How Twente entrepreneurs find foreign countries

”There is a mega opportunity for Enschede here”

Robbert Oude Luttikhuis heads up MetaChef, an international publisher of interactive 3D visual resources for the food industry and education. He hopes to bring regional companies and study programmes along in the digital transition by working closely with them. ”We want to grow our innovative 3D visual resources into the next big thing, from here in Enschede.”

Robbert Oude Luttikhuis (29) brings up a lifelike 3D model of a calf’s carcass on his computer. The model was made by his company MetaChef for the VanDrie Group, a Dutch company and global market leader in veal. “VanDrie Group customers use this model to purchase certain parts of a calf”, he explains. “But the model is also used for training and education, at the butcher’s trade course, for example. Because a 3D model is very visual, it is easy to show how the different parts fit together.”

MetaChef has even created a virtual ‘product identification table’, especially for the butcher’s trade course. “Before, there was only physical identification of the technical meat sections, but students can now use virtual reality glasses to complete assignments on product identification anywhere.” It is more efficient, easier, and less costly.

Digital steaks

As well as 3D images for education, the tech company from Enschede also creates 3D images of food products and packaging for industry and education. These digital steaks, apples, breads, chocolate bars, and other edible products can be used by professionals in the agri and food sectors to put their stories across to customers and consumers even better.

The companies MetaChef works for are located in the Netherlands and abroad, such as the Dutch sauce brand Remia, the Swiss chocolate manufacturers Barry Callebout Group, and Lindt. When it comes to education, the company focuses on various practical courses, including the SVO vocational course Food, the Zone.college, and the Alfa College.

MetaChef, founded in 2020, is an initiative by DiDutch and Het Foodatelier. The latter, established in 2000 by Robbert’s father Marc, has been around the longest. This company made strategic marketing plans for the food industry, quickly joined by product development and consumer research. DiDutch came about in 2012, after a move to new premises at the Roombeek in Enschede. It is an industrial design agency led by Robbert’s brother Bart. Nowadays, there are three companies under Digital Food Factory’s roof.

Smarter, easier, and more efficient

The idea for MetaChef came from Bart, who graduated as a mechanical engineer from the University of Twente and built his career at development departments at Vredestein and Porsche. “He said: the way product development is done here, it can be done much smarter, easier, and more efficient”, Robbert remembers. Bart was referring to the fact it is actually quite inefficient to develop an entire physical mock-up of a mushroom burger or confetti profiteroles to show the client before starting the real work. 

The Oude Luttikhuis family was not completely unfamiliar with 3D. DiDutch had been designing digital 3D models of packaging for years. All that was essentially missing was the food products themselves in 3D. Robbert explains there was a reason for this. “What makes it so complex is that food products are organic, light-permeable, and have glints and shine. This is difficult to reproduce in 3D.”

The brothers did manage it, thanks to a unique combination of three factors: the wealth of knowledge about food brought by the Foodatelier, the technical know-how from DiDutch, and the great links with the market. The team of 3D artists, programmers, and designers has already garnered a collection of thousands of 3D models of vegetables, fruit, bread, pastas, and packaging, and this collection keeps growing at the Digital Food Factory in the historical Menko tower at the Roombeek.

A mega opportunity for the region

MetaChef also has close ties with Saxion university of applied sciences. Many game design students find themselves in internships or taking part in graduation projects at the company. “This course works with technology we also use”, says Robbert. “But before they can start work with us, they have to complete a training programme first, to get that ‘food mindset’. They can develop games, but they should really learn how to apply this technology in food too.

Robbert plans to deepen the collaboration with Saxion - among others - in this area. “There is a mega opportunity here for Enschede and the available courses. If they respond to the demand for broader training for students, they will be equipped with many more opportunities. The technology of game design is already applied in various sectors, such as fashion, cosmetics, interiors, and construction, and the demand for it will only increase in the next few years.”

This could help Twente far beyond the region, and even across the borders, with positioning and image, as food products are virtually the same the world over, and all these companies will have to join in the digital transition. ”We want to grow our innovative 3D visual resources into the next big thing, from here in Enschede. That is why we are seeking those partnerships with educational institutions and companies. In a very practical manner though, so that the work we do is commercial immediately, and we can achieve something tangible together.”

Internships

Every year, MetaChef has several internships available, including for software developers and 3D artists. As a 3D artist intern, you develop - among other things - high-quality and detailed 3D models of (food) products, and you will also work on photorealistic renders and serious gaming applications. The first two weeks of every internship involve a MetaChef training programme for a better integration in the work field and the food industry.