British-Dutch food giant Unilever has acquired De Vegetarische Slager ("the vegetarian butcher"), an ambitious manufacturer of meat substitutes. De Vegetarische Slager aims high and wants to make plant-based meat the standard in thirty years, says founder Jaap Korteweg.
Become the biggest in the world
Compared to the behemoth Unilever, De Vegetarische Slager is tiny, but the Utrecht-based company managed to grow to 4000 sales points in seventeen countries over eleven years. This partnership is supposed to help it go much farther than that: the vegetarian butcher wants to become the biggest butcher in the world – that also means bigger than all meat sellers. Unilever is the right place to begin that project, Korteweg thinks: the company already exports its products to 190 of the world's 195 countries.
Although Korteweg is a farmer, he founded his company in 2007 to conquer the world with meatless meat. For now, his empire consists of headquarters in Utrecht, a restaurant in Den Haag and a factory in Breda (all in the Netherlands): all ninety employees are joining the move to Unilever.
Surprising or expected?
Not everyone is happy with the choice for Unilever: the company recently moved away from sustainability when new CEO Alan Jope was forced to listen to shareholders to avoid another hostile bid like Kraft's.
Still, the takeover is not really a big surprise: Unilever and De Vegetarische Slager have been working together for two years as the latter delivers the vegetarian "meatballs" in peanut and tomato sauce commercialised by Unilever under the Unox brand: one of the 700 meat-free products Unilever already has in its range. De Vegetarian Butcher also makes vegetarian meatballs and croquettes for another major meat snack manufacturer: Mora. Over a year ago, food expert Lucien Joppen already observed on this site that major players are getting involved in the growing plant-based food industry.