Interviews

The Vegetarian Butcher: “Our Mission Will Not Change, We Remain Committed to Releasing Animals From the Food Chain”

Founded 13 years ago in the Netherlands, alt meat producer The Vegetarian Butcher has since expanded into an international brand, seeing huge growth since it was acquired by Unilever in 2018.

The Vegetarian Butcher’s success has partially been driven by its partnerships with major food service companies; the brand is Burger King’s main plant-based supplier, and has partnered with the chain to open meat-free Burger King locations worldwide.

In the past year alone, The Vegetarian Butcher has launched plant-based butcher counters at Spanish supermarkets, developed a bacon alternative featuring new patented fat technology, and collaborated with a major döner producer to offer vegan kebab meat. The brand also marked its 13th anniversary with the opening of a plant-based butchery in Rotterdam.

We spoke to Hugo Verkuil, CEO of The Vegetarian Butcher, to find out what we can expect to see from the brand in the coming year.

From your perspective, how has the plant-based industry evolved in recent years and how do you assess the current situation in Europe?  
We continue to see consumers wanting to reduce their consumption of animal meat — for their health and animal welfare and also to reduce their impact on the environment. We also know that consumers often make the switch towards plant-based by starting with meat substitutes, before they choose a wider variety of plant-based proteins. At The Vegetarian Butcher, we want to help make this swap as easy as possible, which is why we’re focused on creating plant-based meat with the same taste and texture as animal meat. We believe consumers shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything!

The Vegetarian Butcher

Over the long term, we anticipate that the plant-based category will continue to grow as it matures and efficiencies are improved. Within food service, we see that growth continues, with more and more restaurant chains offering plant-based options due to increasing demand.

As a brand with such a large global presence across Europe, the UK, and Asia, what have you observed in plant-based consumption across different regions?  
It’s hard to generalize across regions, as each country has its own diets, eating habits, and consumer preferences. But looking at Northern Europe, we generally see the consumption of plant-based meat at a more advanced stage. In Asia, plant-based consumption is already widely established, but unlike in Europe this is not driven via meat substitutes, but through consumers eating other plant-based proteins such as tofu and beans.

Burger King is continuing to roll out plant-based stores around the world. How has The Vegetarian Butcher played a role in this expansion, and how has the partnership with Burger King impacted The Vegetarian Butcher overall?  
The Vegetarian Butcher is Burger King’s main supplier for its plant-based range. Over the last three years of our partnership, Burger King has expanded its plant-based offering — including the iconic Plant-based Whopper — to over 55 markets and more than 7,000 restaurants across Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. In Germany, one in every five Whoppers sold is plant-based.

© Burger King Germany

As partners, we work very closely together to drive this success, from insight sharing to joint product development, all the way through to the execution of our joint marketing campaigns. Opening new plant-based stores is always a highlight for our team too — we recently launched a plant-based Burger King store in Puerto Rico. This was the 15th plant-based Burger King store to open since 2021.

“…looking at Northern Europe, we generally see the consumption of plant-based meat at a more advanced stage”

Our plant-based portfolio with Burger King has continuously evolved to tap into new trends and local flavour preferences. Beyond the core Plant-based Whopper, Long Chicken, and Nuggets, we have also launched the Plant-based Chicken Louisiana Steakhouse in France, which has shown that premium propositions perform well in certain markets too.

You recently collaborated with The Düzgün Group on plant-based kebab skewers. What has the feedback been like for the plant-based kebab in comparison to traditional meat offerings? 
Our aim is to hack the big “meat icons”, and kebab is definitely one of them. Kebabs make up a large share of fast food in Europe, with up to 12 billion euros spent annually on kebabs in Europe and 400 tonnes of kebabs produced daily.

The Vegetarian Butcher and Düzgün Food Group, launch plant-based kebab skewers for food service.
© Unilever

With this opportunity in mind, we collaborated with The Düzgün Group, one of the market leaders in döner production, to develop a product with the same taste, grilling, storage, and cutting behaviour as a traditional doner kebab. We also wanted to ensure no additional cooking was needed once the plant-based kebab meat was cut from the skewer — which is not the case with most other products on the market today. We believe we have created a product that is almost indistinguishable from animal meat, particularly in terms of taste and the cooking experience.

“We believe we have created a product that is almost indistinguishable from animal meat”

People have been surprised how alike it is to animal meat — and the fact that it gets freshly cut from a skewer only enhances the taste and experience!

Can you share any insights into The Vegetarian Butcher’s plans for 2024 and beyond? Are there any interesting pipeline developments for products or partnerships that you can share?  
The Vegetarian Butcher is catering to meat lovers with a brand-new Plant-Based Butchery in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Our craftsmanship is what sets us apart, and now consumers can witness a masterclass in plant-based meat butchery first-hand when they visit us. They can chat to our butchers, learn about the ingredients and equipment used, and find out more about each cut of plant-based meat. The Vegetarian Butcher’s onsite chefs prepare fresh and delicious dishes every day, from vegan meatballs drowning in rich gravy to juicy vegan chicken breasts stewed in a flavourful mushroom sauce.

“We want to serve meat lovers personalized menus and recipes”

When it comes to our restaurant chain partnerships, we will continue to work with the top players on the top dishes, including the likes of Burger King and Subway.

The Vegetarian Butcher Vegan Bacon NoBacon 2.0
Image courtesy of Unilever

Where would you like The Vegetarian Butcher to be in five years’ time, what is your vision or mission for the company?  
With the use of modern techniques, we want to serve meat lovers personalized menus and recipes, so that they can easily find plant-based meat products that fit their preferences — a culinary experience in its own right.

Our partner Burger King UK has a goal to be 50% plant-based by 2030, and we hope more restaurants will introduce ambitious targets to move in this direction. We can be the partner to support them on this journey and “hack” even more iconic meat dishes. When it comes to independent operators, tapping into top dishes continues to be relevant.

Our mission will not change; we remain committed to releasing animals from the food chain and we believe we can do that with superb-tasting, high-quality products with a great nutritional profile. We want to make it the new normal and accessible for even more people. It will be a mouthwatering journey, that’s for sure!

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