Birgit Dekkers of startup Rival Foods: "Connections and funding are needed if you want to conquer the veggie shelf in the supermarket"

04 December 2020


In Ede, Birgit Dekkers and Ernst Breel of Rival Foods are using new scientific technology to develop the world's first meat substitute that can be prepared as an ingredient. Because of its unique product, the startup gains a lot of interest, but also knows the growing pains of every young company.


Rival Foods uses Shear Cell technology to apply visible and tactile texture to vegetable meat substitutes. "This allows us to make products that can be marinated and prepared as a fillet steak. That's unique. So far, the vega shelves in the supermarket have been filled with processed foods such as vegetable mince or sausages. There's not much you can do with them other than heat them up. Chefs, but also consumers, are ready for the next generation of meat substitutes. That is what we offer.” 



Unique meat substitutes

The equipment developed at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is already capable of imitating fish, meat and poultry in appearance, taste, juiciness and mouthfeel. "Rivals On Sea is glassy and falls apart, On Land has a coarser structure due to the firm fibre and With Wings has a fine, homogenous structure like chicken.” The next step is to transform that scientific research equipment into machines that can produce on a larger scale.



Team of experts

Birgit is a food technologist and startup Rival Foods was born from her PhD research with Prof. Dr. Atze Jan van der Goot, expert in the field of food process engineering at the WUR. Compagnon Breel is a physicist. "In order to commercialise this invention, we have gathered a fun and motivated team of experts around us with very different areas of expertise," she explains. "Engineers for the technology and stainless steel work, food technologists for the formulation of products, food designers for concept and packaging and chefs and food professionals for taste and preparation.”





Scaling up doesn't happen by itself 

The road of this brand-new company is a bumpy one. Dekkers: "There is always too little time and money to realise what you have in mind. We've had a lot of help with this from the Startlife and Climate-KIC acceleration programmes.” Scaling up introduces other growing pains. "We need technology suppliers and are looking for partners who have already built their own brand and can bring our product to consumers. Birgit sees the added value of the Brave New Food innovation platform in this. "With the right connections and funding you can scale up and talk to the right people. That is necessary if you want to conquer the veggie shelf in the supermarket.”


The first steps towards a bigger network and funding have been made. Recently, Rival Foods was announced as winner of the 'Rabobank Sustainable Innovation Award 2020'. On top of that, they received the honorable Audience Award.


 


Making a difference together

She also sees raising awareness as a clean task for the European-oriented Brave New Food, which stands for open innovation. "If all parties involved in the food chain realise that they are dependent on each other and can make a difference together, the transition to healthier and more sustainable food will be much faster. What, for example, does it take to change our eating habits? We call ourselves flexitarians, but the average meat consumption is increasing. Why is that? If we know that, we will also find the right solution more quickly.”




Alternatives to proteins

Birgit is well aware that her product is only one link in the food chain. "We make our products from only five ingredients. One is water, another is vegetable protein from soya beans, peas and wheat. These sources are predicted to be scarcer in a few years' time. That is why we are already looking for alternatives. At Rival Foods, for example, we are looking at whether we can use protein from residual flows.”



Catching up on the lead

According to Dekkers, the meat industry has had decades to optimise. "The vegetable industry still has to take those steps. There are still a lot of strokes to be made. How can we minimise the use of energy and the amount of water in our processes, for example. With the right mindset, research such as that of the WUR and the use of gamechangers such as Brave New Food, we are well on the way.”



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