Way back in 1990, when modern veganism as we know it was hard to even imagine, Henk Schouten of Schouten Food began to develop meat substitutes based on plant-based proteins.
Over three decades later, Schouten is a family business that Henk runs with his children, Niek-Jan, Peter, Rhodé and Wouter. The Dutch company operates worldwide and is a leading player in the meat-free market. Schouten offers a vast range of plant-based meat and seafood products and works closely together with retailers; manufacturers; global fast food chains; European wholesalers, and food service providers.
It was great to speak with Henk Schouten and hear his unique insights into the market.
You started with the development of meat substitutes based on plant-based proteins in 1990. What were the most important milestones/developments within the company since?
In 1990, as the first Dutchman to develop meat substitutes based on vegetable proteins, I was able to make use of the knowledge and experience my family had built up for decades regarding legumes, grains and other vegetable raw materials.
For ten years, Schouten’s products were sold under license by Bakker Lekkerkerk, carrying the Vivera brand. In 2002, we launched our own brand, GoodBite, which was successfully sold on the Dutch market for many years. In 2019, we made the strategic decision to discontinue the GoodBite brand and focus entirely on private label.
In 2021, we began with the production of fish substitutes, debuting with Vegan Green Tuna, and we have launched several vegan fish products since then, in line with consumer interest. In January 2022, we decided to take the production and packaging of products in-house for the first time. An acquisition created Schouten Twente, a production and packaging site in the east of the Netherlands.
Schouten offers plant-based solutions for retailers, food service and the food manufacturing industry. Tell us about your current portfolio and latest innovations.
Our company’s portfolio includes a wide range of vegan and vegetarian products, including burgers; meatballs and sausages; chicken and beef alternatives; fish and seafood alternatives; schnitzel and nuggets; meal components; and snacks and finger food.
We are constantly innovating in the field of fish and chicken substitutes.
Describe your solutions for the food manufacturing industry. How do you support food manufacturers?
Here are some ways that Schouten Europe supports food manufacturers:
- Product development: our R&D team works closely with food manufacturers to develop custom-made plant-based solutions that meet their specific needs. They also offer a range of plant-based products that can be customized to fit a manufacturer’s requirements.
- Quality assurance: all products are made from high-quality, sustainable ingredients, and their production processes meet the highest standards of food safety and quality. We work closely with food manufacturers to ensure that their products meet their quality standards and regulatory requirements.
- Sustainability: we are committed to sustainability and work with food manufacturers to reduce their carbon footprint by offering sustainable plant-based alternatives. Our products are made from ingredients that are environmentally friendly and promote sustainable agriculture.
- Marketing support: we provide marketing support to food manufacturers by offering marketing materials and product information and also provide training on how to effectively market their plant-based products to consumers.
You recently teamed up with Grassa to develop meat alternatives made from grass protein. What are the benefits of grass protein?
Grass yields 2.5 times as much protein per hectare as soy, and of course, grass supplies are readily available. Grass protein is a high-quality, local and scalable alternative to soy. When compared to other protein sources, it provides a huge reduction of carbon footprint.
A cow converts only 30 percent of the grass protein into milk and meat. Seventy percent is converted into manure. Grassa removes some of the excess proteins from the grass beforehand. The residual product, processed grass, is eaten by the cow. In this way, the protein in grass is optimally utilized.
In addition to extracting 50% more protein from the same hectare of land, the nitrogen problem is also tackled at the source. The import of soy is replaced by grass protein and because of less protein in the processed grass, the cows emit less nitrogen (ammonia).
When do you think the first meat alternative product made from grass protein could be ready for the market?
This is still unclear. We are only in the first phase of research. In addition, grass is not yet approved for human consumption. Grassa and Schouten expect approval for human consumption of grass proteins within 3 years. Based on this, we hope that the first products based on grass protein can reach the market before 2028. In short: it is a long-term innovation project for us.
What alt protein trends do you see in the near future? How does Schouten react to these trends?
Of course, we see developments in the field of cultured meat and insects. Our focus is really on plant-based protein products. Within this, we do explore innovation directions such as, for example, microbial proteins.
In recent years, we have seen more plant-based introductions in other product categories, such as dairy, cheese and eggs. We always investigate whether these types of products can also have a place in our range. The starting point is always whether we can be of added value to our customers in the longer term.
Where can interested people meet you in person in 2023 (trade fairs, congresses, events, roadshows)?
We will be present at the exhibitions PLMA 2023 in Amsterdam and the Anuga 2023 in Cologne. Interested parties are always welcome to visit us in Giessen (The Netherlands) to discuss the possibilities and to taste our products.