Rival Foods makes meat substitutes with muscle structure such as steak

What is Rival Foods?

Rival Foods was founded in July 2019 as a technology spin-off of Wageningen University & Research. Birgit Dekkers got her Ph.D. there. She developed a process of structuring proteins to make meat substitutes that are almost indistinguishable from real meat.

‘Now a meat substitute is a good alternative to processed meat, but not everyone is satisfied with a vegetarian burger or vegan sausage. Sometimes you just want a juicy steak, but there is no alternative to that yet. We have now reached the point where we can give proteins a meat-like muscle structure.’

Dekkers describes the technique used for this as a pressure cooker with a rotating part. “We set proteins in a specific direction using pressure and heating. In this way, we imitate the mouthfeel and juiciness of a real piece of meat.’

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Whos behind?

During his PhD research, Dekkers was already interested in large companies, but first the technology had to be further developed in order to scale up. The university laboratory was not suitable for that, so Dekkers created a startup.

For the scale-up, she called in her current partner Ernst Breel. ‘Ernst has a background in physics and five years’ experience with spin-off companies. He commercialized certain techniques for VU Amsterdam. He is now doing the same trick for Rival Foods.’

The team at the Wageningen startup now has thirteen employees plus a flexible layer of interns and researchers. ‘We share the same motivation: to get people to eat more plant-based foods to sustainably feed the growing world population without harming the earth. The joint mission ensures enthusiasm and involvement.’

A meat substitute from Rival Foods. Photo: Nina Slagmolen

Who’s waiting for it?

At present, Rival Foods tries to get the products to the consumer’s plate through ‘food service channels’. This means: a collaboration with food professionals and leading chefs. A number of agreements have already been made, but Rival Foods is not allowed/willing to share names yet.

‘You can season, marinate and cook a steak or pork tenderloin in a special way. This makes many chefs happy. It is – finally – something other than popping a vegetarian hamburger on a bun.’

In a next phase, Rival Foods also wants to deliver directly to the retail sector, but this first requires a significant scale-up.

How far is Rival Foods?

Currently, the startup is focusing on fine-tuning the production process and products. ‘The products are there, but all the details have to be right to fully convince the carnivore. We now know how to imitate the mouthfeel and structure, but the taste must also be perfect, for example.’

Rival Foods hopes to bring the first products to market in the second half of 2023. They go to chefs and their restaurants. A fine start, but certainly not the end if Dekkers has his way.

“To have a real effect, our products must also end up in the supermarket. But to be able to fulfill that production capacity, a production site that can produce on a larger scale is needed. Opening that location is our next step.’

rival foods birgit dekkers
Co-founder Birgit Dekkers from Rival Foods. Photo: Nina Slagmolen

What is the revenue model?

Rival Foods produces and sells meat substitutes. This is what the B2B startup does: from startup to chef. The price for such a package of meat substitutes? Dekkers does not want to make that public yet.

Do you still need money?

In September, Rival Foods raised an investment of 6 million euros from PeakBridge and Roquette Ventures. This money will go towards expanding operational capabilities, scaling up unique technologies and developing new formulas with new protein sources.

In two years, Dekkers hopes to complete a new investment round, for Series B. ‘Then let’s go. For that money, we can produce on a large scale and deliver to supermarkets. Then we can really make a difference’.

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