Rival Foods Scales Up Shear Tech for Plant Meat Breakthrough

The Future of Plant-Based Meat: Shear Cell Technology

In a bold move that could revolutionize the plant-based meat industry, Dutch startup Rival Foods is gearing up to deploy its innovative shear cell technology at a scale that promises to be commercially viable. Founded in 2019 as a spinoff from Wageningen University by Dr. Birgit Dekkers and Ernst Breel, Rival Foods has been making waves by supplying plant-based chicken fillets, chunks for skewers, and pulled chicken to select restaurants across the Netherlands and Germany. This summer, the company is set to expand its operations significantly, with a new facility expected to produce up to 400 tons of plant-based meat annually.

The Implications of Shear Cell Technology

Shear cell technology stands out in the crowded field of plant-based protein texturizing methods. Unlike high-moisture extrusion cooking, which requires substantial energy and offers less control over the end product’s texture, shear cell technology uses a combination of heat and pressure to transform plant proteins into a form that closely resembles the fibrous structure of animal muscle tissue. According to Dekkers, this process is akin to a pressure cooker with rotating parts, capable of creating not just a meat-like fibrous texture but also a flaky consistency reminiscent of fish, depending on the ingredients and processing conditions.

One of the most significant advantages of shear cell technology is its ability to produce larger ‘whole cuts’ of plant-based meat without the need for binders to hold smaller pieces together. Dekkers envisions that whole cuts could eventually account for as much as 50% of the plant-based meat category, given the right texture is achieved. This potential has caught the attention of investors, with VC firm PeakBridge leading a €6 million series A funding round for Rival Foods in late 2022, alongside Roquette Ventures. Martina Pace, CCO at PeakBridge, emphasized the impact Rival Foods could have with its “best-in-market texturizing technology.”

The company’s approach to texturizing proteins opens up a realm of possibilities for various plant-based proteins, suggesting a future where consumers have access to a diverse range of plant-based meat options that closely mimic their animal-based counterparts.

Patents and Exclusive Rights

The technology behind shear cell processing has been documented in scientific literature, but Rival Foods holds two out of three critical patents for scaling up this technology. The third patent, resulting from the Plant Meat Matters consortium, has been exclusively licensed to Rival Foods until the end of 2027. This exclusivity could position the company as a key supplier to other brands, such as The Vegetarian Butcher, if Rival Foods can demonstrate the ability to produce at scale and at a competitive cost.

A Focus on B2B

Rival Foods is taking a unique business-to-business (B2B) approach in the market, contrasting with other companies that aim to build consumer-facing brands. By focusing on supplying restaurants, catering companies, and eventually retailers through private and white label agreements, Rival Foods is positioning itself as a behind-the-scenes powerhouse in the plant-based meat industry. Dekkers also hinted at the possibility of licensing the technology to other manufacturers, allowing them to produce shear cell-based products directly.

The company’s strategy could prove to be a game-changer as it seeks to demonstrate the potential of its products to shift consumer behavior. While various technologies are emerging to create whole cuts of plant-based meat, including 3D printing and fermentation, Dekkers believes that shear cell technology’s scalability and product quality give it a competitive edge.

Looking Ahead

As Rival Foods prepares to expand its reach to foodservice customers in the UK and France, with plans to enter retail markets by 2025, the company is poised to make a significant impact. The goal of achieving a throughput of 1,000 kilos per hour is ambitious, but with the right combination of technology, consumer acceptance, and market positioning, Rival Foods could indeed become a central player in the plant-based meat industry.

While the U.S. market has seen a decline in plant-based meat sales, Europe’s market is holding steady, and there’s a growing consensus among retailers and governments that a shift away from animal-based meat is necessary. If Rival Foods can deliver on taste, texture, and price, the company may well be at the forefront of a new era in sustainable eating.

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