De Vegetarische Slager, translated from Dutch to The Vegetarian Butcher, is a dedicated meat shop without the meat. That is, the recently opened Netherlands store deals in plant-based animal substitutes — think poseur pork and veggie fillets — designed to take the death out of dining.
From a business perspective, however, the idea is anything but bloodless. EatingWell magazine cites meatless meals as a key trend for 2011, as health-conscious consumers cut saturated fat, while innovation firm Springwise names the vegetarian butcher concept among this year’s most promising commerce opportunities.
Whether humane or heretical, this is “mystery meat” writ large.
“Within the last three to five years, there’s been a real explosion in terms of variety, availability and also quality,” says David Alexander, executive director of the Toronto Vegetarian Association. “We’re at the point now where you can go to just about any grocery store and find vegetarian chicken-fingers or meatless sausages and burgers.”
Mintel reports that the desire to eat healthier, combined with greater national focus on heart health (meat substitutes typically contain no cholesterol), can be largely credited for the increasing popularity of soy-based foods and beverages — which, as of 2008, boasted a consumer penetration of 28%.
A report by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada further suggests as much as 40% of the population actively seeks out meatless alternatives, at least occasionally.
“As more and more people around the world opt for meat-free diets, there will be a wealth of opportunities to cater to their needs,” says Chris Turner, managing director at www.springwise.com. “Innovative concepts such as De Vegetarische Slager are always likely to find success, particularly if they can offer real quality in produce and presentation.” Robin Robertson, author of The Vegetarian Meat & Potatoes Cookbook, notes that North American grocers are already tapping the market with small-scale versions of the Dutch model.
Canada’s Save-On Foods, for example, dedicates a refrigerated section entirely to mock meat — everything from faux hotdogs and breakfast sausages to imitation ground beef.
“When I was first trying to become a vegetarian, I couldn’t even find tofu. It was like something from another planet,” recalls Robertson, who swore off meat in 1986.
“Back then, vegetarians felt that if you wanted fake meat, you weren’t a serious vegetarian, whereas carnivores assumed you really missed meat if you were eating fake versions. You couldn’t win.”
Today, Robertson’s recipe repertoire includes such dishes as ‘fauxscargots,’ shiitake-stuffed tofu steaks, vegetarian stew, and plant-based versions of pot roast, meatballs, burgers, cutlets, meat loaf and sausages.
“It never made sense to me that just because I didn’t want to eat animals, I should be deprived of the tastes and textures of my favourite dishes,” she says.
But even as industry projections suggest meat deceit will be worth $368 million in North America by 2014 — and a whopping $2.4 billion in Europe — analysts cite an urgent need to reach out to non-traditional consumers in order to buoy growth rates. For example, Ontario nutritionist Naomi Carpenter-Mehew, who still eats meat but recognizes the health value in using animal analogs on occasion.
“Eating an animal protein late at night can be very taxing on the digestive system. Better to do it at lunchtime, when you’re still burning energy and moving around, then try a vegetarian protein at supper,” says Carpenter-Mehew.
“It’s an easy way to incorporate (meat substitutes) without waking up one morning and saying, ‘OK, I’m going vegan!’”
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