Plant-based expansion: Unilever acquires meat alternative innovator The Vegetarian Butcher

636808984895867341business cubes.jpg

20 Dec 2018 --- Unilever has acquired Netherlands headquartered meat alternative innovator The Vegetarian Butcher, as it seeks to expand its portfolio into plant-based foods that are healthier and have a lower environmental impact. With the acquisition, Unilever is responding to the growing trend among consumers opting frequently for vegetarian and vegan meals, says the company. In the Netherlands alone, some 750,000 people now identify as vegetarian. But flexitarians, who regularly choose to eat less meat, now make up two-thirds of the Dutch population, according to research from the University of Wageningen.

Financial details of the purchase have not been disclosed and the deal is expected to be completed before the end of this year. 

The move follows several years of collaboration between the companies that resulted in the launch of the first vegetarian meatballs and vegetarian smoked sausage under the Unox brand.

Click to EnlargeUnilever and The Vegetarian Butcher started working together in 2016, where they marketed products under the Unox brand.For The Vegetarian Butcher (known in the Netherlands as De Vegetarische Slager), the acquisition is the next step in its ambition to grow into “the largest butcher in the world,” reads a statement from the company, which was founded by Jaap Korteweg in 2007.

“Unilever’s international network across 190 countries, provides every opportunity to accomplish this,” Korteweg notes. 

Korteweg, a ninth-generation meat farmer and a real meat lover, became a vegetarian and founded the company to satisfy his own need for quality food products which are not produced from animals. The products made by The Vegetarian Butcher are now being sold in over 4,000 outlets in 17 countries.

According to Korteweg, the acquisition by Unilever has come at the right time: “We want to take the next step – conquer the world. It is our mission to make plant-based ‘meat’ the standard. We believe that with Unilever’s international network, this acquisition will help to accelerate our mission.”

Unilever and The Vegetarian Butcher started working together in 2016 when they jointly launched Vegetarian Meatballs in Satay Sauce and Vegetarian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, which were marketed under the Unox brand.

The acquisition is a step on Unilever’s journey towards a portfolio with more plant-based products. Currently, Unilever is selling nearly 700 products with V-label in Europe. In the Netherlands, these include products from Unox, Knorr, Hellmann’s, Conimex and Ben & Jerry’s brands.

Nitin Paranjpe, President Foods & Refreshment Unilever comments: “The Vegetarian Butcher is a brand with a clear mission, many loyal ambassadors, a good following on social media and a strong position in the market. The brand will fit in well within our portfolio of ‘brands with purpose,’ which have a positive social impact, are better positioned to meet the needs of consumers and are growing faster. Click to EnlargePlant-based meats were the key theme at SIAL 2018 in Paris in October 2018. It effectively shows how the meat cabinet is evolving into the protein cabinet.Importantly, this acquisition will help us to accelerate our journey towards more plant-based food.”

The Vegetarian Butcher employs approximately 90 people, who are to remain with the business under Unilever ownership, according to the company. 

Plant-based meats were the key theme at SIAL 2018 in Paris in October 2018, where the meat hall at this year’s event was noteworthy for the sheer number of innovative meat alternatives on display to cater to both vegetarian and flexitarian consumers. More innovative meat brands than ever were present, including Beyond Burger, Vivera, The Meatless Farm Co. and The Vegetarian Butcher. It effectively shows how the meat cabinet is evolving into the protein cabinet.

FoodIngredientsFirst has reached out to Unilever and The Vegetarian Butcher for further details on the new acquisition.

The news follow several recent significant announcements from the brand. In September 2018, major Dutch snack manufacturer brand Mora joined forces with The Vegetarian Butcher.

October 1st marked the launch of a plant-based vegan smoked sausage with a traditional taste, which is now available under Unilever’s Unox brand. Click to EnlargeOctober 1st marked the launch of a plant-based vegan smoked sausage with a traditional taste, which is now available under Unilever’s Unox brand. 

