Searching for the holy grail of vegan meat substitutes
ME-AT offers tasty meat alternatives and is a part of Vion. “We have a powerful company supporting us,” says General Manager Willem Cranenbroek. During the IFFI Masterclass on November 2nd, he will address the ‘holy grail’ of meat substitutes: finding a good binder that works for both hot and cold dishes.
In vegetarian dishes, egg is often used as a binder. “Egg is liquid until you cook it; then it solidifies. Whether you use the egg in hot or cold dishes doesn’t matter; the form remains the same. For vegan products, we are looking for a binder that can be used both cold and warm. Almost all producers use methylcellulose, but it’s a warm binder. It works well when the product is warm, giving it a good texture. However, when it cools down, the product loses its bite. That’s the challenge. I present this challenge to the participants of the masterclass. I’m curious if they have a solution. Finding a suitable alternative should be of great interest to ingredient producers; there is a lot of demand for such an ingredient.”
ME-AT operates as a private label, creating fresh products for various supermarket chains. “Our strength lies in making fresh products like burgers, minced meat and sausages with a fresh look and feel. Unlike many other meat substitutes, our products don’t go into the fryer. This is also due to our background. When we started in 2019, we didn’t have a factory, but we did have some products. Before bringing these products to the market, we looked at the existing offerings. There wasn’t much fresh variety. Introducing a new label in a saturated market didn’t seem like a good idea to us. That’s why we chose to supply products as private label. The Beyond burger was introduced around the same time, also a ‘fresh’ burger. We rode the same ‘wave’. However, our products are priced lower. You can find our products at several retailers and cash and carry shops, not only in the Netherlands but also in 17 other countries. We create unique products for these supermarkets, including seasonal items for holidays.”
Production for ME-AT takes place in Leeuwarden, where a beef slaughterhouse has been converted into a plant-based product factory. Cranenbroek sees it as a significant advantage that ME-AT is backed by Vion. “Vion has the connections and is a reliable partner for retailers. We can use the same lines for procurement and transport. The same applies to sales and marketing. We deliberately chose our own name; we are partially independent. We don’t want to deny our origins, but some customers appreciate the distinction between Vion and ME-AT.”
Cranenbroek has been working at Vion for sixteen years, almost four of which have been in the plant-based department. “This is very enjoyable; there is so much positivity. I used to have to defend myself during ascandal in the meat industry, even if we had nothing to do with it. Now, I’m involved in new products, where we have the freedom to think outside the box. We’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. Products will get better, tastier, and healthier. However, there are also challenges because where do we go from here? What will be the next big thing in the market? How do we stay ahead of the competition? Time will tell.”
General Manager ME-AT