3 Star Baker Chris Vreugdenhil on Vacuum Cooling
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 'OKAY' AND 'EXCELLENT'
Together with his brother Gerard, Dutch baker Chris represents the fourth generation of the Vreugdenhil family that has been running a wonderful, as well as artisan, bakery business in Maasdijk in Zuid-Holland. For years, Vreugdenhil has been one of the best bakeries in the Netherlands, receiving several awards. The first—now one of the nine in the Netherlands—three-star bakery shows an enormous amount of passion that keeps motivating them to reach ever higher. The Vreugdenhil motto of 'not bigger or more, but better' is lived up to every day as they strive to improve quality. And customers appreciate that. On an average Saturday, the cash register in Maasdijk does many hundreds of transactions. Part of the success can be attributed to the application of Vacuum Cooling in the production.
Biggest Fan Makes the Product
'Each of the almost 1,100 products that are made here has at least one super fan. If none of us actually truly like the product, we can't put maximum amounts of love into it—so we don't make it. One example is banana bread. It's a very trendy product right now, seemingly as a result of the popularity of healthy alternatives to unhealthy food, but it hasn't given us that 'wow' feeling. That means we won't be selling it,' explains Chris.
'And 'roggeknar' (a rye bread variant with wheat in it). It's not one of my favourites, but my dad Jan loves it, so he makes it. In addition to his family, the business is my father's 4th child. He doesn't actually need to work any more, but he still is here a lot. Simply because he loves it. He was highly driven, a passionate, competitive baker. He passed his passion down to us in our DNA.'
Not bigger or more, but better
'We adopted my father's policy: you don't always need more, but you can always do better. That's our strength, but it's a possible pitfall as well. Throughout my career, I've never had a day when we said, "Now everything is perfect." That's our mindset when we spend months training for a competition—and I do mean actual training and top competition—to know that we prepared perfectly. However, when the day comes, we still have to perform, and the result will still always be a natural product. Those are never 100% predictable. That has taught us to never be satisfied and to always look for ways to improve. That mindset has won us many awards: locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. We were the first bakery in the Netherlands to receive the maximum of three stars, and we've been the only bakery to keep these three stars since they were introduced in 2011.'
Best 'Ontbijtkoek' in the Country
Vreugdenhil earned the title 'best product of the Netherlands' for a variety of products. Gerard is part of the National Boulanger Team. They have won European awards and will be competing for the World Cup next year. One of the most remarkable awards was the one for the best 'Ontbijtkoek', or 'breakfast cake'. It's a typically Dutch product, or more specifically a typically Northern Dutch product. In its history, the award had never left the North. 'My father, however, has spent ten years preparing and developing improvements to this product. When we first got the Vacuum Cooling system, it helped improve the product by two classification grades. It resulted in a first prize, which we won last year. That meant the trophy had to be moved from the North to the West, where it is on display now.'
About Vacuum Cooling
'We really embraced Vacuum Cooling, and we're very excited about it. Everyone can achieve 60-70% quality, but it's that last 10-15% that determines the difference between just okay and excellent. When we first heard about this technology, we wanted to learn more. The difference we saw it make was just incredible. The visible effect sort of depends on the product group, but in general you could say that, by using this technique and employing this technology correctly, you get a bigger return on the same investment. We truly consider ourselves an ambassador for the Vacuum Cooling & Baking Company, part of the Verhoeven family, which also includes specialised businesses such as BVT and NewCap.'’
Chris adds a few examples of advantages per product:
'Sourdough fruit buns, a 100% sourdough-based product. The dried ingredients, such as sunflower seeds and dried fruit, tend to inhibit the formation of the end product. Using Vacuum Cooling, it's possible to create a nice and fluffy product.
Cake becomes smoother, gets more volume, and has a longer shelf life. You can also notice the difference in bread in the form of of better stability, more volume as a result of better structure. As a consumer, it also means that the experience of freshness is extended from two or three days to four or five days because moisture is distributed better.
There is another big advantage for us as bakers: a loaf of bread can now be taken from the oven at 7:45 AM and sliced for customers at 8:00 AM. Normally, it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to cool first. That saves you a lot of time.'
Does that mean that bakers can finally sleep in longer? 'No,' he laughs. 'We've just gotten a bit busier. One time, when we were renovating, we had to shut down the Vacuum Cooling system for a few days. Believe it or not, we immediately received complaints about products that weren't as good as they normally were and that didn't stay fresh as long.'
When you're on top, everyone wants a piece. That's something Vreugdenhil has certainly experienced. The company has often been approached for partnerships, franchising, or use of its successful products. 'We know who we are and what we want. At some point, retail and restaurant businesses started asking us to become a supplier. An honourable request. And an understandable one from their side, since our products are certainly worth it. But it's a different ball game. Our focus is on the consumer, with quality and service. That's what we're comfortable with. We could have opened twelve additional locations if we wanted, but that would have meant shifting our focus. We want to cherish what we have and continue to aim at improving that.'
Daughter Lise can be found in the shop all day long and likes to be a part of everything. Son Ben is in school. Will they be the next generation? 'Our parents never pressured us, but when both my brother and me said we wanted to go into the business, they were of course proud. That's our attitude too. If they want it, we would love that, but you need to have the same passion to be able to do it.'
Bakkerij Vreugdenhil, Maasdijk / Zuid-Holland
Founded in 1923
The fourth generation:
Chris and Linda, Gerard and Ellis Vreugdenhil
Number of employees: about 40
3-star bakery since 2011
Awarded many titles on local, regional,
national, and international level
For more information about Vacuum Cooling:
Vacuum Cooling & Baking Company