The Vegetarian Butcher: “Taste Experience is the Most Important Thing to Us.”

The Vegetarian Butcher CEO Jaap Korteweg
© Bart Homburg

From meat lover to convinced vegetarian – this is Jaap Korteweg’s story and the reason for starting “The Vegetarian Butcher“. While Jaap became vegetarian, there was one thing he didn’t want to miss on his plate: The real meat taste. Therefore, he is producing vegetarian and vegan meat alternatives that taste like their meaty originals. And there is more interesting news to come, as he told us in our interview about his company and concept.

What is the current situation in your company? 
The Vegetarian Butcher is world’s first vegetarian butcher. In 2010 we started with one shop in The Hague. A traditional butchery, but then entirely vegetarian. Meanwhile, we have grown to more than 4000 sales points in 15 countries. We have more than thirty products (excluding co-branding) and we are currently working on various new products. About 60 percent of the current range is vegan. We hope to be able to offer all of our products in a vegan version in the future. We have a fast growing brand in the Netherlands, but also in the UK and in Germany there are more and more interesting developments going on.

Which sales channels do you currently use for marketing?
At The Vegetarian Butcher we work with a free publicity policy. We firmly believe in the power of social media. We have many ambassadors who share our mission. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provide great exposure within our defined target groups. It also ensures direct contact with journalists who write a lot about our new developments. In addition, storytelling is very important to us. I am a meat lover who became a vegetarian. I didn’t want to miss the taste and experience of meat and therefore I worked with scientists and top chefs to make plant-based meat that cannot be distinguished from animal meat. To many people, that appeals to the imagination. There are many people who know that eating meat is not good (climate, health, biodiversity etc.), but who really appreciate the taste of meat at the same time. That is why we try to catch the taste and structure of animal meat with our products and why meat lovers are our main target group.

You mostly offer vegetarian products. Are there plans for totally switching your product line towards vegan products?
It is our aim to be able to offer all of our own products in a vegan version. At the moment free-range chicken egg and dairy is still necessary for some of our products to get the right structure and taste. Taste experience is the most important thing to us, because we believe that is the best way to show meat lovers that they don’t have to miss anything when they leave meat for one or more days a week. As soon as the vegan versions of our current vegetarian products are just as good – or even better – we are happy to make the switch. At the end of 2019 we hope to be able to offer all of our products in a plant-based version.

In 7 years of work, you invented a vegan smoked sausage. What is it, that makes your sausage so special?
The traditional smoked sausage (Dutch: rookworst) is a real icon in the Dutch cuisine. Especially in the winter season, the smoked sausage cannot be ignored. That we worked on this product for seven years – together with sausage makers and flavor specialists – indicates how much importance we attach to a good ‘Rookworst’ in every respect.

The biggest challenges in the development of the vegan smoked sausage were the taste and ‘bang’. The secret of the ‘bang’ lies in a membrane based on seaweed that ensures the right bite. In addition, the product developers have also done their best on the right structure, which must be a bit emulsive and juicy. That succeeded as well after a long trial.

How and where will you promote your new vegan sausage? 
The arrival of the first vegan smoked sausage with a ‘bang’ is ushered in tastefully with an event on the beach of Scheveningen. The first lucky ones could already pre-taste the smoked sausage. The sausage is already available in our restaurant De Vleesch Lobby (The Meat Lobby) in The Hague. On social media, we notice that many people are already eager to try our newest vegan addition.

From October 2018 your sausage will be widely available in the Netherlands. Do you have further expansion plans for it? 
The smoked sausage makes a perfect hotdog, so we see endless possibilities for the rest of the world. At this year’s edition of SIAL, visitors from all over of the world will be able to taste the sausage, so feel free to stop by.

What further vegan developments can we expect from you in 2018/2019?
The Vegetarian Butcher strives to be able to offer all of our products 100% vegetable by the end of 2019. Also for our restaurant De Vleesch Lobby, where the majority of the products we work with are vegan, we would like to see everything vegan by then. There are, besides the smoked sausage, even more new vegan products, which we cannot say much about at this moment. We will reveal more about this on our social media.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?
Our goal is to become the biggest Butcher in the world. The meat substitute industry grows by 15 percent annually, without stimulating government policy. I think the share of mock meat on the ‘meat market’ will rise from three to twenty percent over the next fifteen years. That is a ‘tipping point’. Plant-based meat is more expensive than animal meat, but that will change. For plant-based meat you need two to five times less beans, water and agricultural land. I foresee a bright future with numerous possibilities for our plant-based meat.