|Bank Triodos Bank|
|Client The Vegetarian Butcher|
|Location The Hague|
Producing imitation meat which is indistinguishable from real meat. Or perhaps even tastier. That’s the mission of Dutch company The Vegetarian Butcher. According to Jaap Korteweg, the man behind the product, there are so few vegetarians because meat is too tasty. So he has spent six years introducing more and more vegetarian meat products, such as chicken and shoarma, onto the market. Mainly using soya beans, he tries to imitate the flavour of a piece of chicken or a hamburger. The first real vegetarian meat factory will soon be opening.
More and more products from the Vegetarische Slager are appearing on supermarket shelves among the many meat substitutes available in the Netherlands. Most of the names on the packs are slightly unusual: take chicken bites, mc²Burger and fish-free tuna, for example. But the products are already popular with 7 million vegetarian meals using these products being sold every year.
The success is down to the fact that Korteweg has managed to develop a new flavour, one which compared favourably with meat. An organic farmer, Korteweg decided to become a vegetarian in 1998 after his farm was infected with swine flu. But he still missed the taste of meat. That’s when he joined forces with scientists and chefs to find the right production method and ingredients to imitate the flavour of meat.
Over that six-year period, more and more products have been developed meaning it was high time for a real factory. Korteweg’s search led to a large, currently empty hall in Breda with enough space to produce 50 million meals a year. “We’re embarking on an exciting adventure. The market is developing very well and we now have a good space in which to grow. Our new factory also offers us more room for development and we’ll be able to take more innovative steps in the long term,” Korteweg said.
Nearly six years ago, Korteweg’s business won the Triodos Hart-Hoofdprijs – a prize of 10,000 euros awarded every year by the Dutch bank to the most inspiring and innovative sustainable entrepreneur. The prize money is intended to facilitate more sustainable development within the company. Korteweg immediately announced that he’d be using the money to develop smoked sausage. “Because kale and mash needs smoked sausage.”
That would be a solution for countries in Africa, for example, where there is a problem with refrigeration, but where they can easily grow soya
Jaap Korteweg, The Vegetarian Butcher
Six years later, he admits that he hasn’t yet been successful. “We haven’t found the right composition. And the flavour must be just as good as the real thing.” However, he’s still hopeful. “I expect to be able to sell the smoked sausage within a year.”
In addition to finding the perfect smoked sausage substitute, Korteweg faces another challenge: growing organic soya. This soya protein has to be imported from the United States due to it not being available in Europe. Although organic soya would be easy to grow in Europe, there are no companies which can process it. Korteweg is currently conducting a feasibility study in order to make this happen in Europe. He explains that they are going a step further and are collaborating with other organisations like Unilever and Delft University to develop a machine that can make steak from this soya using very little energy. “And we can make that machine so small that it could go in a kitchen. That would be a solution for countries in Africa, for example, where there is a problem with refrigeration, but where they can easily grow soya. This could help solve global food problems in the long term”.
Jaap Korteweg is an organic farmer, but is more popularly known as the Vegetarische Slager. Over the course of six years, this brand has become a phenomenon. What started with a concept store in The Hague, has now grown into a business that sells its vegetarian chicken ‘bites’ and hamburgers in 2,600 sales outlets, including supermarkets, in 12 countries outside the Netherlands.