Trend researchers and futurologists have been predicting it for a while now: plant-based nutrition is trending. The underlying desire here is for a sustainable and healthy lifestyle – but without having to make sacrifices. “Plant-based food,” as Hanni Rützler from the Zukunftsinstitut in Vienna puts it, “sounds healthy, ethically and ecologically right, and yet not like self-denial.” On the contrary, the term covers many different types of trends. “From a flexitarian to a vegetarian diet to vegan novel plant-based food products that imitate animal products, such as shrimp, poultry, beef and tuna, not to mention yogurt and dairy drinks.” German gastronomy expert Pierre Nierhaus agrees that the relevance of plant-based nutrition will continue to grow. In his 2021/22 trend report, he writes, “Meaningfulness has been added to food: good for me, good for the environment, good for animals. The number of guests who base their choice of restaurant on these criteria will continue to grow. Restaurateurs and the supplier industry will take up this development to a greater extent in their range and products, as well as product development and communication. They are thereby acknowledging their responsibility for the future of the planet.” The fact that the issue of meat substitutes is becoming increasingly important for guests can also be seen in a recent survey conducted by the Swiss market research company DemoScope on behalf of Swissveg. According to the study, around a quarter of people in Switzerland already consciously follow a meat-free or low-meat diet. The U.S. organic grocery store chain Whole Foods even listed “plant-meat blended products” among its top 10 food trends last year. These are products where the percentage of meat is reduced and replaced by vegetable ingredients. Internationally, especially in the USA, the product range is already large, but Europe is still lagging behind. “Despite strong growth in recent years, purely plant-based meat substitutes still account for less than 1% of the Austrian meat market,” points out Philipp Stangl, co-founder of Rebel Meat. In Germany, that number is only 0.6%. Just like other innovative startups that focus on animal-free or meat-reduced products, Stangl and his team want to contribute to “actually eating significantly less meat as a society, but better meat.” How does that work? We asked five companies.
Meat made out of plants
Since 2019, the Swiss startup Planted has been creating plant-based products that mimic the taste, texture and mouthfeel of animal meat. Production involves wet extrusion technology, in which vegetable proteins are kneaded with oil and water and heated, which creates a meat-like fibrous structure. “We started with chicken with and without marinade. In the meantime, various chicken marinades have been added, as well as a pulled pork and a large kebab skewer. We’re currently developing a plant-based schnitzel,” says co-founder Christoph Jenny.
In the new factory in Kempthal, Planted now produces up to half a ton per hour; ten times as much as last year. Distribution is direct and carried out via food service partners (Edeka, Chefs Culinar, Transgourmet, Pistor, Saviva).
In addition, the company has a compelling brand ambassador at its side in the form of Michelin-starred chef Nenad Mlinarevic. At his restaurant Neue Taverne, he uses Pulled Planted to make, among other things, hot dogs and a meatless version of his signature dish Pulled Pork Belly, which is well-known to diners at his restaurant Bauernschänke.
Global success with veggie burgers
The US company Beyond Meat has been developing vegan meat substitutes since 2009. However, the Beyond Burger, a burger patty made with pea protein that paved the startup’s way to becoming a global company, didn’t hit the U.S. market until 2015. In March 2019, Metro Austria brought the product to Austria – and sold 158,050 patties that very year. In 2020, sales rose to 181,080. This year, as of March, more than 78,150 burgers have already been sold.
“Even though demand from our main customer group, hotels, restaurants and caterers, was understandably lower due to the lockdown, we are still seeing the increase in sales of this item. In fact, our entire range of meat substitutes nearly doubled in 2020/21,” said Metro CEO Xavier Plotitza.
Meanwhile, Beyond Sausages, which are made of peas and a seaweed casing, are now available at some Metro locations. In response to demand, the product will be offered throughout Austria in the future. Germany, on the other hand, is already one step ahead. Metro has also been selling vegan ground beef, Beyond Mince, there since the end of 2020.
A vegan version of a meat top seller
With Green Heroes, German food service specialist Salomon FoodWorld has developed a plant-based alternative for four of its most popular meat products: the Homestyle Burger and Crunchy Chik’n Burger patties made from wheat protein, the Green Oat Burger made from oatmeal and vegetables, and a crispy schnitzel.
“Due to the current to-go and delivery situation, we have observed for some time that our meat top sellers in particular are performing well. With Green Heroes, they have now each been given by a twin. We are pleased that all four products have been well received by the market so far. Among our food service customers, Green Heroes account for between 10 and 15 percent of burger sales,” says Jochen Kramer, a member of the Salomon FoodWorld management team. However, the importance of adding meat-free alternatives in the product portfolio would also increase in general. Kramer says, “The proportion of vegetarian items in our brand range is around 45 percent. That means almost half are meat-free.” Green Heroes are available through wholesale partners and cash & carry supermarkets (Metro, Transgourmet, Edeka, Chefs Culinar).
Spotlight on plant-based innovation
In 2019, Swiss food producer Hilcona created an internal start-up to launch its new brand, The Green Mountain. Since then, food technologist Julia Sackers and a team of young chefs have been working on developing plant-based meat alternatives made of pea and soy protein.
In addition to burger patties and ground meat, meatloaf has also joined the range this year – a world first that the company says is almost impossible to tell apart from the original. They are also due to launch three vegan sausage specialties: a farmer’s bratwurst and a bratwurst alternative in the style of Eastern Switzerland, as well as a vegan version of the Swiss national sausage Cervelat.
“Our sales of veggie products are growing very satisfactorily. On the one hand, this trend will continue because we are constantly expanding our plant-based range of products. On the other hand, its continued success is due to the fact that our products have now been firmly established in the market and are increasingly in demand. The market benefited from the Corona pandemic. Despite Corona, meat substitutes are growing in the out-of-home segment, while most other segments in this area lost about 40 percent in lockdown-driven 2020,” explains Hilcona CEO Martin Henck. In Switzerland, more than 150 partner restaurants now have The Green Mountain products on their menus. They plan to launch in Austrian and German restaurants after the lockdown.
The Viennese start-up Rebel Meat has a vision: A world where meat consumption is in harmony with the needs of the environment, people and animals. The goal is to achieve this with innovative and sustainable products. “At 2.6 lbs per week, we all eat far too much meat. Rebel Meat wants to help people reduce their meat consumption,” explains co-founder Cornelia Habacher. Its first product, a burger patty made with 50 percent organic beef and 50 percent organic plant-based ingredients (herbed mushrooms, millet and spices), was named Organic Product of the Year by a panel of industry experts in 2019, the same year the company was founded.
By 2020, Rebel Meat had already sold over 100,000 burgers. In April 2021, four new organic products were added to the range: the Bratwürstel, Käsekrainer, another burger patty and ground meat, half of which is also made from organic meat and the other half from organic plant-based ingredients grown in Austria. As before, production is carried out in Upper Austria. All products are available in wholesale stores (Metro, Biogast, Kiennast, Hügli).