ME-AT: “In Five Years’ Time, Plant-Based Products Will Be Cheaper and Even Better Tasting Than Real Meat”

Vion Food Group is an international producer of meat, meat products, and plant-based alternatives with production locations in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. Vion says that we need to move our diets towards more plant-based protein sources, and in response, the company launched ME-AT (pronounce as meat), a white label that designs and develops 100% plant-based meat alternatives that it says offer the appearance, feel, and taste of animal meat.

Important to note, from a vegan publication, is that Vion’s slaughterhouse and meat processing plant in Leeuwarden became a vegan meat factory upon the launch of ME-AT.

Willem Cranenbroek, General Manager of ME-AT.

You launched your plant-based white-label ME-AT three years ago. Can you tell us about the progress made since then and what levels of growth you have seen?
It has been quite a journey over the last three years. When we announced that we would step into plant-based meat replacers we actually did not have (sales-ready) products yet, there was no production factory available and we were still looking for a good development team. Now, three years, later we have a state-of-the-art factory where we produce a very wide range of products, we serve the top retailers in the countries around us and sell our products to over 17 countries. That is a tremendous step forward.

plantrecote raw version ME-AT
Plantrecote® raw version  image © ME-AT

What are the most successful products among your alt meat range, and why, in your opinion?
In our opinion these are our boneless rib, salmon burger, Plantrecote®, and the Dutch faba bean burger and mince. In general, normal burgers are still selling the best, but success is not only about sales, it is also about impact. With these items, we really made impact. We were the first on the market with these new inventions like the rib, salmon burger, and Plantrecote®which are eyeopeners not only for the consumers but also for the competition in the market (they tried to copy us later). We need to show the consumers that there is a lot more out there than burgers or pre-fried replacements.

“…success is not only about sales, it is also about impact

Also, with the faba bean products, we were the first in the market. The faba beans are grown in the Netherlands, where we partner up with the farmers and processing companies in the chain. Here we really want to make an impact. We grow the proteins in our fields instead of importing them.

Willem Cranenbroek, General Manager, ME-AT
Willem Cranenbroek, General Manager, ME-AT. Image supplied

We are now looking at the markers in the DNA which are responsible for the bitter taste in the beans. With the help of a genetics company, we try to alter the beans in such a way that the protein levels increase and the off-flavours disappear. For this, we use speed breeding, which is of course GMO-free. We started our product range with burgers and mince in the Netherlands, but we want to expand not only the product range here, we also want to step with this concept into other markets such as Germany, Belgium, and the UK, where we can also grow the beans locally.

You recently launched and presented your Plantrecote®at the PLMA event. What is the USP of this product and what was the feedback from those who sampled?
The cool thing about the Plantrecote®is that nobody has made it before. It is unique due to the fact that it is really looking like an entrecote steak including the fat layer within and on top. We are able to produce this product with our 2D technology. This 2D technology is cutting-edge and enables the creation of patterns and shapes in our plant-based meat alternatives like the Plantrecote®.

We use digital files to create the shape, which is transferred to the physical features of the machine by 3D printing. At this moment we can use 2 doughs in one product, these can differ in colour and structure to combine together in a specific shape. The difference in flavor, taste, and texture is something we really aimed for; to give an improved eating experience for the consumer. It can be skillet baked or even grilled with no problem!

plantrecote ME-AT
Plantrecote® image © ME-AT

Many restaurants are serving only a plant-based burger or maybe a curry or risotto. We thought it would be great to bring something new to the market as a great tasting real alternative for a steak dinner: the Plantrecote®!

Feedback on the PLMA was really fantastic, people were astonished by the fact that this (the Plantrecote®) is possible as a plant-based product and that the taste is so close to real meat. With the fat on top of the ‘meat’ they get the complete experience they were looking for.

Will more innovations be coming from ME-AT this year?
Most definitely, our NPD team is always looking for new ideas to push themselves and our production. With this open mindset, we are still capable of coming up with new ideas and solutions that do not exist in the market yet.

Which kinds of proteins do you use and why?
We use mainly sustainable soy focusing on EU sourced, wheat, pea, and faba beans. We use soy as the amino acid profile is very close to the real meat and there are so many different Texturised Vegetable Proteins (TVP) available that it helps you in widening the product range. However, not everybody wants soy in their product, therefore we diversified also towards pea and wheat (both also easily available in the market).

ME-AT burger

In our journey towards a new protein source from Dutch soils, we found that faba beans have the most potential to provide an earning model for the farmer; enough protein in the beans; the possibility to grow and harvest in the Netherlands; the need for little to no fertilizer; and it stimulates biodiversity and soil improvement. This makes the faba bean a winner for us.

Apart from The Netherlands, which are your main markets?
For Fresh, our main markets next to the Netherlands are Germany and Belgium. For Frozen, our main market is the full EU.

What are your extra services as a private label manufacturer producing for small companies?
We are capable of producing larger volumes of burgers fully automated, so we can really help to scale up the volume of smaller companies. Further, we have a flexible development team that is using not only their own knowledge but combines this with the knowledge of our suppliers. With that, we can quickly improve products and get them ready to market.

Vion Carpaccio
Soy Carpaccio © Vion Food Group

What is your mission as a company and where do you see yourself in five years?
The world population is growing and our planet is under pressure from the overuse of resources. We want to elevate the protein transition so that people can enjoy healthy, affordable, and tasty meat alternatives from sustainable sources.

“We want to elevate the protein transition”

In five years’ time, plant-based products will be cheaper and even better tasting than real meat. With that, we will have higher acceptance in the market and full penetration to all layers of the population in our home countries (Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium). Next to that we will of course keep on surprising our customers with new innovative ideas and products which we mainly source from locally grown proteins.

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