“We are going to open the big imitation meat factory in France”, announces Happyvore

Steaks, chipo, merguez and other nuggets without any animal protein. This is the whole concept of imitation meat, these 100% vegetable products that try to imitate meat as closely as possible and that are less and less rare on supermarket shelves and on the restaurant menu. Among the start-ups that have launched themselves in this market in recent years, the best known is undoubtedly the American company Beyond Meat.

But there are also French releases in this niche. That’s the case with Guillaume Dubois, 32, and Cédric Meston, 28. Three years ago, they launched Les Nouveaux Fermiers, which became “Happyvore” last October. A first development that is accompanied by a second, this Tuesday, with the start of construction of a new production unit, near Orléans, which will be operational until the end of the year. “It will be the largest production site for imitation meat in France”, guarantees Guillaume Dubois. The sign that the two businessmen have confidence in the development in France of these plant-based alternatives to meat. Interview.

Guillaume Dubois and Cédric Meston, co-founders of Happyvore. – @Happyvore

What led you to switch to plant-based alternatives?

Guillaume Dubois: The idea, with Happyvore, is to help the French switch to a more plant-based diet, with greed. This is a key issue in the fight against climate change. Livestock represents almost 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions when we manage to have an eleven times smaller carbon footprint with our plant-based alternatives. They are products that imitate meat -taste, texture, smell-, being 100% vegetable. We started with the steak, a must because it is very popular in France. Then we gradually expanded the range to include aiguillettes, merguez sausages, chips, pieces of bacon, minced meat… In total, we produced twelve references, including the meatballs and nuggets that we have just added.

Cédric Meston: We are distributed in 3,000 points of sale in France, both in mass distribution and in restaurants. This last channel is very important to learn about our products. It is usually easier to try new dishes in restaurants. Our products are thus used in some of their recipes in 1,000 restaurants today, including chains such as Pokawa, Paris-New York, L’Artisan du burger, Le truck qui fume, etc.

It’s not so new, these plant-based alternatives…

G.D: In fact, ten or even twenty years ago, there were already “vegetable steaks” on the shelves. But they were vegetable pancakes, usually with soy or lentils. These products do not closely resemble meat and are quite divisive in flavor. We know that many consumers, who tried to veg their diet, were disappointed with these vegetable pancakes. In recent years, a wave of new players in the food industry has been launched with the aim of coming up with alternatives that much more mimic meat products. There’s been a lot of research and development on textures, a lot of work with chefs. This movement was born in the United States. He then went to Europe via Great Britain, Holland, Germany… before arriving in France, mainly with us.

C.M: The problem with this new wave is that the products offered are not always very healthy, especially in the American market where there are few health problems, without nutriscore, transgenics, additives, etc. This is where we want to stand out, working to develop products that are as delicious and healthy as possible. We work to have the shortest list of ingredients possible. In the order of ten when imitation meat can reach 30. We also don’t use unnatural additives or carcinogenic additives and as little saturated fat as possible. This allows us to have our entire range of Nutriscore A and green rated products in Yuka, except bacon, rated B, but that’s not bad for bacon.

What will this new factory on the Loiret allow?

GD: This is a former agri-food site of 19,000 m² in total, including 4,500 m² of buildings located in Chevilly (Loiret), 15 km north of Orleans. He had been inactive for four years. We have completely renovated and are also in the expansion phase, a project that has occupied us for a year and a half and for which we have raised 35 million euros, namely from BPI France. [banque publique d’investissement] as part of the national plant protein strategy. It will be the largest production site for imitation meat in France. This new location will be fully operational by the end of the year and is expected to employ around 100 employees. We will be able to produce over 10,000 tons a year, compared to 2,000 today. This factory will thus make it possible to respond to a growing demand for our vegetable alternatives, but also to lower our prices, innovate more and undoubtedly, in the future, expand the range of references even more. The location is also very interesting. We will be in the heart of an agricultural region, specialized in important raw materials that make up our recipes. Wheat, potatoes, beets, sunflowers… We are currently in discussions with the sectors to see how to work together.

So are you confident about the rise of imitation meat in France?

GD: Anyway, in France we have all the quality ingredients to make good plant-based alternatives. It is true that this imitation meat market continues to be very small, around 200 million euros in turnover, if we include mass distribution and catering. This equates to 1% of the meat market. On the other hand, alternative plant-based sales are showing good growth. Around more than 10% or even 15% for certain segments. And they should make even more progress in the future. We can draw a parallel with plant-based milk alternatives, which were developed before imitation meat because they are a little easier to make. A few decades ago, this plant-based milk market represented less than 1% of the milk market. Today it is 14%. Imitation meats can experience similar or even better growth. We estimate that, in the coming years, they could easily represent between 20 and 30% of the protein market in France.

What needs to be done to make this growth possible?

C.M: We are at this crucial stage of trying to give everyone, even the self-styled “meat lovers”, the opportunity to at least taste an imitation meat. Many have prejudices about plants. They tell themselves it’s not going to be good, dry, unhealthy, etc. This is without taking into account that there has been a lot of research and development work in recent years and that the taste of imitation meat has improved a lot. That’s why we are very committed to offering our range of products in restaurants. We also do a lot of in-store events, participate in as many fairs as possible… This summer we are also launching, for the first time, a “Happyvore” food truck on the roads of France. He will be at Solidays on the 24th, 25th and 26th of June, then at the Terres du son festival in Tours on the 8th, 9th and 10th of July. It will then begin a tour of the beaches of the Côte d’Azur and then the Atlantic coast before ending in Rock-en-Seine from 25th to 30th August.

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