The alternative meat category, even in its infancy, has so far been dominated by Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. However, while both companies may be making great strides in terms of both taste and scale, price has become a real sticking point: take Beyond Meat, for instance, which typically costs retail customers in the US $5.99 for two meat-free burger patties. That often makes it twice the price of an equivalent beef patty, and possibly makes it one of the least valuable free-from products relative to the food it’s trying to replace.
One innovative start-up aiming to go toe-to-toe with the mainstream players, and aiming to compete on nutrition too, is Rilbite. The Israel-based start-up is making alternatives to minced meat using vegetables, and as founder Barak Melamed told us, has very humble beginnings.
“We’re completely, utterly healthy food-forward,” Melamed says. “My goal was to get the nutritional values right: I made a product for myself and my wife to eat, so I was looking for the best thing that I could do for myself. That was the main goal – to be extremely healthy – and yet to have a great bite and great taste.”
Rilbite produces an alternative product that combines just eight purely plant-derived ingredients including rice, lentils, tomatoes, soy or pea, unsweetened cranberries and onions. This means it has a clean-label nutrition deck often two or three times shorter than competitor products.
“Our entire ingredient list is made out of food,” Melamed emphasis. “What we have, in nutritional terms, is extremely healthy and extremely nutritious.” Rilbite contains just 146kcal (almost half that of the leading brands) with 22g of protein and 0.2g of fat per 100g of product.
The brand has a taste, smell and texture that all resemble ground beef, meaning it can be easily substituted in for meat without changing too much else. “A cook anywhere in the world could make the easy switch from minced meat to our minced vegetables in a second,” Melamed says.
Rilbite can be used to create a burger that resembles beef – but made from eight plant-based ingredients.
“When you’re trying to do a meatball for example and you’re throwing it directly into the sauce, the product does not break; it behaves the same way that meat does.
“The inside of the product – you can’t see any evidence for rice or lentils or anything like that. The consistency and everything – it looks just like minced meat.”
The company is initially targeting the foodservice segment, beginning by getting its products into schools in Israel. The country mandates that schools must serve students at least one meatless meal per week, but children have so far struggled to get the right products and the right nutrition.
Chef Itai Farkas, who co-founded the brand along with Melamed and corporate veteran Shlomi Goren, explains: “We are participating in a programme called the 2030 Project, which aims to decrease the amount of child obesity by 50% by 2030. Our product was chosen to be used by the launch schools in Israel. We are the only vegan product that qualifies to be used in Israel in children’s foodservice. We believe that afterwards we will go seeking for other countries that want to feed their kids in a great way.
“Because we have lots of protein inside the Rilbite, we can give it to kindergarten kids and they can have a small amount, and still have enough protein by law – in Israel, we have to give them 15g of protein each day. So actually two small Rilbite balls with a bit of Bolognese sauce or half a patty is enough for the kids.”
The brand is focusing on this foodservice strategy for now, as Beyond Meat did. The reason, Melamed tells me, is because the entire product can go from field to fork in just 100 days – and with foodservice, the product can be ready one day and consumed the next. The brand will venture into retail at some point, and it’s then that Melamed wants Rilbite to compete on price.
“We’re going to try and hit meat directly,” he says.
How does it perform on sustainability?
With the growing proliferation of alternative proteins – from soy and rice to pea and hemp – there is a concern that sustainability will lose out. Consumers are better informed about proteins than any previous generation, so they are likely to know which will win out between whey, pea and rice. But do consumers understand how different proteins compare on sustainability? How much water do alternative proteins require, and how much land is needed to cultivate them?
Rilbite’s minced meat alternative requires just 76 litres of water, including the amount required to irrigate the eight different ingredients. By contrast, a leading competitor would require 670 litres to produce the same quantity, while a beef patty would use up 2.5 tonnes.
“In a world where we’re talking about sustainability and saving the planet, we’re actually doing it,” Melamed says. “We’re using 100% of the ingredients, we’re using no tap water, and we’re healthy, we’re sustainable.”
Melamed, who used to work in marketing, explains that the story behind the brand’s quirky name is a play on words from the fact that Rilbite contains only real ingredients.
“In marketing, the first thing that they teach you is that it’s very nice to find a good name – but get the domain name! Otherwise you’re going to see that you’ll have to spend a lot of money getting the domain name, because somebody else already has it. I thought about ‘Rilbite’ – but not with an ‘e’ and an ‘a’ because that’s old. Internet businesses are having the lettering fixed differently and honestly the first thing I tried was ‘Rilbite’.”
So that means it isn’t a nod to Israel, the country where it all began, with ‘ril’ instead of ‘real’?
“You know what, I hadn’t thought about that,” he confesses. “In the back of my mind, possibly.”
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019