The aim was to create a product that would taste great, even for typical meat eaters, according to the company. In addition to creating a good flavor, it was a challenge to create a sausage with a “bang.” The animal-friendly smoked sausage has since been available in Dutch supermarkets.

Plant-based proteins have taken center stage in 2018, the year which has marked serious growth in vegan product development.

Last month, Innova Market Insights hotly tipped “The Plant Kingdom” as its number two top trend for 2019, reflecting how vegan inspired eating continues to go mainstream. The trend is set to become even more significant for the coming twelve months ahead. 

The shift in the dynamics of this space is clear when advertising strategy is assessed, also for a brand that was a traditional stalwart of the Unilever portfolio. One of the most striking campaigns of 2018 came in the Netherlands, where former Unilever margarine brand Becel has been given a telling marketing spin. Last year, Unilever agreed to sell its margarine and spreads business to US private equity firm KKR for €6.83 billion to concentrate on faster growing products. In June 2018, KKR re-established under the corporate name Upfield. Now Becel has chosen a new brand positioning, with a highly interesting tagline: “Plants are the new cows.” Becel has been positioning itself on a plant platform since 2017 and under the Upfield flag Becel goes even further, with the launch of a new product range: 100 percent vegetable drinks. This launch is supported in communication with this striking tagline in the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, where it is also used for the established margarine product.

To contact our editorial team please email us at

Related Articles

Food Ingredients News

Unilever snaps up healthy snack brand Graze

06 Feb 2019 --- Consumer goods giant Unilever has bought UK-based Graze, a snack box delivery brand which is sold in supermarkets across the UK and US. Unilever reports that the purchase will accelerate the company’s presence in healthy foods, while Graze has described the deal as “transformational.” The bidding war for Graze had garnered interest from the likes of Pepsi and Kellogg's before Unilever successfully sealed the deal this week.

Food Ingredients News

Unilever Q4 sales miss expectations, full-year profits bolstered by “stand-out year for ice cream”

31 Jan 2019 --- Unilever has reported lower-than-expected Q4 sales, which were affected by flat volume growth in developed markets. In the company’s first set of results under the reign of new Chief Executive Alan Jope, sales rose by 2.9 percent and there was an increase in profits for the full year, which stood at €9.8 billion (US$11.21 billion) in 2018 compared to €6.5 billion in 2017.

Food Ingredients News

Tracking provenance and building trust: WWF and BCGDV take traceability to next level with new blockchain platform

17 Jan 2019 --- A new blockchain platform promises to take food transparency to the next level by allowing consumers to easily track the provenance of what they are buying while helping businesses stamp out unscrupulous operators. OpenSC can reportedly help businesses to remove illegal, environmentally-damaging or unethical products from their supply chains, giving consumers “peace of mind” about the products they are purchasing. The new platform, launched by WWF and BCG Digital Ventures (BCGDV), comes as more consumers want to know what’s in their food and where it comes from.

Food Ingredients News

Low on the welfare pecking order? Global fast food chains hit back at accusations of poor chicken treatment

16 Jan 2019 --- NGO World Animal Protection (WAP) has slammed some of the world’s largest fast food chains for their treatment of chickens, in a new global report released this week. The report, entitled “The Pecking Order,” rated the eight companies surveyed as either “poor” or “failing” on animal welfare standards. In response to this, the companies outlined – McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway, Nando’s, Starbucks and Domino’s – maintain that their animal welfare standards are up to scratch.

Food Ingredients News

Is “bioengineering” US labeling change a regulatory loophole?

07 Jan 2019 --- US policymakers have come up with new rules that exempt certain products that typically come from genetically modified crops from actually having GM status. This includes highly refined sugars, oils, and starches. As the New Year marks the beginning of a one-year transition period for the new rules to come into effect, the US government is being criticized for creating a loophole in standards in terms of how food products are labeled – and it means that GMOs in many foods will go undisclosed. This has lead to concerns of “anti-transparency” towards consumers who might be confused about what exactly is in their food.

More Articles