SAVING THE PLANET ONE MEAL AT A TIME. Dior DeCupper was appointed CEO of Meatless Farm in December 2021. Meatless Farm is a plant based food company that now has offices in Leeds, Amsterdam, New York and Singapore. The Plant Based Food world is a fast growing and purpose led industry, aiming to make a significant impact on the health of people and our planet.
You can listen to the podcast of this interview here.
Dior DeCupper, why did the entrepreneur Morten Toft Bech found the plant based food company Meatless Farm in Leeds in 2016?
Morten founded Meatless Farm because he wanted to reunite meat eaters and non-meat eaters around one meal. He has three little girls and says that we have a planetary duty towards the new generation. Meatless Farm is a very purposeful organisation, with sustainability very high ranked. Numerous studies about plant based products confirm that we can improve the planet and the health of the humans by consuming plant based meat.
Will Meatless Farm become a B Corporation with certification of your social and environmental performance?
Yes, we want to become a regenerative company and have the B Corp status in 2023 or 2024 latest. We really believe in the sustainable planet, and that one way to get there is to challenge the current nutritional system. We’re not pro vegan. Meatless Farm is there to reunite vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters. We encourage people to consume plant based alternatives to meat and dairy, but we’re not meat haters. We’re pro “meat lessing”.
If animals are raised to the rules of sustainability, is there something wrong about eating meat?
A cow alone in the field is not an issue. The issue is the mass production of meat, and also delivering rather poor quality meat.
What is your mission?
We’re simply more sustainable than the meat companies. There’s no animal cruelty and there’s less destruction to the planet by our products. A second leg of our business, called Lovingly Made Ingredients, is an extrusion factory located in Canada that provides Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP). TVP is a powder which is the key and the base ingredient that is used for our plant based products, and is made from yellow pea. A lot of plant based burgers are made from soy, but pea uses less water and has more amino acids, so is better for consumers’ health than soy.
“We need meat eaters to swap a couple of meals a week to plant based alternatives in order to really have an impact on the environment.”
Meatless Farm’s products are made from pea protein but look and taste like meat to help meat-eaters reduce their meat intake
Dior DeCupper, what is characteristic of the yellow pea that you grow with farmers in Canada and why did you choose that?
A lot of people are allergic to soy, not to pea, and it uses less water, and it’s very good for crop rotation when you cultivate. They cost us more to produce than soy, but we want to do things the right way and be allergen and gluten free.
Are they organically grown?
We want to move towards organic farms in order to be able to also have organic product. That’s something that we’re looking at, but we’re not there yet.
What is the difference between the normal chicken breast and one of yours?
Ours is just not made from meat, it’s made from pea. It’s plant based. There’s no meat in our chicken breast. It’s a meatless chicken breast. A chickenless breast!
Does it taste very different or do you feel that you’re eating chicken?
If you eat our chicken breast without anything else it’s extremely tasty and high quality but you will feel a difference. If you put it into a salad or make a burger out of it, or if you just cook it or eat it in a sauce, you can’t tell the difference. We’ve done blind tests with people, and they could not tell the difference between chicken nuggets made from chicken and our chickenless nuggets. We constantly improve the recipes, the texture, nutritional value and taste, in order to make it look, taste and feel like meat and so that more people can be convinced to move towards plant based products without having the impression that they’re making a sacrifice.
What about when you eat one of your hamburgers?
You just can’t tell the difference anymore, even the texture. We pay very much attention to how the burger looks once you’ve taken a bite or cut it with a knife so that it resembles the meat version as much as possible.
Who are your target audience?
Our target audience are meat flexitarians. The vegans or vegetarians, who love our products, are not a big enough community. We need meat eaters to swap a couple of meals a week to plant based alternatives in order to really have an impact on the environment.
Why do you target flexitarians?
Two out of five people in Europe consider themselves flexitarians. That means that they will eat less meat. 46%, almost half of all European consumers, eat less meat. Studies prove that it’s a large number and the more people switch to just one or two plant based meals a week the impact can be massive for the planet.
Is it also good for low cholesterol diets?
It is much better. You don’t have cholesterol in our products. We recently ran a study with London Southbank University which suggested that eating plant based meats has a positive impact on gut health which ordinary meat does not.
When one eats one of your products is it like eating vegetables?
The base is pea of course, but it has the taste and texture of meat and we are always careful to have an equivalent amount of protein. But you will have a little bit less calories.
“Our products are very, very tasty, so the quality of our products is extremely good.”
Dior DeCupper, where are your products sold?
At retailers like Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda in the UK, Kaufland in Germany and Jumbo in the Netherlands, but we also have a business to business foodservice channel to restaurants and hotel chains, and quick service outlets. Restaurants now have several plant based options for vegans and for vegetarians, but also serve flexitarians who just want to switch to a plant based burger or chicken breast. In the UK our products are part of the menu at Pret A Manger, at TGI Fridays, at itsu, at Yo! Sushi. We work very closely with chefs like Omari McQueen to bring new recipes.
Are your products own labelled by the supermarkets?
No, we’re not a private label company. Our brand is one of our key assets and you will find the Meatless Farm brand products on the shelf of the plant based products. Because of the growth of the plant based market products now have their own shelves. On the shelf in a supermarket it lasts for about 18 days. If it’s frozen, it lasts for a year.
Is your hamburger or chicken breast more or less expensive than the meat based one?
It’s more expensive. Ultimately, we’d love to be able to have the same price for meat and plant based products, but we’re still developing and renovating our recipes and we’re still going through a lot of research and development in order to continuously improve our products or create new categories and segments.
What is the variety of your products?
