Part of the meat alternatives category, which is expanding 9.6 percent a year in the UK, its mission is to create the taste, texture and experience of cooking meat and now it’s set to deliver a £20 million turnover this year. Following two years development of patent-pending processes based on blended pea protein powder, rice protein and carrot fibre, Meatless has gone from start-up in 2018 to a challenger brand taking on the industry’s billion-dollar US behemoths.
While the custom of vegans and vegetarians can never be taken for granted, it is the UK’s 22 million flexitarians, health and carbon footprint watchers of all ages varying between meat and plant-based meals, that are Meatless’s biggest target.
Latest tracker figures suggest since Covid-19 a third of consumers are looking to buy more green and sustainable products.
“This is no longer a quirky niche. But we are appealing to people who eat meat and this differentiates us,” says founder Morten Toft Bech, a financial IT expert whose family found a lack of meat-free options as they reduced their meat intake and became more conscious of environmental concerns.
“It struck me that if we could recreate that taste and texture more sustainably people would make small changes,” he explains.
“When we started we were ahead of social shift that has now gone mainstream. People have progressively become more open about trying plant-based alternatives.
“We aren’t against meat. We take a humbler approach, however intensively farmed meat and the way we consume isn’t sustainable.
“We want to make going meat-free accessible and not just a privileged choice. If more people could be persuaded to make changes once or twice a week, this would have a big environmental impact, eight per cent of UK greenhouse gasses would be reduced.”
Manufacturing takes place Nottingham with Meatless’s process, ingredients and recipes developed by scientists and chefs in Leeds, a world-leading centre for food science and innovation, where the company’s headquarters also feature a kitchen, test lab and tours for children and young people.
Mince is its supermarket best seller, its most recent a meatball, launched in east Asian fast food chain Itsu and demand for its sausages is surging.
“To appeal to meat eaters we have to offer a no-compromise swap. We experimented with thousands of recipes and product development and improvement is continuous,” says Toft Bech.
“Our focus is on the centre-of-the-plate element and a plant-based switch. But creating successful recipes isn’t easy, flavours can change when combined with different foods. That is why having both scientists and foodies involved has been so crucial.”
With industry heavyweights on board such as former Lidl chief executive Jesper Højer as chairman, the company, which employs 65 in the UK and is now in Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Wetherspoons, expanded into the US with an influential Whole Foods Market stores listing last year, followed by offices in Amsterdam and Singapore.
Investment initially from Toft Bech and now a group of investors including Channel 4, totals £14 million and he is considering a further raise later this year to meet demand in a world market predicted to be worth over £22 billion by 2025.
New lines and further international expansion are planned and there is good news for some of the hardest hit post-lockdown when he says “we are looking to recruit young talent in Leeds”.