Annually, Nijsen processes some 100,000 tonnes of food processing industry by-products into animal feed, plus another 60,000 tonnes of agricultural by-products. The company transforms a remarkable range of food waste, ranging from broken cookies to candy and nuts into circular pig and poultry feed. Unlike other feed producers, who produce from demand and determine how much they want to stockpile and then order the necessary ingredients, Nijsen operates based on the residual streams it receives. In total, about 2,500 different product streams are managed, each with its delivery method and packaging, such as crates, pallets, or containers. Nijsen also processes those packaging materials, converting them into energy.

400,000 to 500,000 kilograms per day
Because it involves 'fresh' products, Nijsen must be able to process all these different input streams quickly and efficiently, as the shelf life decreases almost by the minute. Automation is indispensable for this, not only for traceability but also for making the right processing decisions. With daily deliveries of about 400,000 to 500,000 kilograms, it is an extremely complex process. The only thing that is unequivocally certain is the end product that Nijsen produces for its customers: mixed animal feed.

Impossible to manage that variety of inputs without data. The ideal for the future: the 'Autonomous Factory,' a human-free factory that is data-driven and delivers measurable results for every customer. "Our customers don't want things or services, but results," says Van der Velden. "It's about an 'outcome economy,' a data-driven economic model based on sustainable value creation." No longer thinking in chains but in closed circles, Value Circles, built on mutual trust.

Nijsen DF Food Value Circles

Animal feed with the lowest carbon footprint in the world
About 8 years ago, Nijsen shifted its focus. The company wanted to be able to make animal feed with the lowest carbon footprint in the world. That meant a business model shift. A feed company's traditional primary customer is the farmer. Nijssen's decision and ambition focused the company on the entire supply chain as an ecosystem. The company processes leftovers from manufacturers and supermarkets, turn them into animal feed that then becomes meat products for those same manufacturers and retailers. In doing so, it can reduce the carbon footprint of each link in that chain, as governments, NGOs and customers want. "We are at the beginning of the chain to the retailer," says John Geurts. And therefore Nijsen is also very well positioned to reduce the carbon footprint in the chain with measurable results.

A brief reminder: everything a retailer or producer can influence in terms of CO2 emissions falls under Scope 1 (e.g. the fossil fuel powering the machinery or its electrification). The carbon emissions of the logistics chain fall under Scope 2, and the CO2 emissions of suppliers in the chain are under Scope 3. Of a retailer's emissions, 75% are under Scope 3. Add to this the fact that the food system accounts for a quarter of global carbon emissions, and animal production accounts for 15%, and the importance of reducing emissions is clear.

Circular animal feed
With the concept of circular animal feed, Nijsen can theoretically reduce Scope 3 emissions to zero. The Netherlands in particular, with its large food processing industry, offers plenty of opportunities to produce meat and eggs with feed that is no longer grown on fields. The Netherlands - but the same goes for Flanders - can become a major producer of fieldless animal protein for local consumption. After all, if you can feed animals with residual streams instead of imported soy and grains, and also use the manure from livestock farming for your own production, a food system is created that reduces both CO2 emissions and food waste and also provides useful manure for growing kale, potatoes, lettuce, wheat, rye and barley.

Circulating such a system is not possible without data or artificial intelligence if you also want to communicate transparently about it with buyers such as processors and retailers or consumers For that, circular animal feed is too complex an issue.

Three data streams
To substantiate your claims, you must be able to support them, says Karel van der Velden. So, you have to start by collecting data on the farm. The existing technology of ear tags plays a major role in this. It provides information about the animal, what happens to such an animal, and the environment in which it is kept. With that data, you can not only calculate carbon footprints but also help the farmer improve his management, for example, with precision farming or optimising his processes based on the data he already has collected from sensors and tags.

The second important data stream is raw materials. To determine the Scope-3 impact of Nijsen products, the company needs to know which raw materials it uses and how they were produced. After all, every raw material has a certain carbon footprint that depends on the steps required to arrive at the final product. Think about ploughing, sowing, fattening, irrigating, harvesting and the amount of energy required to do so. And then consider the processing steps, for example from milling flour to baking bread. The part of the yield intended for human food has a higher value than the by-products intended for animal feed. Data keep those two uses apart.

The third data stream is the final 'menu' that the animals are served. Animal feed producers like Nijsen know exactly what nutrients each animal needs. A farmer can therefore feed his pigs with 7 or 8 types of feed, depending on their life stage. To ensure that the animal feed meets all these needs, Nijsen must analyse and test the incoming natural resources at the nutritional level. Not only in the laboratory but also in living animals (e.g. how is the digestion and absorption of nutrients).

Based on a table with all nutritional data and nutrient information, the final animal feed mix is ​​then compiled. If a feed contains 35% wheat, nutritionally that component can break down into as many as 80 nutrients with all the data from that determining the final carbon footprint..

If we truly make the supply chain circular, it creates value for itself, and everyone benefits
A difference of 100 kilo in CO2 emissions per pig
"To get a meat pig from 25 kilos to 95 kilos slaughter weight," says Van der Velden, "we compared 4 different feed mixes. Mash (wet feed), traditional pig feed with soy, residual stream feed with soy, and residual stream feed without soy. Each has a different CO2 footprint. The climate impact of the traditional feed amounted to 217 kilos of CO2 emissions. The circular animal feed without soy amounted to 102 kilos. Just the animal feed that a farmer uses can thus make a difference of over 100 kilos of CO2 emissions."

That's what Nijsen is aiming for. By feeding animals circularly, the CO2 impact of animal products can be reduced by about half. Van der Velden: "It's about how can we make food production as efficient as possible but especially about what WE can contribute to it." Geurts adds: "We keep talking about chains, while we should be talking about circular. If we truly make the supply chain circular, it creates value for itself, and everyone benefits."

The battle for residual streams
Residual streams are not unlimited. That means that the amount of animal products that can be produced from this CO2-beneficially stream is limited. On top of that, competition for residual streams and by-products has intensified. Businesses - especially after the 2021 gas crisis - are keen to use them to ferment or as biomass in energy supply. Moreover, there are initiatives to turn these streams directly back into humane food, e.g. in the form of biscuits made from spent grain or fresh bread baked with the addition of stale bread. That goes directly from waste stream back to the bakery.

This is why Nijsen is looking at ways to still be able to upcycle unused, low-value streams into animal feed. For instance, 30 years ago, after the mad cow disease outbreaks, animal meal was banned in animal feed. Nijsen is now investigating whether certain residual streams with nutritional qualities can still be used in the animal feed chain.

Fish from the air scrubber and rejected Haribo's
Another example is the protein transition. In a small-scale pilot, Nijsen is working on producing so-called single cell proteins. From a low-quality waste product, 'air scrubber water' from a pigsty, that contains nitrogen, the carbon from rejected sweets (think Haribo gummy bears) and syrup - full of sugars - they produce proteins that are qualitatively as good as fish proteins. But without any fish involved. And also important: local. Because the more you process locally, the smaller the impact.

From cost item to business model
CO2 reduction is currently the most important motivator for Nijsen's customers. Legislators require them to reduce their emissions. Too bad really, because the business model of this particular feed mill is thus a basically a cost, rather than a positive production process that, for example, produces fish without catch and suffering.

A few million in free publicity
Nijsen's typical customer is no longer just the pig farmer or chicken farmer. Retailers, food processors and out-of-home companies can also create new value based on data streams. The best example? "The producer of the world's most sustainable egg - Kipster - calculated that he owed €3 million in free publicity to our circular feed," says Geurts not without pride.