Ernst Breel, Birgit Dekkers, Rival Foods © Twycer / www.twycer.nl

A vegetable proteins product that has a bite that is as tasty and juicy as a good piece of meat. That’s what they’re working on at start-up Rival Foods in Ede. Rival Foods was founded in 2019 by Birgit Dekkers as a spin-off of Wageningen University & Research. Last month, the company won the Rabobank Sustainable Innovation Award.

Why was Rival Foods founded?

“I’ve been involved in Food Process Engineering for a number of years: research into new technologies to imitate the fibrous structures of meat with vegetable proteins. We’re using a new process called shear cell technology for this purpose. The process could be compared to a pressure cooker and has a rotating part. We use elevated temperature in combination with a simple shear flow, to place the vegetable ingredients in a certain direction. After cooling, you mimic the fibrous structure of the meat.

In 2014, I started my Ph.D. research with Food Technology at the University of Wageningen. An excellent place for scientific research and first development of a product, but not to make the translation to the market and consumer. We did want to make it, which is why Ernst Breel and I founded Rival Foods. Ernst has experience with spinoff companies and in particular how to turn scientific innovations into commercial success.”

There are many meat substitutes on the market, why another one?

“Definitely. There are a lot of sausages, burgers, and other products available, and the market for meat substitutes has been growing rapidly in recent years. Still, the product we’re working on is really different. You can warm up the burgers and sausages, but with our products, you can really cook culinary. The bite is what it’s all about. Our product has a muscle-like structure, just like real meat. You can marinate it and prepare it in different ways, for example, baking, steaming, or stewing. More like you do with pork tenderloin or beef, for example.”

Is someone who chooses vegetable food waiting for something that resembles meat?

“We want to give the consumer the experience of eating meat. A switch in our diet to more vegetable food is necessary, I am convinced of that. But consumers want something tasty and juicy, and to have a bite. It also needs to be a bit easy to prepare. We think it’s a good alternative with many of the same properties as meat.”

Does Rival Foods work with others?

“We’re in the middle of Foodvalley and there are several companies we work with. We have short lines of communication with Wageningen University, so we can connect with all kinds of scientific developments. For example, we received funding from a foreign party that noticed us because we were able to present our business case in the larger context of Wageningen and the Foodvalley. There is interest in our technology from large companies and we are in talks about the collaboration with a number of these parties.”

Rival Foods has been around for a year and a half, where are you now?

“We are in the phase of further development of the product. We employ five people and work a lot with interns and researchers. You can already taste and prepare the product, but we are working on an even better taste, mouthfeel, and structure. How do you make sure it really tastes good, what colors and flavors do you need? We regularly organize tasting sessions with chefs and food professionals. They are often very critical and it has to become a product they want to work with. Besides further developing the product itself, we are also busy with scaling it up. We can now produce about ten kilos per hour, but if you want to enter the market it has to be a few hundred kilos per hour”.

Where will you be in another year and a half?

“In 2021, we want consumers to be able to taste our products, for example, because they are prepared in restaurants or through local sales. In 2022, we’ll make the big step and our products will be on the shelf of the supermarket.”

© Rival Foods

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Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.