Meet Jaap Korteweg. He is a different kind of butcher: a meat free butcher. The counters of his butcher shop are filled with delicious vegetarian and vegan products that taste like meat, feel like meat, look like meat.
Quite an oxymoron, yet the Vegetarian Butcher’s meat-free products appeal to a growing number of people who are trying to eat less meat (a.k.a The Flexitarians).
I often wonder why we need meat substitutes. A lot of vegetarians or vegans do just fine with a plant-based diet without any “faux” meat. But I can understand that giving up meat, when you are a meat-eater, can be challenging and flexitarians often turn to veggie substitutes to make the transition.
The Vegetarian Butcher offers a different kind of meat-free substitute from the ones already available in the UK. It is made from organic lupin and soy and not only mimics meat but also fish. Last year its “100% vegetarian smoked eel salad” developed by Paul Bom made the headlines by winning the prestigious Taste Innovation Contest in Holland.
The Vegetarian Butcher is a fast-growing business. After opening its first meat free butcher shop in The Hague in 2010, its products are now sold by over 600 retailers.
What the secret of the Vegetarian Butcher’s success? The Flexitarian (TF) digs a little deeper by speaking to Jaap Korteweg (JK).
TF – Your family was into farming for 8 generations. What inspired you to launch the Vegetarian Butcher?
JK – From my experience on a mixed farm, and after witnessing major disasters in large scale animal farming in the Netherlands, I decided to try to shorten the food chain. I was – and still am – very attached to the taste, the structure and sentiment of meat, but the production was bothering me and I decided not to eat animals anymore. As a response, I launched the world’s first Vegetarian Butcher, an innovative company that cannot be distinguished from a traditional butcher, with one single difference: no slaughter animals are involved.”
TF – The Vegetarian Butcher is an oxymoron. Why choose this name?
JK – The Vegetarian Butcher’s aim is to let meat lovers experience that they don’t miss out on anything when they follow a vegetarian diet with our products. It is crucial to keep the taste, structure and experience the same, whilst only changing the production process: replacing the slaughtered animal with a machine, just like horses were replaced by tractors. Next to that, the concept makes people change their mindset towards a vegetarian lifestyle because it is made possible to still consume meat without the use of slaughtered animals or any collateral damage, as caused by the livestock industry.
TF -What have been the main challenges of growing your business?
JK – The main challenge is the prejudice people hold against meat substitutes. Through the best possible reviews from culinary experts, chefs, butchers and food critics in the media, people do want to taste our products. Another challenge is pricing: our products are more expensive than animal meat because of the scale of production. But with the growth the Vegetarian Butcher is experiencing, we will be able to compete with the price of animals within several years. We just had our first major price cut, made possible by our huge growth.
TF – Are your customers mostly vegetarians or meat-eaters?
JK – Our customers are a new target group: the growing group of meat-loving consumers that like to cut down on their consumption of animal protein for several reasons. A lot of vegetarians love our products too, but some of them dislike our vegetarian meat because it is almost impossible to be distinguished from the real thing.
TF – Why do we need meat-free alternatives when we could simply eat vegetables, fruit, pulses and grains?
JK – For many people, it is very hard to imagine a life without meat. On a daily base, we hear from customers that they are able to take the step to a vegetarian lifestyle more easily because of our products. Of course, we could simply eat vegetables, but people like the taste and structure of the meat. Our ambition is to free all animals from the food chain. It will be a revolution that can be compared with the industrial revolution or with the change from traditional photography to digital pictures. Everything will be the same, except for the necessity to slaughter animals for food.
TF – In the UK, meat alternative brands have reported an increase in sales after the latest horsemeat scandal. Has it also been the case for you?
JK – The Vegetarian Butcher has grown from one butcher shop to 600 resellers within two years. So yes, we are experiencing a huge increase in sales. The horsemeat scandal might have helped, but it’s impossible to say how the scandals have influenced our turnover because our growth is very rapid and constant.
TF – What are your best selling products?
JK – Our best selling products are vegan chicken, and vegetarian meatballs, hamburgers and tuna salad. Taste our vegetarian meat, serve it to your friends and family without telling them it’s not animal meat and you’ll know there’s no more reason to eat animal meat. The meat-like taste and experience of our products and concept create a solid base for a Food Revolution.
TF – What are your meat-free products made of? Are they Vegan?
JK – Our products are made of GMO-free soy, organic lupin, vegetables and wheat.
Nine of our products are vegan: Chicken Chunks, Teriyaki, Shawarma, Noodlepatty, Roasting Chunks, Beef Strips, Smoked Bacon Strips, Spring Rolls our BBQ skewers. The mc2Burger, Partysnacks, Sausage Rolls and Tuna are 100% vegetarian but still contain a little bit of free-range egg or milk powder. We’re working on that;-)
TF – How do their nutritional contents compare with meat?
JK – Our products are fully comparable with animal meat. They only contain fibre too, which meat doesn’t. Overall our products contain less fat and the same amount of iron and protein. A part of our assortment also contains vitamin B12.
TF – How do their price compare with meat?
JK – The price of our vegetarian meat is higher than the price of animal meat. With growing economies of scale we hope to lower our prices within several years. We lowered our prices substantially a month ago.
TF – How are your products different from other meat-free alternatives such as Quorn, Beyond Meat or Meat The Alternative?
JK – The Vegetarian Butcher assortment is the highest in quality, we manage to fool the taste buds of culinary experts and butchers. We have been working on our products for several years together with our chef de cuisine Paul Bom. His knowledge on how to hack the taste of chicken, pork, beef and even fish goes far beyond the assortment of any other brand. The standard there was in vegetarian food until now was comparable with the iPhone 2. We have the iPhone 6 amongst the meat analogues ;-). Last year we won the prestigious Dutch food prize for the best new national food product: fish-free smoked eel salad!
TF – When do you plan to start selling your products in the UK?
JK – We have a lot of interested parties in the UK, but we haven’t come to business yet. We are looking for a suitable distributor that is able to import, store and distribute large quantities of our frozen products nationwide. It won’t take long, because the UK is a huge vegetarian market and our products are the best in the world by far. There must be clever entrepreneurs in the UK who will see this major opportunity. Coming soon!
TF – How do you see the future of food?
JK – 100% plant-based! Within 50 years nobody shall eat dead animals anymore. Like horsepower doesn’t need animals to move our vehicles, so slaughtered animals will be extinct without being slaughtered.
TF – Are you driven by ethical, health and/ or environmental concerns?
JK – We are mostly driven by efficiency, environmental and ethical concerns, but our number one priority is the taste! And yes it will also improve your health and make you slim 😉
Visit The Vegetarian Butcher website to find out where you can find their meat-free products.