Wessanen was founded in 1765 by Adriaan Wessanen and his cousin Dirk Laan on the banks of the River Zaan, just north of Amsterdam. Starting out as a small family business, they were trading in all sorts of seeds, especially mustard and canary seeds. Keeping canaries as pets became very popular among Dutch people around this time, and Wessanen and Laan spotted an opportunity in the market.
After the first hundred years in 1865 the company employed about 100 people.It remained in the hands of the family and kept the ‘Wessanen & Laan’ name until well into the twentieth century. By then, it had become a much larger, international business with its own production facilities, consisting mostly of the typical Dutch windmills. The company established itself as something of a trailblazer. In 1913, Wessanen was awarded a royal warrant for its significance to the Netherlands and became known as ‘NV Wessanen Koninklijke Fabrieken’ (NV Wessanen Royal Factories). Around the 1920s Wessanen’s product portfolio included all sorts of grains and seeds, rice, cocoa, margarine and cheese. The company fared well even during the economic crisis of the 1920s and provided a number of social benefits to its workers (for example, subsidised food and holiday homes).
During World War II, the focus was on keeping as many workers in employment as possible to prevent them from being sent to German labour camps. The second half of the twentieth century saw a period of rapid expansion, diversification and internationalisation. Categories such as meat, dairy, baked goods, ice cream and even alcohol were added to the portfolio. In addition to production, trading and wholesale activities as well as consumer-focused brands and products came to account for a larger share of the business. Between 1972 and 2003, Wessanen acquired a few dozen companies, both in Western Europe and the United States. Although Wessanen always remained in the food industry, it became clear that the business was too complex and lacked focus and synergies.
Moving into the twenty-first century, Wessanen’s new core business and future direction started to become clear. Observing some of the great challenges facing the world, the company noted the trend of consumers turning to healthier and more environmentally-friendly products. It made a series of acquisitions and built a strong core portfolio of healthy and sustainable, mostly organic companies and brands. At the same time the company decided to initiate a large-scale divestment process and reduce its business to a much smaller but healthier core of future-focused activities. More sustainable food companies were added to the Wessanen family in recent years, in time for our 250th anniversary
With the last non-core activities having been sold in 2015, the company now is only active in healthy and sustainable food. Wessanen’s mission is healthier food, healthier people, healthier planet. The modern-day Wessanen has, in many ways, reconnected with its original green roots. We consider ourselves a family of people and businesses that share the same values and want to change the world of food for the better. We strive to encourage more and more people to switch to foods that have been produced with respect for people and planet. Fortunately, more and more consumers share our view. And while nobody can predict how the world will develop, we are confident that our 250-year-old business can look forward to a bright future.