The market for meat substitutes is growing by 30 percent and the Ghent Greenway wants to reap the benefits. His products are now for sale at Delhaize, Colruyt and Carrefour. With the support of Jan Haspeslagh from the frozen vegetable company Ardo.
‘Our meat substitutes are a perfect match for Garden Gourmet from Nestlé and De Vegetarian Butcher from Unilever. We want to become the Belgian vegan brand in the next two years, ‘says Greenway founder Paul Florizoone (49). That is immediately the underlying message of the commercials that have been running on Play’s TV channels since this week. “It is the first national advertising campaign for our plant-based meat products,” say Florizoone and his co-partner Cedric Hanet (35) in the Greenway restaurant in Ghent.
Ghent company that makes meat substitutes such as burgers, sausage and minced meat (60% of the turnover) and operates three restaurants (40%)
- Turnover (2019): 4.5 million euros turnover.
- Profit: break even.
- Owners: Paul Florizoone, Cedric Hanet and Jan Haspeslagh.
- Employees: 55.
The other partner is not there for the interview: Jan Haspeslagh, who just bought a minority stake in Greenway. Haspeslagh is one of the cousins behind the West Flemish company Ardo, which annually sells frozen vegetables for more than one billion euros. Until more than a year ago Haspeslagh was still general manager there.
“He contacted us during our search for an investor who can help us with our growth plans,” says Florizoone. Cedric and I together keep the majority of the shares. We chose Haspeslagh because he knows our sector, has good contacts with vegetable growers and more importantly: the supermarkets. ‘
Greenway products have recently become available at Colruyt and Carrefour. ‘If we want to become the most important Belgian vegan brand, our products must be available as widely as possible,’ says Florizoone. The products have been for sale at Delhaize for several years.
Sick in India
The entrepreneur outlines how Delhaize Greenway helped grow from a restaurant operator to a well-known producer of plant-based alternatives for burgers, sausages and minced meat in 23 years. ‘I started Greenway in 1998, when I returned from a four-month trip to India. Early in the holidays, I got sick after eating rotten meat. So I switched to a vegetarian diet, which I really liked. ‘
In the next two years we want to become the Belgian vegan brand. That is why our meat substitutes are for sale at Delhaize, Colruyt and Carrefour.
The recently graduated commercial engineer opened a vegetarian restaurant in Ghent. ‘At that time it was already the most alternative city in Flanders. After three years, I opened a second Greenway restaurant in Leuven. After that I got the idea to open a central kitchen, but with two restaurants that made no sense. So I went to Delhaize around 2005 to ask if it wouldn’t put our meals in the store. ‘
The offering expanded to include vegetarian burgers when Frederik Dossche entered the capital of Greenway. The co-shareholder of the restaurant chain Exki also has two companies that make meat substitutes. “Thanks to the partnership, I started experimenting with Greenway meat substitutes.”
These remained in Greenway’s offering after Dossche sold his shares to Cedric Hanet in 2017. He was one of the founders of the Bubble Post parcel service, which became part of Bpost after he left the company. ‘I was ready for something else,’ says Hanet. “I was an avid meat eater, but I wanted to do my part in the fight for the climate.”
Hanet is responsible for the now three restaurants, which account for 40 percent of the turnover. Florizoone develops the products. ‘I do that in our restaurants, so that I can immediately see whether something is catching on,’ says Florizoone. ‘I have never had a cooking course. I learned everything by doing, and apparently I have a sense of creativity. ‘
New restaurants are no longer planned. “I never had the ambition to build a large restaurant chain,” says Florizoone. ‘The focus is on meat substitutes.’
The market grew by 31 percent last year, according to figures from the research agency GfK. Growth is accelerating, because between 2016 and 2020 the increase was 27 percent. More than a quarter of Belgians buy meat substitutes.
‘We want to achieve a turnover of 6 million euros in the coming financial year,’ says Florizoone. ‘Last year our turnover was under pressure due to corona, but in 2019 we were at 4.5 million euros. We are cost-effective, but due to our growth ambitions, we are not yet aiming for high profit margins. ‘
Greenway has to hold its own against the international competition from De Vegetarian Butcher, Vivera, Garden Gourmet and Beyond Meat. ‘We don’t have their marketing budgets, but we make the difference. We are Belgian, use local raw materials, are CO2 neutral and make local products such as tree trunks and chipolata. But the international companies also help us: together we let the market for meat substitutes grow. ‘