For the next four years, Wageningen Universiteit and ten companies, including Unilever, will use an existing technique to develop a new meat replacement.
Actual sustainable alternative
Two years ago, Wageningen Universiteit developed a new technique to create a vegetable steak. Backed by a series of multinationals, it now wants to refine that technique so that a meat alternative could feasibly hit the market in a few years' time.
"We noticed major companies altered their stance last year. They used to say they were not convinced and were not sure meat replacement products could become a success. This time around, they are convinced this is the future and that they need to get on board. The result is this new project", project leader and professor Atze Jan van der Groot told Dutch NOS.
For Unilever, this is another step in its sustainability strategy, although the board's recent infighting may change the company's approach for the future. "We expect an actual sustainable vegetable alternative for meat, with good flavour and nutritional value", a spokesperson explains.
More texture and cheaper
The main difference between this meat replacement product and others is the texture. "Meat replacements today either look like chicken or minced meat. Our technology enables other textures, like pork or a vegetable steak. It is also much cheaper, because smaller and relatively cheap devices could actually manufacture these meat replacements.
"The idea to have meat grinder-sized devices at a butcher's shop, so they can create their own meat replacement", professor Van der Goot said. "Wageningen's biological butcher is already being asked about meat replacements, meaning that consumers head to butcher shops to buy meat replacements."
Meat replacements only make up 2 % of the market today, but the professor feels that market share could grow considerably thanks to this technique. "Maybe, it could even reach half of the market."
The Netherlands have been a pioneer in sustainable meat alternatives. For instance, professor Mark Post already developed a cultivated hamburger in a lab several years ago.