Rügenwalder Mühle Continues on Vegan Course

Porträt: Godo Röben
© Rügenwalder Mühle Carl Müller GmbH & Co. KG

Are future alternatives limited? Not when it comes to vegetarian/vegan sausage and meat substitutes.Whilst young start-ups, with support from top-class investors, are entering this market with innovative products, established producers of conventional meat products are also getting ready for the turnaround. This includes Rügenwalder Mühle, which is deeply concerned with social development. It has long since expanded its product range with vegetarian/vegan products.

But the company will not stop there, because the market for sausage and meat alternatives still has a lot of potential and the pioneers of Rügenwalder Mühle know exactly how to harness it. In this personal interview, Godo Röben tells us exactly what this will look like, how the vegan development will continue and why “Clean Meat” is a game-changer.

What does Rügenwalder Mühle’s current vegan selection look like?
We currently offer two vegan liver sausage alternatives in the varieties “Chive” and “Apple & Onion”. The vegan range also includes schnitzel, nuggets, hamburgers, crispy burgers and mince.

What new vegan products are planned for 2018?
We are trying to make our new meat-free products vegan from the beginning. And we are working intensively to adapt the existing products from our veggie range to make them vegan. This isn’t easy, because the most important thing for us is the delicious taste and the bite, which should be as similar to meat as possible. This year, there will definitely be something new and vegan from Rügenwalder Mühle. I can’t tell you what exactly it is yet.

How will the relationship between your vegetarian and vegan products develop?
The aim is to replace all our vegetarian products with vegan varieties. Our developers are working hard on this task. The reason for this is changed consumer preferences; even vegetarians and more and more flexitarians are opting for vegan variants rather than vegetarian ones when they are presented next to each other on the shelf. This may be for animal protection and environmental reasons or due to ethical concerns.

What foreign activities do you have planned?
We are already present in Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. We are currently holding concrete talks with potential partners from Scandinavia. Of course, we are also exploring a number of other markets; we receive many inquiries from all over the world on an ongoing basis. Rügenwalder Mühle is seen internationally by many trading companies as a pioneer; we already have several years of market experience and have continuously refined our products in terms of consumer preferences during this time. And of course, our products are very well-received in the mass market. We must face the international challenge, because – whether we like it or not – we are competing with challengers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. These newcomers are pushing into the international markets with a lot of investor money from large meat companies and individuals such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates.

Will there also be vegan organic products?
Yes, we are also working on vegan organic alternatives. We started out in the mass market without an organic seal, so that a price gap to comparable meat products would not be a purchase barrier. However, many vegan consumers do prefer organic products, as the impressive growth figures in the organic sector prove. In the future, we see our vegan organic products as being primarily part of the food retail trade rather than the specialist organic trade.

In one video, you said you had not ruled out offering vegetable products in the future. How far have these plans progressed?
We are also looking into this market. But as an established brand, you also have to keep an eye on the extent to which your brand is stretchable and expandable, what kind of stretching a brand can withstand and whether consumers would follow you into new segments. We are currently discussing this internally and with external brand experts.

How do you envision the vegan lifestyle will develop in society by 2030, both nationally and internationally?
Energy, transport and nutrition will be the decisive factors for slowing down or even stopping climate change. Much has changed in the energy sector in recent years. The field of transport will change significantly over the next few years in the direction of e-mobility and alternative drives. The food sector, and the meat industry in particular, must also adjust to significant changes, which is already becoming apparent. Meat products could be taxed differently, political pressure will increase, and consumer preferences in many countries are changing strongly towards a plant-based and meat-free diet. Many young people in particular prefer this lifestyle. These and other factors will lead to a significant increase in the popularity of the vegan lifestyle over the next 5-10 years.

You recently described “clean meat” as a game-changer, could you explain this again for our readers?
This statement referred to a speech by Eric Schmidt of Google. He presented a list of future ‘moonshots’ or game-changers to thousands of investors in 2016. In his view, one of these is the replacement of meat products with plant-based alternatives. This development has already gathered considerable momentum. Consumers are increasingly asking themselves, “Why I should take animals’ lives when there are plant-based alternatives available?”.

Cultivated “clean meat”, i.e. meat that is bred in laboratories and can be produced without factory farming and slaughterhouses, will also be game-changing. Both plant-based meat alternatives and “Clean Meat” will be successful, because the market is big enough for both. However, the products must be of high quality to end up in the consumer’s shopping cart. We focus on plant-based meat alternatives. Our declared goal is to become more and more delicious and to be at least as tasty or even tastier than meat.

What campaigns are planned for vegan products in 2018?
Social media is a very important part of our communications strategy. With the introduction of our veggie products, we received recurring questions in Community Management. Our Facebook page has become a discussion forum for vegetarian/vegan vs. meat-based nutrition.

The growing user base and increased interest in the topic of nutrition soon meant that we had to hold the same discussions simultaneously in several places. And in addition, these became ever deeper and more extensive. A new platform for all open or insufficiently answered questions was needed.

A total of 12 bloggers, YouTubers, nutrition and sustainability experts, journalists and fans of our social media sites took part in our event in autumn 2017. They were able to ask me their questions and express their criticism personally. In order to ensure even more transparency, we have given our guests an advance insight into our development and production processes. In addition, there was a lecture on sustainability at Rügenwalder Mühle.

We have managed to have positive reports and discussions on influencers’ social media profiles and on our channels about Rügenwalder Mühle, the vegetarian products, and above all about transparency. Our willingness to deal openly with criticism was very well-received.

In 2018, we will enter into even more dialogue and continue to communicate transparently across all channels. We can also imagine repeating such an event. We are currently in the conception phase and are discussing what the format could look like.

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