The Vegetarian Butcher’s concept store looks like a real butcher shop. The cutting boards, knives, chalkboard menu, and even meat grinder all play their part. But something’s missing.
There’s no glass case full of marbled meats and ready-to-grill kebabs. You won’t see homemade sausages hanging from the ceiling. And the store smells much more like a bakery than a butcher.
But this is no ordinary meat shop: this butcher shop is entirely meatless.
Why Make Vegetarian Food for Meat Lovers?
The idea for The Vegetarian Butcher was born nine years ago when a Dutch farmer named Jaap Korteweg went on holiday.
Jaap, a vegetarian, was frustrated by the quality and flavour of vegetarian options. The meatballs made of spinach were too crumbly. The faux-burgers were too rubbery. Jaap decided it was time to revolutionise vegetarian eating, and The Vegetarian Butcher was born.
Rather than use food science to create meatless options, Jaap partnered with chefs who could help him maximise flavour and focus on texture. Six years ago they opened their concept store in The Hague in The Netherlands. Now you can find Vegetarian Butcher products in supermarkets and restaurants across 14 countries.
The Vegetarian Butcher’s customers range from omnivores to flexitarians to vegans, but their main audience is meat eaters. As they explain it, vegetarians aren’t looking for chicken strips or bacon.
At first, attracting customers was a challenge for The Vegetarian Butcher: meat eaters were often skeptical about meatless alternatives, yet vegetarians didn’t want fake meat. To overcome this, The Vegetarian Butcher began marketing to housewives.
Even though their husbands didn’t want to come into the store, often complaining, “you cannot butcher vegetables”, the wives would buy the products and feed them to their husbands without divulging their meatless origins. The Vegetarian Butcher now has the motto, “you should betray your lover at least two times per week”.
How Do You Butcher Vegetables?
The meatless products at The Vegetarian Butcher really do look and taste like their meaty counterparts.
The key to this deception is soy. Though some products are made with other types of protein, like peas or lupine, most of the Vegetarian Butcher’s products are made with soy which is helpful because it can be processed into many different textures.
Texture, along with chef-developed and constantly evolving proprietary recipes, is another secret behind the Vegetarian Butcher’s success. Their chicken, beef, and even fish all have the exact same consistency and appearance as the non-vegetarian versions.
But What About the Taste?
And they got the flavour right, too. In fact, the Vegetarian Butcher’s products are so indistinguishable from their non-vegetarian versions that they won over a judging panel of real butchers at a meatball competition.
According to Vegetarian Butcher chef Maarten, they entered the competition with a meatless product but didn’t tell anyone they weren’t using meat! They took home third place out of 41 teams.
And butchers are not the only ones being fooled. Maarten explained that when asked to taste the Vegetarian Butcher’s sausage roll and a normal sausage roll, a focus group of regular consumers preferred the vegetarian version, even though they didn’t know it was meatless.
The sausage roll, features a meatball-like center and chilli sauce inside a flaky pastry shell. It’s available in their freezer section, along with other ready-to-eat items like bratwurst and croquettes.
The Vegetarian Butcher also serves both hot and cold vegetarian meals. Visitors can choose grab-and-go options like tuna salad (made with homemade red pepper mayonnaise) or slices of meatless deli meat.
Rotating daily specials include options like calamari with remoulade, BBQ beef salad with chipotle dressing, soy-free, gluten free quiche with bacon, and the Einstein-inspired Mexican MC2 burger with jalapeños.
Their prices are comparable to a mid to high-end meat product. They cannot compete with bulk quantities of mince meat at the supermarket, but their hamburger is only €1.30.
Saving the Planet One Burger at a Time
The current way most of the world produces meat, and especially beef, contributes significantly to environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, and soil degradation.
The Vegetarian Butcher hopes to create a more sustainable food system by helping meat lovers find a tasty vegetable-based substitute at least a few times per week.
Rather than grow crops like soy, and feed them to animals which can then be feed to humans, The Vegetarian Butcher hopes to make the system more efficient by feeding the soy directly to people.
The Vegetarian Butcher uses statistics to justify how they will reduce the footprint of the food system. They explained that normally it takes nine kilograms of soy to produce one kilogram of beef.
In contrast, The Vegetarian Butcher can produce three kilograms of “chicken” from just one kilogram of soy. They also claim to reduce land usage, as the facility they use to process the soy is much smaller than what is needed to raise livestock.
The Sustainability Debate
Research on this topic is controversial. Some feel that animal agriculture can be sustainable. Others believe that we must all become vegetarians to create a sustainable food system.
Overall though, it’s generally accepted that our current livestock system does introduce environmental damage and animal welfare issues, and that beef is an especially large culprit. Some research indicates that the feed conversion ratio, the standard measurement for how efficiently an animal can convert from feed to food for humans, is upwards of twenty to one.
What’s not clear is whether soy-based vegetarian products can be a sustainable solution. If demand for soy increases, deforestation could remain an issue. Additionally, the nutritional impacts of a soy-based diet are not understood well enough. If these meat alternatives are heavily processed or fried, are they really any healthier?
Saving the planet one vegetarian burger at a time may not be that far fetched. However, even The Vegetarian Butcher’s chefs, like Maarten, appreciate that for some people, eating meat occasionally may be more realistic.
Can the Vegetarian Butcher Become the World’s Largest?
Jaap Korteweg’s goal is to become the largest butcher in the world.
In addition to good business, Jaap feels that achieving this kind of scale and traction would mean The Vegetarian Butcher has significantly reduced their negative impacts on the food system. But the team recognises that they cannot do this singlehandedly. They will need to raise awareness about environmental issues. They will also need to make high quality food that people want to eat and tell their friends about.
Right now they are working to expand the range of meatless products they offer. For example, they are working on a vegan “steak”, calling it part of “the fourth generation of vegetarian food”.
One challenge is that there’s not currently enough demand to warrant investing in a production facility. So, they are subject to the availability and pricing of third-party manufacturers. One possible solution may be to collaborate with other companies and co-invest in an entirely vegetarian “butcher” facility.
In 2015 they ran a successful crowdfunding campaign, recognised as one of the most successful world wide, where they raised €2.5M in three weeks.
For now, though, The Vegetarian Butcher will continue to produce delicious and deceptive meatless meals and hope that customers will continue to come back for more.
Learn more or see where you can find products from The Vegetarian Butcher on their website.