Aisle Spy

Mimicking meat: Tesco gets its first plant-based steak

Dutch manufacturer Vivera is ready to make millions of its product, which consists of wheat and soy, but bleeds like a real steak.

15 May 2018

In a UK supermarket first, Dutch manufacturer Vivera is launching its plant-based ‘steak’ into Tesco supermarkets.

It has already started production of the steak alternative and expects to produce several million pieces this year.

Other large supermarket chains in Europe will also sell the product in the coming months, including in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy.

Competing against the clock

The race has been on between different players to produce plant-based steaks that bleed like the real thing.

Vivera’s commercial director, Gert Jan Gombert, said the company worked against the clock to get its innovation to market, with a team of four on the project for a year and a half.

Made from wheat and soy, the most challenging aspect of the plant-based steak was replicating the bite and structure of traditional meat, though a lot of time was also dedicated to getting the juiciness factor right.

Heading into more than 400 Tesco stores on May 21, Vivera’s faux beef will sit in the chilled vegetarian/vegan section – near the meat aisle – and is groundbreaking in terms of animal welfare and sustainability, added Gombert.

“Since 1990 we have produced vegetarian products. We are not hopping on the vegetarian trend, like a lot of other companies are doing. Because of this long history, we know how to handle mass productions and big volumes,” he said.

While others have been open about the production process, when it comes to Vivera’s plant-based steak, Gombert said how it’s made is a secret.

Appealing alternative

Perhaps the most lucrative market for products like this are not strict vegans or vegetarians, but flexitarians. Tastings with consumer groups and chefs have been met enthusiastically, and the product is a source of vitamin B12, fibre and high levels of protein.

“The smell, taste and bite can hardly be distinguished from real steak and we are convinced that this product will meet a large need of consumers,” said Gombert. “It is very important that we eat less meat, both for our own health, animal welfare and for our planet. Innovative and high-quality plant-based products can make a significant contribution here."

Tesco also expanded its plant-based range back in March with its plant-based innovation and executive chef Derek Sarno introducing Swedish meat alternative brand Oumph into the supermarket with three products. The retailer sells kebab spiced meat, pulled pork and chicken alternatives, which are made from soy, and are designed to cook from frozen in five to six minutes.

Plant-based pipeline

So what about other plant-based potentials? Most companies competing in the market have focused on foodservice and restaurant to launch their products.

In a home-grown take on a beef alternative, Moving Mountains has a raw plant-based patty, called the B12 Burger, that ‘bleeds’ like meat and is made from mushrooms, beetroot juice, pea, wheat and soy protein, as well as coconut oil. It launched into vegetarian and vegan restaurant Mildreds Dalston in February, with a nationwide launch planned for later in the year.

Looking further afield, US company Impossible Burger has a meat-free burger made from wheat, potatoes and coconut oil that looks (and bleeds) like the real thing due to an iron-containing compound called heme.

Impossible Burgers’ product is available is more than 1,000 restaurants in the US, including in celebrity chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi and Traci Des Jardins’ restaurant Jardinière and is also set to launch in Asia later this year. However, the fact heme is produced using GM technology meaning expansion into some European markets could be challenging.

Another US competitor, Beyond Meat, has highly realistic plant-based meat alternatives made from yellow peas, with beet juice added for a dash of blood-red colour. It has listings in Whole Foods Markets in the US, but when it comes to the UK (also to Tesco) it is likely to be sold frozen rather than chilled. Beyond Meat also makes chicken-style strips and mince alternatives and a range of meat-free sausages is coming soon.

The Netherlands also has another company in the fray called Ojah, which has soya and pea-based meat substitutes with a fleshy structure and firm bite. It uses a clean-label, high-moisture extrusion technique that allows the company to produce wet texturised plant protein with a meat-like taste and mouthfeel. Ojah currently exports its products to more than 21 countries, and with Kerry Group set to come on board, its footprint will widen.

While it currently focuses on the chicken market with products made from pea protein, New Zealand company Sunfed Foods also has beef and bacon versions in the pipeline, with the UK one of its key target markets.

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