chef in various vegetarian restaurants and a manager in health food stores throughout the country. All the while she followed a strict diet consisting of raw vegan, gluten-free cooking, which she found eye-opening. “It was amazing to really explore cooking in a totally different way.”
Unfortunately, this life came to an abrupt ending when Snelders suddenly found herself bed-ridden with itching skin and unusual joint pain. After a visit to the ER, the entrepreneur left diagnosed with B6 intoxication — a disorder only really found in highly athletic people.
“I felt betrayed by my body,” she says. Though health was the main reason behind going vegan, Snelders had to return to being an omnivore for the same reason. Now 80% vegan, she tries to “listen to her body”, consuming only whole foods, which sometimes include fish, eggs and yoghurt.
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Flipping the FEBO empire
Working in a vegetarian restaurant in August 2017, Snelders witnessed firsthand the sudden spike in home delivery and health concepts like Hello Fresh. But even this didn’t ensure healthy options were faster than fast food. She questioned: “Why can’t healthy, vegan food be as easy as fast food?”
Observing the rise in FEBO consumption in the Netherlands, fuelled by a growing trend in convenience, the entrepreneur discovered that a healthy alternative was yet to enter the market. “That blew my mind,” she notes.
The Health Food Wall seed was now planted, but Snelders explains that convincing others to believe in her same goals with no proper proof or plans was the hardest obstacle to overcome. She believes that being a young female businesswoman, who hadn’t “earned her stripes” in the business world either also put a lot of people off. But she gathered funds from family and friends, and her first pop-up shop was soon established. “After that, it just took off.”
Alongside the shops, the company offers offices, hospitals and now even universities the option to buy locker automats and smart fridges to feed their employees and students 24/7. These fit into any buildings, and are operated through online and app-services. Data is fed back to the company through these services, highlighting the options that are most popular, ensuring every customer’s tastes are fully attended to.
Health Food Wall offers an array of menu items, including breakfasts like smoothie bowls and lemon cheesecake pods, lunches like wraps, and snacks ranging from brownies and to banana bread to energy balls and juices. Every meal is sealed with lockable lids, guaranteeing a no-spill experience, and as they strive for biodegradable packaging, Health Food Wall will be healthy for people and the planet alike.
While Snelders had an unfortunate experience with veganism, she believes it is possible to follow the diet completely healthily. She wants health to be at the forefront of everyone’s food choices, especially for those who don’t have the time to plan their meals — which is why hospitals, offices and universities are Health Food Wall’s main target clients.
The company opened its first location in Radboud University this year and are receiving a lot of positive data there. Snelders says some of the purchases have even occurred at 1am and on weekends.
Despite this, the entrepreneur’s biggest surprise was discovering that the company’s main market was not younger, “more conscious” people, but actually office employees going for convenient, quick fixes.
Like many businesses, Health Food Wall hit a bump in the road when the pandemic struck. Snelders comments on the two types of lifestyle Covid-19 has incited: “It’s more divided than ever. On one hand, there is that urge to have a cosy moment, making people choose unhealthy options. On the other, you’re not hitting the gym as often and want to take care of yourself and your immune system, so you choose healthy.”
‘Sustainability is not a goal to be reached, but a way of thinking’
Snelders sees a bright future for her company. With some hot leads in Belgium, and a partnership with one of the biggest coffee chains in the Netherlands, the CEO hopes Health Food Wall will soon be nourishing employees, hospital workers and students throughout Europe.
Though she says Covid-19 means business owners like herself are living life month-to-month more than ever, she hopes to sell the company to a really passionate candidate in about 10 years’ time.
With firsthand experience in founding a start-up, Snelders wants to be there for people the way she wished others had supported her. Health Food Wall tries to partner with small start-ups like Meet Jack, which align with the company owner’s vision of making lives healthier and better through sustainable, plant-based concepts.
She lives by this pledge: “Sustainability is not a goal to be reached but a way of thinking, a way of being, a principle we must be guided by.”