It seemed like a joke based on current events. On Wednesday 22 June, farmers from all over the Netherlands went to Stroe in Gelderland to protest against the nitrogen plans. On the sunny terrace of the Amsterdam brewery Poesiat & Kater a chalkboard: “Daghap: vegan steak from the 3D printer!” Not a joke, it turned out when asked, but a food novelty for the trend-sensitive capital. Since this year, the steak from the Israeli company Redefine Meat, printed and vegetable, has been available in several dozen Dutch restaurants – also outside Amsterdam. Redefine Meat was founded in 2017 and now has about 210 employees. The vast majority of them work at the headquarters or factory in Israel. Last year, the company decided to come to Europe. To serve that market, it has opened an office in Utrecht and is setting up a factory in Best in Brabant. At the end of this year, vegetable steak – and it is expected that lamb steak, bratwurst and kebab will also roll out of the printer. In Europe, German and British restaurants already have vegetable steaks on the menu. From next year, Redefine Meat products should be available in even more countries and in supermarkets. The choice for the Netherlands as a European base has been carefully considered, says Edwin Bark, the European director of Redefine Meat. The Netherlands is one of the largest European markets for meat substitutes, concluded ING market researchers two years ago . And the food technology sector, with its headquarters in Wageningen University, is almost nowhere this big. Another advantage, says Bark, is the good Dutch infrastructure. This also applies to the future factory in Best: an old location of meat processor Van Loon. Handy, because many installations that the meat company used are also useful for Redefine Meat – think of cooling installations and splash walls. But, Bark admits with a laugh: “I also like the symbolism of it.” Also read this restaurant review: Vega steak in Rotterdam meat temple Loetje. Is that a good idea? Small share In the same market research, ING concluded that the sales of meat and dairy substitutes increased by about 10 percent each time over the past ten years, but that their share remains ‘relatively small’ in the Netherlands. Meat substitutes are expected to make up about 1.3 percent of the European meat market by 2025. For “further growth”, according to ING, three things need to improve: the user experience (such as taste and texture), its availability in supermarkets, for example, and the relatively high price of meat substitutes. “To really convince people not to eat meat, you have to offer them something that makes them feel they are not making any concessions,” says ING researcher Thijs Geijer. The idea: the select group that already does not eat meat is probably doing so out of social conviction – animal welfare, the climate. If you really want to tap into a large market as a producer of meat substitutes, you have to convince the avid meat eater. It is precisely this group that tries to appeal to Redefine Meat, says director Bark. His company is trying to distinguish itself from popular meat substitutes such as Vivera or Garden Gourmet through the technology of 3D printing. About eighty Redefine employees work in research & development. They developed a method in which 3D printers based on vegetable ingredients such as soy and pea protein ‘print’ a piece of meat layer by layer. Most meat substitutes are composed of one substance, while a real steak consists of different ‘materials’, such as muscle meat, blood and fat. The 3D printer can mimic those different parts layer by layer. For example, the machine uses different ingredients (different proteins) for muscle meat than for blood (including beets) and fat layers (coconut oil). Although other food companies are also focusing on 3D printing – the Spanish NovaMeat, for example, and the Israeli Aleph Meat – Redefine is the first to market a printed piece of meat. A total of 180 million dollars (181 million euros) has been invested for this. Director Bark does not want to share financial data, but confirms that the company is suffering significant losses. He nevertheless expects to make a profit “within five years.” Electric cars Can 3D meat really break through? Professor Arnold Tukker of Wageningen University does not dare to make predictions, but has a positive attitude. He makes a comparison with Tesla. “At first many people were skeptical about electric cars, then Tesla came along. A fashion product that many car owners want.” This also forced more traditional manufacturers to develop electric cars – which means that they are now available in different variants and price ranges. Redefine Meat’s 3D printer can mimic different layers of steak. For example, the machine uses different ingredients (different proteins) for muscle meat than for blood (including beets) and fat layers (coconut oil). Photo Corinna Kern/Bloomberg A major obstacle for Redefine is that it cannot produce nearly enough to replace meat on a large scale. The company is working hard to increase production, says Bark. Where Redefine produced about ten kilograms of fake meat per hour at the beginning of this year, it is now at forty to fifty kilograms per hour. The factory in Best has to “substantially increase” this: to about ten thousand tons per year. By way of comparison: in the Netherlands alone, more than 1.2 billion kilos of meat are consumed per year. Steak Bali 0.0 What’s in it? Steak restaurant chain Loetje provides detailed information about the vegetable steak on its website: “The Beef Bali 0.0 is made from New Meat, which is produced by Redefine Meat. […] The vegetable steak is made from a mixture of water, vegetable proteins (wheat, soy, potato), vegetable oils (canola oil, sunflower oil), corn starch, wheat starch, wheat flour, cocoa butter, maltodextrin, flavourings, salt, barley malt, spices (contains mustard), colorings (beet red, caramel), dried vegetables and cherry juice. […] The Beefsteak Bali 0.0 is for everyone who wants something other than meat. It is a vegetarian dish but it is not vegan. That is because no alternative has yet been found for the margarine that we use for our gravy.” For large-scale production, says professor Tukker, it can help if a major player eventually takes over innovative start-ups. That happened with De Vegetarische Slager, now part of food group Unilever. “Many products in our society, including meat, are also very cheap due to mass production,” says Tukker. Larger scale production could also reduce the relatively high price of 3D fake meat. The fact that Redefine is currently only focusing on the catering industry is, in addition to necessity, also smart marketing. The company likes to work with nationally renowned chefs or popular locations. Star chef Ron Blaauw was one of the first in the Netherlands to have steak on the menu, just like steak chain Loetje. A “stamp of approval,” Bark calls it. “Having a chef who you know only puts the best on his menu picks your steak — that’s the best compliment, of course.” Tasting “Two and a half years ago we started looking at vegetable steaks,” says Erik Theeuwes, director of food & beverages at Restaurant Company Europe, Loetje’s parent company. So far, Redefine Meat’s steak is the only plant-based cut of meat that has received his approval. “After a tasting at Loetje we were all flabbergasted . It was such a difference with meat substitutes from the supermarket.” This means that the printed steak was not immediately on the plates, says Theeuwes. Loetje first developed a recipe for the vegetable steak, then all the chefs were called together to practice. After about five months, the first vegetable steak could be ordered in June: the ‘Beefsteak Bali 0.0’ , named after a steak dish of the same recipe. Loetje serves the 3D steak for 26.50 euros, the same price as for a ‘real’ one. Were customers immediately enthusiastic? The vast majority do, says Theeuwes. Every evening, at each location – Loetje has nineteen – about twenty to thirty meat-free steaks are sold. “It is more popular in the Zuidas or in the center of Rotterdam than in a rural area, in Breda for example.” But the steak also brought ‘commotion’, says Theeuwes – certainly because its arrival coincided with farmers’ protests. “People used social media to say things like ‘Loetje must stay Loetje’ and ‘don’t touch my steak’. Well, we basically do that too. We just want everyone to find their way to Loetje.” A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 6, 2022