We have chicken nuggets, chicken burgers, minced meat, burgers and sausages. We just launched beef steaks. We have developed some Asian snacks, and we also sell meatless bacon to go on top of pizza to pizza operators. Our best-selling product is minced meat.
Are you going to work also on fish?
Yes. It’s still confidential at this stage, but we are definitely working on fish.
Is the market growing very quickly?
Right now the market is considered to be 1.4 billion and by 2030 the market is supposed to reach 25 billion. Massive exponential growth. We started expanding to the U.S. in 2020, so we have an office in the U.S. We produce in the U.K. and in the Netherlands and ship over to the U.S. We created an office in Amsterdam in 2021 and we’re now selling products in the Netherlands and Germany. In the rest of the world, a little bit in South Africa, Israel, Chile and Mexico and so on, through distributors. We have a strategic investor in South Korea, and towards the end of the year we want to be selling in China, South Korea and Vietnam. We are growing! The market is growing.
Can you produce enough to meet the demand?
Generally we have capacity in partner factories, without any problem. It’s not an issue.
Who are your competitors?
Beyond Meat is the most well-known because it’s a listed company in the US; Impossible Foods is mostly based in the US. Vegetarian Butcher was bought by Unilever a few years ago. Vivera was bought by Brazilian meat manufacturer JBS. Garden Gourmet belongs to Nestlé. From country to country you have certain brands, but the ones that I’ve just cited are quite global brands.
Why are you better than the others?
Our products are very, very tasty, so the quality of our products is extremely good. One differentiation is that, as I’ve mentioned earlier, our products are made from pea and not from soy. Others are moving towards pea, but we’re already there.
Meatless Farm’s Lovingly Made Ingredients Plant in Canada launched in 2021
Inside Meatless Farm’s ingredients manufacturing division called Lovingly Made Ingredients based in Canada. It makes Meatless Farm products and plant protein for suppliers
Meatless Farm’s Chicken Breasts look and taste like the real thing but are made from pea protein.Meatless Farm’s Chicken Breasts look and taste like the real thing but are made from pea protein. The product launched in the UK in January 2022
Meatless Farm burger
Meatless Farm’s range of plant-based products are designed to help people make a couple swaps a week to make a difference to the planet
Meatless Farm’s range of products being enjoyed
“Gen Z or millennials, have understood that we need to change the nutritional system and that we’re damaging the planet.”
Dior DeCupper, are you going to work hard to promote Meatless Farm in the U.S.?
Not at the moment, because we just don’t have the resources. We want to focus on the U.K. and on the EU, really create new success and continue the success that we’ve known. Then we will look for funds in the U.S. in order to be able to grow there.
How many people work for you and what kind of people are they?
We’ve got about 100 people between the U.K., the U.S. and here. Both experienced senior leaders and a lot of young, eager people who have joined us because they believe in our purpose, in our quest to change the nutritional system.
Do you need to employ scientists?
We work with nutritionists and we have ourselves an R&D department with people who have worked at for instance Marks & Spencer and the Food Standards Agency or food technologists and chefs.
You previously had a great job at Upfield, a very large company linked to the Unilever group. What made you decide to move to Meatless Farm?
Both my parents are entrepreneurs so it has always interested me to be able to jump into this amazing growth adventure and the people that I met from the team I very much liked. The purpose of the team is just fantastic and I like this plant based food. I call it the tech of food. The fact that it’s changing, that there’s R&D involved in it, means it’s not like selling vegetables or selling dishwasher liquid. There’s no routine. It just keeps moving, keeps changing. It’s very innovative. I find that extremely attractive.
Do you work with chefs to create recipe books using your own products?
We work with chefs and have our own. In the U.K. we have two chefs who are employees of Meatless Farm. In Europe we have one chef in the Netherlands, who is also an employee of Meatless Farm. In markets where we don’t yet have an office, for instance in Spain, we use a chef partner that we work together with in order to propose our products visually as well as with the right elements, with the right garnitures around it.
What do you do to make people aware of especially tasty dishes?
We film a lot of videos and we put them online and on our Instagram you can see that we always share recipes in order to inspire people to use our products in a certain way. We use the digital channels to explain how to cook them, which is essentially the same way as the meat alternative.
You don’t mention the very famous cuisines of France and Italy, nor do you sell there. Is there a reticence?
We’re trying to enter the markets which are the biggest for the plant based market. Italy and France are rather small plant based markets still. We want to focus on the big markets, which are growing very rapidly: Germany, Netherlands and Spain. Next year we will try to get listings and distribution and start to promote our brand in Italy, France and the rest of Europe.
What kind of promotions do you make?
The tone of voice of the brand is unique, very cheeky. We do serious business, because the planet and the health of people are serious topics, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. We make a lot of jokes. We talk about sustainability, about the pea base, about the fact that every single one of us can make a difference for the planet and for our own health.
How do you share your job with Morten Toft Bech?
I am the CEO. He’s the founder and is more focused on investment – because we still depend on external investments – and also on PR and talking about sustainability and Meatless Farm, whereas I’m in charge of the operational agenda.
Are you going to list on the stock market?
No, we’re not looking at that, it’s too early. We want to just get more funding from various different investors, which we need to continue to grow. People want to invest in a sustainable business. I can’t tell you our numbers, but I can tell you that we grew 50% from 2020 to 2021, and this year we want to grow 100%.
What age are your fans?
A lot of younger people, Gen-Z or Millennials, have understood that we need to change the nutritional system and that we’re damaging the planet. They’re very much engaged, not just for food, but in general towards making a healthier planet.
Are you very optimistic?
Yes, because I’m living it. So it’s very easy to be optimistic.
Thank you very much for having been with me.
Thank you very much.
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