Interviews

Rival Foods: “We Believe the Whole Cut Segment Will See a Similar Evolution as the Processed Plant-Based Meat Segment”

Rival Foods develops and uses new technologies to create next-generation plant-based whole-cuts with “unprecedented” size, texture, and juiciness. We speak with the Netherlands based company which has very recently signed a lease for its first production location and is preparing to begin production by June this year.

Birgit Dekkers, co-founder and CEO of Rival Foods, graduated as a food scientist and undertook PhD research on Shear Cell technology at Wageningen University, before founding Rival Foods. Willem Spigt, CCO of Rival Foods, graduated with a degree in Law and before joining Rival Foods he brought Beyond Meat to Europe for his previous employer Zandbergen WFM.

Could you elaborate on the Shear Cell technology developed by Rival Foods, and how it sets your plant-based whole-cuts apart in terms of texture, taste, and juiciness compared to other products in the market?
Birgit Dekkers:
Shear Cell Technology is a technology that was initially developed at the Wageningen University of which Rival Foods is a spin-off company. The process can simply be explained as a pressure cooker with a rotating part. By elevating the temperature and by applying rotation, we are able to deform and align proteins. Upon cooling, the proteins solidify again creating a meaty, fibrous or flaky texture.

Rival Foods' plant based tuna fillet
© Rival Foods

The Rival Foods product development team has developed unique formulations and in combination with processing conditions, differentiating textures can be created mimicking a wide variety of plant-based whole-cut products, such as chicken breast, tenderloin, or fish filet.

“Rival Foods aims to create products that give consumers the same sensorial experiences as their animal-derived counterparts”

A wide variety of protein sources can be used to create these types of products, such as the conventional soy, pea, and wheat protein, but also fava, rapeseed, or sunflower. To create the unique taste of our products, Rival Foods uses combinations of natural flavours, herbs and spices that are packed within the protein matrices, for a gradual taste release upon chewing the product. Certainly not last is water, the ingredient used in the highest percentages in formulation, which is also packed within the proteins to create its juiciness.

In developing products like the plant-based whole-cut beef ‘tenderloin’ and the upcoming white fish alternative, what are the key challenges you face in replicating the sensory and nutritional qualities of traditional meat and fish?
Birgit Dekkers:
Rival Foods aims to create products that give consumers the same sensorial experiences as their animal-derived counterparts in texture, taste, juiciness, and nutritional value, whilst being far more sustainable. Moreover, Rival Foods only introduces these products when they are scored by consumers as significantly better than their plant-based competitors on the shelves today.

Rival Foods' chicken fillet
© Rival Foods

Consumers want to choose more plant-based foods in their diets, but too often, they are disappointed by the sensorial quality. Rival Food’s chicken breast has proven to be significantly better and is greatly appreciated by consumers, who in most cases don’t actually notice that the product is plant-based. The product development team is finalizing the tenderloin and fish alternative to create the same unique experience in that category.

With Rival Foods’ focus on the B2B market, which solutions do you offer, and how does this business model influence your product development and marketing strategies?
Willem Spigt:
Rival Foods has a non-branded, white/private label approach in foodservice and in retail. In foodservice we sell our products via specialized wholesalers to restaurants and in the case of larger restaurant chains we sell directly. We believe our non-branded approach allows us to sell products at a very competitive price and we use the brand of our wholesalers to reach the final customers.

“The processed plant-based meat category is already very crowded but there is a lot of room for growth in the whole cut segment”

In retail, we provide our clients the opportunity to expand their private label brand with unique whole cut, clean-label products in every category. The processed plant-based meat category is already very crowded but there is a lot of room for growth in the whole cut segment. In animal-derived proteins, this makes up for about half of the category and we believe with the right assortment of quality products this can also be the case for the plant-based meat category.

Rival Foods tenderloin
© Rival Foods

Our products will allow them to achieve their goals of growing the total plant-based proteins to 50 or even 60% compared to animal proteins. We also work with branded (plant-based) food companies in certain geographical markets and help them to expand their product portfolio to whole cuts since their current technology (HME, TVP) does not allow them to create similar fibrous textures with a low amount of ingredients. In these markets, the brands are market leaders in the processed meats category and that speeds up our market penetration significantly.

With the recent launch of new products and the expansion of your production facility, what strategies are you implementing to scale up production while maintaining product quality and consistency?
Birgit Dekkers:
We are indeed increasing the production capacity so that we can expand and sell our products to a larger group of customers and thus consumers. Luckily the core processes of Rival Foods are very well scalable as the key principles and processing conditions are kept similar to pilot scale equipment that Rival Foods has been using. Therefore we are confident that we keep our high product quality and produce consistently.

From your perspective, what are the emerging trends in the plant-based meat industry, and how is Rival Foods positioned to address these trends?
Willem Spigt:
What we see today is that there is a lot of movement in price and that parity with animal proteins is being achieved more and more but that the overall quality of products is lacking. Price is only a part of the equation and without products that actually taste great, we will not convince people to substitute their chicken breast or beef steak.

Rival Foods satay
© Rival Foods

We believe that the plant-based meat category as a whole can only grow if we provide the end consumers with high-quality, nutritious, and clean-label products that are price-competitive with animal-derived proteins. We believe the whole cut segment will see a similar evolution as the processed plant-based meat segment (burgers, nuggets etc) and provide a lot of, or even more opportunity for growth. On the ingredient side, we also see a push towards more locally sourced and organically produced. The issue here is that the quality, availability and price are prohibitive.

Looking ahead, what are Rival Foods’ future plans in terms of product innovation and contributing to solutions within the plant-based industry?
Rival Foods is specialized in creating textures from alternative proteins, our products that are currently being sold are created with conventional proteins, such as soy, pea and wheat. We see a push towards more locally sourced and organically produced ingredients from the buyers’ side, especially in retail.

“without products that actually taste great, we will not convince people to substitute their chicken breast or beef steak”

The Shear Cell system is not limited to the “traditional” inputs, have shown already that we can also create great textures and remarkable juiciness with proteins from other sources. However, these proteins sometimes still have very strong plant off-notes, are high in price and scarcely available. Therefore these ingredients are not yet being used, however we expect that developments in the ingredient business will improve these aspects and make them suitable in the (near) future. Also in the near future, we can include alternative protein sources being created by precision fermentation or cultured meat into our product development.

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