How Van Drunen Farms is Truly Serving Its Customers

June 4, 2021
In today's special bonus episode of the Food For Thought podcast, we're talking with Brendan Kesler, an innovation strategist with Van Drunen Farms about consumption habits surrounding fruits and vegetables.

Van Drunen Farms grows, manufactures, researches, and creates whole-food-based ingredients for food and nutrition brands all over the world. We recently sat down with Brendan Kesler, an Innovation Strategist at Van Drunen Farms, to talk about what Van Drunen Farms is doing to help its customers meet consumer expectations through its TruServ program.

The following is an excerpt of our conversation. To hear the full conversation, listen below to the full episode. 


Food Processing: Your background is in nutrition science. Often within this industry, nutrition equates to the Dietary Guidelines. Can we dig into the most recent guidelines; what observations have you found or seen with what American eating habits are like?

Brendan: There are a couple of primary themes that we can unpack regarding the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. The first is that the USDA heavily emphasizes nutrient density and even titled the document "Make Every Bite Count.” This reflects the deepening connection between the foods we eat every day and our overall health. The other thing that we see emphasized in the new version of the USDA Dietary Guidelines is that nutritional needs vary by life stage.

We also see the USDA recommending that we increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables. This is a really key area of interest for Van Drunen Farms. The actual recommendations will vary by life-stage, but on average, adults should be eating around 2 cups of fruit per day. We’re seeing that 80% of the population still does not consume this serving recommendation. When we move to the vegetables, that's actually even a little bit worse. On average, we should be consuming about 2.5 cups a day, and we see that 90% of the population is still not consuming enough vegetables. So, these are pretty staggering numbers that we see that we need to do something fairly drastic to increase fruit and vegetable consumption across the American diet.

When we under-consume really core things like fruits, vegetables, whole grains as well, we also we end up having shortfalls of very specific nutrients. As a food industry, we should also be focused on how can we play a role in designing foods that contain these nutrients and can help consumers meet these gaps.

Food Processing: How has pandemic had an impact on Americans and how they're consuming fruits and vegetables?

Brendan: Data from Mintel provided interesting insights into the consumer response for COVID-19. Data shows that Americans want to consume more fruits and vegetables. This probably reflects a continued deepening understanding of the connection between diet and health.

Americans have also started to connect their immune health with the type of foods they eat. According to Mintel, we see that the pandemic prompted more North American consumers to try to eat more fruits and vegetables reflecting stronger awareness link between the quality of their diet and their overall health.

Food Processing: What have you found has prevented consumers from eating their fruit and vegetable serving recommendations?

Brendan: There are a variety of studies that have been done on this, and there are a few things that the public health research calls out. One is lack of accessibility to fruits and vegetables. Second, is a higher cost associated with fresh fruits and vegetables and certain fruit and vegetable-based products. There is a fair amount of nutritional confusion about what we should eat. And lastly, researchers cite inconvenience or ‘time poverty’ as being core problem for the American public.

Food Processing: Let’s pivot to something specific to Van Drunen Farms, and that's TruServ. Can you explain what TruServ is?

Brendan: TruServ is a program Van Drunen Farms created to help processors make it easier for people to consume fruits and vegetables.

TruServ starts with Van Drunen Farms' expertise in fruit and vegetable dehydration. When we remove the moisture from fruits and vegetables, we're enabling them to become more shelf-stable and more versatile. We're transforming them into dehydrated pieces and powders so they can be used in all types of food and nutrition applications.

Guest Profile: Brendan Kesler

Brendan Kesler is the Innovation Strategist for Van Drunen Farms and FutureCeuticals. He holds an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a graduate degree in Health Administration from Florida Atlantic University. He is also currently pursuing additional graduate research studies in human nutrition and has research interests in nutritional epidemiology, global malnutrition, and the health benefits associated with fruit and vegetable consumption. With 15 years in the Consumer Health and Nutrition Industry, Brendan has also served on leaderships teams at global healthcare and popular wellness brands.

Because we have extensively studied our agricultural supply chain, we've been able to create a proprietary database where we understand the fresh equivalency of dehydrated fruit or vegetable that we've produced. We understand the fresh equivalency of our dehydrated fruit and vegetable products and we can make the connection back to the USDA database. This creates a real connection for brands when making serving claims for the fruit and vegetable ingredients they buy from Van Drunen Farms.

Food Processing: What prompted Van Drunen Farms to create it?

Brendan: Brands and formulators were looking for ways to substantiate the fruits and vegetables that they were using in their formulations. We saw an opportunity to showcase our dedication to transparency throughout the supply chain as well as our expertise in manufacturing. We saw the opportunity to link our fresh-to-dry ratios to the USDA, which led us to be able to support brands in their goal of making real fruit and vegetable serving claims.

Consumers were also demanding this type of transparency, as well as looking for products that met the changes of their eating patterns. Our creation of the TruServ program reflects changes to consumer eating patterns that we've seen fairly consistently over the past couple of decades. For instance, consumers want to be able to flip over a package and they want to be able to pronounce the ingredients and understand what's in a product. This has resulted in brands shifting toward more whole food ingredients that are very easy for consumers to understand.

Food Processing: What kind of applications can formulators create with TruServ?

Brendan: One of the main things I love about TruServ is how versatile it is. Processors can use TruServ about anywhere they’re creating a food or nutrition product and want to showcase the whole, real fruits and vegetables they're using.

Some of the most common applications for TruServ are focused on producing shelf-stable, on-the-go formulations; things like ready-to-mix beverages. We also see every possible type of convenience food, whether it's cereals or snacks or food bars, and the whole gamut of nutritional supplements.

Food Processing: Could it be customized to deliver unique or specific serving or piece claims?

Brendan: Yes, absolutely. Brands love customization and we really try to work as an extension to our partner's R&D teams. We try to join them in their research and development efforts and in their product formulation efforts. We want to understand their unique formulation goals, so we can work with them to help them achieve those goals. For example, if they want to formulate a smoothie or a food bar that perhaps it delivers one or two whole real servings of fruits and vegetables, we can formulate a custom blend specific to their needs.

We also get requests to help with specific applications, sensory, or cost targets. We want to partner with brands and to be an extension of their R&D teams. The goal is to partner with them to understand what they're trying to achieve and what they’re trying to deliver to their consumers. We're more than happy to fully customize everything to meet their needs.

Food Processing: If someone wanted to get in contact with the team at Van Drunen Farms to learn more about TruServ, how could they go about it?

Brendan: Visit our website vandrunenfarms.com, where there’s an easy way to contact us through our website if you're not in touch with Van Drunen Farms already.

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