THE FUTURE OF….
The vegetarian chicken from Ojah, producer of meat substitutes, is made from water, soy flour and herbs. Thanks to extrusion, the ingredients get the structure and taste of chicken. Ojah’s fully plant-based meat substitutes are made in large factory halls in Ochten. From there they go all over the world. “Our ambition is to be able to sell our plant-based meat substitutes all over the world for a good price.”
“The challenge in making vegetarian alternatives to meat is mainly the structure,” says Frank Giezen, founder of meat substitute producer Ojah in Ochten. “It should resemble that of meat. We succeeded with our extrusion technique.” Giezen is actually a polymer technologist. ‘I used this technique to make flower pots from starch.’ Together with Wouter Jansen and Jeroen Willemsen, with whom he set up Ojah in 2006, he worked at the ATO-DLO research institute in Wageningen. “We were involved in technological innovations in the field of nutrition. We came up with the idea of applying the extrusion technique to make a beautiful structure with soy protein. We started experimenting and a kind of chicken-like substance emerged. We thought it was so special that we wanted to market the product ourselves.’ Ojah’s office is located next to the production halls, in which a whole row of extruders is producing. Large amounts of soy flour disappear at the top, and pieces of fake chicken roll out at the bottom. A little further on they are packed and frozen. An enormous hall is under construction next to the factory, which will house twice as many extruders. We also want a factory in America. “We are growing at 70 percent per year. But we are a sustainable company and we want to keep it that way. That is why I also want to produce the pieces that we sell in America.”
In the early years of Ojah, there was an interest in plant-based meat substitutes, but there was little variety. “Thanks to a few investors and a guarantee loan, we were able to build our factory,” says Giezen. “Our product started running thanks to a collaboration with De Vegetarische Slager in 2010. They did the branding, we did the production. Soon more companies came up that wanted to work with us. We only sell our product in bulk packaging, under the names Beeter and Plenti. We want to create volume. Other companies take care of the branding, packaging and distribution. In addition to chicken pieces, we now also make chicken nuggets and ribs based on pea protein.’ Ojah is a sustainable company. “We have the ambition to make a profit and to sell our products all over the world,” says Giezen. But never at the expense of people and society. Our soy comes from Europe, for example, so it is sustainable. Important business conditions for us are integrity, respect for people and the environment, ambition, quality and cooperation.’
On the brake
Ojah is the fastest growing meat substitute producer in the Netherlands. “We have the market with us,” says Giezen. “When we started, we were one of the few manufacturers. Now even meat producers are making meat substitutes. We want to sell our products worldwide at a good price so that more people choose an alternative to meat. Our sales are growing in America, Japan and Australia. In addition, there are more and more ready-made products, such as pizzas and meal salads, where you can opt for a vegetarian option.’ Ojah even has to step on the brakes in order not to grow too fast and to be able to handle production. “We now have more than 150 employees and a turnover of more than thirty million euros,” says Giezen. “But we remain a down-to-earth, Dutch company.”
The market for meat substitutes is booming. More and more people regularly opt for a meal without meat.
• The European market for meat substitutes is expected to have increased eightfold in fifteen years from 214 kilotons in 2020 to almost 1,700 kilotons in 2035.
• The market share for meat substitutes in the Netherlands in 2020 was 2.5 percent. The average in Europe is 0.5 percent.
• Meat substitutes are sold annually in the Netherlands for 200 million euros.