‘Taste is key’

A man on a mission, vegetarian butcher Jaap Korteweg is motivated by three things: making quality culinary products, freeing animals from the food chain, and reducing our ecological footprint. These are all things no one can disagree with…if it weren’t for the fact that meat is so tasty. Korteweg’s goal is to show meat lovers that they won’t be missing anything if they leave it all behind. ‘I want to become the world’s greatest butcher.’

Text by Lydia Lijkendijk

Vegetarian butcher Jaap Korteweg understands the carnivore’s notorious meat craving. He was once a carnivore himself, before he made the transition to a vegetarian lifestyle. Now he wants to see the rest of the world make that transition too.

Korteweg has always been a world changer. ‘Health, sustainability, and the way we treat animals were the main reasons I stopped eating meat. The ethical side of things was especially important to me. The only point of an animal’s life is the product it becomes after death. If you let yourself mull over that fact for a while, it’s crazy. I wanted to change things.’ He also wanted to change the taste of the meat replacements on the market, because in all honesty he couldn’t stomach any of them. ‘It was clear to me from the beginning that the key to the solution was in the taste. You can talk all you want about the environment and animal welfare, but a replacement product needs to taste good. It needs to match the taste of meat, and actually, it needs to taste even better than the meat version.’


The Vegetarian Butcher (Dutch: De Vegetarische Slager) brand began life as a small business, and has since dominated supermarket shelves. Korteweg says: ‘This is only the beginning of our development. Our goal is simple: replace meat. We’re aiming to convince more than half of the population to stop eating meat, or convince everyone to eat half as much meat. Even though we’ve become the second largest competitor in a very short time, just behind Vivera, the fact remains that only 2% of meat in the Netherlands is plant-based. If you look at the numbers, we still have a long way to go. Sometimes we make great strides, though: 20% of the sausage roll filler at AH to go franchises is made of our vegetarian meat replacement, even though only 5% of the population is vegetarian.’

As soon as Korteweg realised his ambition, women became his greatest allies. Specifically, highly educated women between the age of 20 and 50. These are generally the women with an interest in vegetarianism, and Korteweg is counting on them to educate their partners and children.

Target Audience

‘We don’t exist for the vegetarians’

Vegetarians are buying more and more products from The Vegetarian Butcher, but they are not Korteweg’s target audience. ‘The fact that you can’t swallow our tuna salad because it taste too much like fish is exactly the point. We don’t exist for the vegetarians. They’re managing just fine on their own. You can also live a vegetarian lifestyle healthily and easily without meat replacements – with beans and other legumes, for example. We’re specifically targeting the people who enjoy meat and fish, but are open to sustainability, animal welfare, and health.’ Essentially, The Vegetarian Butcher targets people with meat cravings, as Korteweg so aptly describes. ‘From studying brain scans, we know that an addiction to meat is comparable to a drug or alcohol addiction. I certainly experienced that when I stopped eating meat. The same thing happened in my brain as when I quit smoking.’

Paying the Price

Eating meat replacements is still an expensive hobby. For now, vegetarian products cost more than meat from a regular butcher. Korteweg acknowledges this. ‘In essence, our product is cheaper; it takes less land, water, and energy to make it than it does to make real meat. For now the price is necessary for us to cover costs. We make a modest profit, which we have just invested in a new factory.

‘Through innovation, our products are getting better and more sustainable. We can also grow faster. As we grow, our prices will start to compete with the price of animal meet. The tipping point, at which we become cheaper, is around 25% of the market share. I expect we’ll achieve this in fifteen years.’

Incidentally, cheapness is not the aim of The Vegetarian Butcher. ‘We will continue to stand by our taste. Taste is the reason our product sells, and sells well. If we make concessions on that front, we will disappear into the margins.’

Tasting Panel

Korteweg likes to be in the kitchen, but he’s no gourmet chef. He doesn’t assemble the recipes for The Vegetarian Butcher himself. ‘We employ two chefs. They are not vegetarians, although they keep heading further in that direction. They are very enthusiastic about what we make.’ As is Korteweg. ‘I’m the tasting panel,’ he says. ‘I taste and decide, and for the moment that seems to be working. The things I like sell well.’ He laughs: ‘Apparently I have very mainstream taste.’

The Vegetarian Gospel

Vegetarian butcher Jaap Korteweg wants to save the world from the consumption of animal meat. ‘We want to grow fast, at home and abroad. Soon Greece will be the fifteenth country where our products are available, and we’re in discussions with America. We would love to take over the American market.

