Photo: Vegetarian Butcher.

News broke yesterday that consumer goods giant Unilever will acquire the Vegetarian Butcher, a Dutch company that makes plant-based meats (h/t Bloomberg). Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Vegetarian Butcher meat substitutes like Vegan NoChicken Shwarma and Vegan Smokey Hotdog out of soy protein, sunflower oil, and flavorings. Its products are currently available in over 4,000 locations in 17 countries, including the Netherlands, Japan, and the U.K. (As of now, they’re not available in the U.S.)

As a region, Europe is a hotbed of vegan protein innovation. Its plant protein market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 7.1 percent until 2023. It’s also considered the largest market for meat substitutes, accounting for over 39 percent of global sales in 2017. So it makes sense that Big Food companies, like Unilever, are taking notice and acquiring smaller vegan food brands to diversify their portfolio and capture some of this booming market.

Here are a few notable investments/acquisitions:

No wonder. As more and more consumers — led by millennials and Gen Z — shift from meat-heavy diets to more flexitarian ones, the demand for plant-based protein is skyrocketing. In a report commissioned by the Good Food Institute, research firm Nielsen showed that retail sales of plant-based foods have grown 17 percent in the past year, reaching $3.7 billion. The report estimated that the total plant-based retail market is worth roughly $4.1 billion.

Big Foods’ involvement in the plant-based food market could help mitigate widespread production issues. As consumer interest in vegan foods rises, smaller producers are struggling to keep up with demand. With newfound access to the manufacturing systems and supply chains of major food producers and distributors, plant-based meat companies can hopefully have an easier time feeding our hunger for vegan protein.

Which likely means there’ll be a lot more Vegan NoChicken Teriyaki making its way onto flexitarians’ plates.

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