More than 20 years ago, Dmitri Peters and Jelle Schmidt, founders of JetDrinks, brought a popular American smoothie brand to the Netherlands. The smoothie was marketed as a healthy choice in the US, but back in the Netherlands, the drink turned out to contain a lot of added sugar, which is not that healthy at all. Dmitri: “We then started looking into the food industry. What effect does a product with so many additives have on you? We understand these effects better today, but back then that was not the case. A whole lot of research, seminars and documentaries later, our eyes were opened. Products like these are partly responsible for the obesity problem in the United States, and that problem is spreading to Europe. We felt something had to be done. Based on that American smoothie, we developed our own product. But this smoothie had no added sugar and was healthy. That was the starting point of our business.”

Dmitri Peters, one of the founders of JetDrinks

Organic and vegan, less sugar

JetDrinks first developed a drinks product range with less or no sugar. Then they added organic and vegan products. The company operates as an importer and wholesaler for restaurants, shops and supermarkets. “In addition to those two roles, we are also brand owners because we develop our own drinks,” Dmitri adds. It’s an unorthodox mix, but one that works. Well-known brands in the range include organic Clipper tea and the colourful BOS iced tea range. Following its success with drinks, JetDrinks also added organic, healthy and tasty snacks to its range. From crisps and nut bars to Nice’s organic ice cream.

Making an impact as a driving force

Petra Spaargaren, Senior Investment Manager at Triodos Investment Management, met Dmitri during the Biokennisweek in the Netherlands, an event that brings together innovative entrepreneurs around the topic of organic food and agriculture. She says: “I heard how versatile the company is, and what great brands JetDrinks has in its product range. Right away, there was a feeling that we wanted to work together to take the business forward. That click is important because Triodos Food Transition Europe Fund is an ‘active investor’. This means that we not only invest money, but we also have a seat on the board of the company. It’s clear to see that making an impact really drives them, from the way they communicate and establish priorities within the company.”

Dmitri explains, “We started our company to offer a better alternative to sugary soft drinks, for consumers who are open to this. Enabling conscious choices, without being pedantic.” The company also focuses on sustainability in other areas. Dmitri: “Waste is a big part of this. How do we set up logistics as efficiently as possible? How do you convince people to buy a bulk pack? What is the ideal packaging for a drink? We also ensure a smaller footprint by producing international brands locally.”

Alongside its regular business operations, JetDrinks has partnered with the Made Blue Foundation, a foundation dedicated to generating clean drinking water in developing countries. Made Blue encourages reusable water bottles but recognises that it’s sometimes not feasible to refill them due to practical or financial reasons. They saw a great opportunity to work on their mission: clean drinking water for all. They teamed up with JetDrinks to create a beautiful bottle. For each bottle you buy, you can donate 100 litres of water to a Made Blue water project of your choice. “This project is in addition to the amount of money we donate annually. Through the Made Blue project, we can expand the company and do something good at the same time.”

Petra Spaargaren, senior investment manager

Combination of portfolio and strong team

Together with the impact the company makes, a financial return is also important. Petra: “JetDrinks is a fast-growing company. It already has a solid foothold in the Dutch hospitality industry, but there is still plenty of growth possible in Belgium, and in shops and supermarkets. Within the team, we see a great interaction between the knowledge and experience of the founders and the enthusiastic professionals who are driven to make JetDrinks a success. Thanks to the combination of great brands and a strong team, we believe they will live up to their potential.”

JetDrinks is a good fit for Triodos Food Transition Europe Fund’s investment portfolio, which comprises companies from all parts of the food chain. From farmers to consumers. Petra: “As an impact investor, we are also a network and encourage mutual collaboration between companies.”

Stronger together challenging the mainstream

When asked about the kind of customer JetDrinks has, Dmitri replied, “Companies, bars and restaurants that are both concerned about the future and want to stand out in terms of their product range. They are no longer content with the same standard package offered by the big food giants but want good quality drinks and snacks. That’s where we help. We monitor international trends and make suggestions that differ from anything big brands can offer. For example, coconut water, kombucha or drinks containing CBD (cannabidiol). We do this for well-known retail chains like Bagels & Beans as well as for a local business owner with an organic-oriented beach cafe. What do they have in common? They are all companies that want to take a step forward.”

Petra sees a unique selling point in JetDrinks strategy. “The large multinationals selling well-known soft drink brands have an incredibly strong presence in the food sector. Small drinks producers find it hard to make inroads into this established sector due to long-standing relationships. JetDrinks combines the strengths of small brands and acts as an extension of the companies thanks to their experience and network. This increases the likelihood of success in challenging big companies and bringing about positive innovation within product ranges.”

Increasing impact through growth

But there is a challenge looming. The rise in raw material prices also affects the prices in JetDrinks’ range. Dmitri: “We try to keep prices as low as possible, but that has become more difficult. We want to avoid a situation where people stop choosing to buy organic because it’s too expensive.” Triodos Food Transition Europe Fund’s investment should certainly help to strengthen its position in the Netherlands. “Our ambition is to continue to increase the number of outlets and to grow the company in Belgium. The investment also allows us to increase our sustainable ambitions, such as making an even larger part of our range organic. We now look much more critically at the brands we add to our product range than we did a few years ago.”

JetDrinks is an importer, distributor and brand owner at the same time.

JetDrinks’ plans are in line with Triodos Food Transition Europe Fund’s own ambitions. Petra: “We want to grow as a fund and add more companies to increase our impact even further. At the same time, we support the current companies in our investment portfolio like JetDrinks and help them become bigger and more sustainable. One nice development is that we started measuring CO2 emissions from our portfolio last year. Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but it is good to illustrate in numbers how we are making the world a bit more sustainable every day.”

This article was originally published in Dutch in the Kleur van Geld.