‘Our knife and fork are our most powerful weapons’

We keep hoping that people will embrace out philosophy, and offer others a taste of our products. People will only be persuaded by trying, and by taste. The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. Good arguments have no chance against a meat addiction. Our alternative removes the fear of a life without meat. Only then is there room for discussion, and only then can we start replacing animals with technology. If we continue to grow at this rate, we’ll be the largest butcher in the world within twenty years, and in forty we will no longer be eating animal meat. I’m no prophet, but I wholeheartedly hope this will come to pass.’

Together with Unox

On his way to becoming the world’s most successful butcher, Korteweg is very pleased to be cooperating with Unox. His vegetarian meatballs in saté are now part of Unox’s meat kingdom. ‘Unox is the largest meat brand. Unilever is a multinational corporation. If you want to reach the meat eaters this is a fantastic first step, and we hope it will be successful. That’s how we are tapping a new market, distinct from the meat substitutes, in a place where no vegetarian dares to tread. If successful, it will offer new prospects for meals, salads, whatever, where we want to offer vegetarian alternatives.

Curious about meat addiction? Surf to vleesverlangen.nl. You can see the documentary in various cinemas from 3 December, 2016.

Jaap Korteweg’s Meat Cravings

Jaap Korteweg is a ninth-generation farmer, and the founding father of The Vegetarian Butcher. As an organic farmer, he has always been concerned about sustainability and conservation. After swine fever and mad cow disease, he decided to become a vegetarian because he could no longer bring himself to care for, slaughter, and eat cows – even organic ones.

He still missed the taste of meat, though, and went looking for something that could satisfy his meat cravings without resulting in the death of an animal. After searching for many years, he started developing his own ‘innovative meat replacements with spectacular bite and texture.’ Together with concept creator (and Seventh-day Adventist) Paul Blom, Korteweg works towards a shift from animal to plant meat – with all the experience and taste of real meat.

Korteweg is married to politician (and Seventh-day Adventist) Marianne Thieme. They have one daughter together.

Want to know more about The Vegetarian Butcher? Surf to thevegetarianbutcher.com.

Entrepreneur of the Year

On 6 October, vegetarian butcher Jaap Korteweg was named Dutch Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year 2016. Last year he was also chosen as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Dutch Centre for Entrepreneurship and the University of Amsterdam. The wide appreciation for the work The Vegetarian Butcher does is closely linked to the innovative nature of its products, and the company’s rapid international growth. In response to these awards, Jaap Korteweg had the following to say: ‘More and more people can see that we have a world to change. They see that the climate problem, as well as the problems of animal welfare, biodiversity, world hunger, drought, phosphate deficiency, and deforestation, are all literally on the consumer’s plate. We can solve these problems with good, sustainable food. Our knife and fork are our most powerful weapons.’

Make It Yourself

Chocolate cakes with caramel and Smoked Bacon Strips (Gerookte Speckjes).

Makes 6 cakes

  • 1/2 box Smoked Bacon Strips
  • 397 gr. condensed milk
  • 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 130 gr. flour
  • 40 gr. powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 85 gr. cold butter
  • 150 gr. dark chocolate (72%)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil (and a dollop to grease the baking tins)
  • blind-bake filling (dried beans or uncooked rice will also do)

Put the can of condensed milk into a saucepan of water. Bring the pan to a boil, and let it simmer for 3 hours. Top up the pan every now and then so it does not boil dry. Once the 3 hours are up, let the condensed milk cool to room temperature. In the meantime sift together the cocoa powder, flour, and powdered sugar over a bowl. Split the egg, and add the yolk to the flour mixture with the salt. Cut the butter into small chunks and add this to the flour mixture as well. Knead the mixture into a ball of dough, wrap it in cling film, and let it rest for an hour in the fridge.

Put the Smoked Bacon Strips into a food processor and blend them into crumbs (or chop them by hand, as finely as possible). Spread the Bacon crumbs on a baking tray covered with wax paper, and sprinkle them with a tablespoon of olive oil. Bake the Smoked Bacon Strips in a preheated oven (150ºC) for 15 minutes, until the crumbs are nice and crispy. Set them aside for later.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Take the dough out of the fridge and knead briefly. Roll the dough into a crust around ½ a centimetre thick. Grease 6 small cake tins with some oil, and dust them with flour. Line the tins with the crust and fill them with a blind-bake filling. Bake the cakes in the middle of the oven for approximately 8 minutes, until they are cooked. Let the crusts cool completely on a wire rack, and then remove them from the tins.

Break the chocolate into pieces and put them into a bowl small enough to fit into a saucepan. Boil a low later of water in a pan, and hang the bowl of chocolate above it. Be careful that the bowl does not tough the water. Allow the chocolate to melt gradually. Open the can of cooled condensed milk and divide the contents between the six crusts (be sure to remove the blind-bake filling first). Pour the molten chocolate over the condensed milk, and garnish the cakes with the Smoked Bacon Strip crumbs.

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