Strategic advice for the food and beverage industry

Unilever joins the plant-based burger frenzy

Unilever is staking a claim in the plant-based meat alternatives gold-rush, acquiring a quirky brand for an undisclosed sum.

De Vegetarische Slager (translation: The vegetarian butcher) is a Dutch plant-based meat alternatives company which started with one store in 2010.

By 2017, the brand was available in more than 4,000 stores in 15 countries, including major supermarket chain Jumbo in the Netherlands and Waitrose in the UK.

The brand also has its own web shop, with products available for delivery within the Netherlands. The company opened a restaurant in The Hague in April 2018, where it serves dishes based on its products.

With $20 million in sales in 2017, that number may have increased to over $30 million in 2018.

De Vegetarische Slager’s range is based on blends of soy and wheat protein and includes vegetarian meal centres (15 products), snacks (13 products) and cold “meats” (5 products) and spreads (2 products).

Despite typically having 15-20 ingredients, the brand has taken off in the Netherlands – a reminder that some consumers have priorities that rank above ‘clean label’ and a short ingredient list.

It’s an unusual brand with an unusual pack design that seems have it a polarising ‘love it or hate it’ effect on people. Unilever will likely massively accelerate the brand’s distribution – and perhaps change the name.

The market for meat alternatives – mostly based on soy or pea protein – is already a crowded one, over-supplied with undifferentiated products, all fighting for shelf-space. Unilever’s move adds to the competitive pressures of a sector that is growing, but still fails to engage more than a small number of very committed consumers.

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