A peek at what’s cooking in the R&D department

“Your first vegan burger should make you think ‘This is really delicious!'”

“Category managers in retailing want their product range to be in order and they want to offer their shoppers innovative plant-based products. That requires out-of-the-box thinking, so that they set themselves apart from the competition. At Schouten, we are happy to help the product developers with innovative vegetarian and vegan ingredients, so that they can present successful products to their customers. ”

Sharing a bit about his role in this is Niek Jan Schouten, R&D and Business Development Director of the Research & Development department. “On the one hand, I work on innovating and optimising our vegetarian and vegan products. On the other hand, I ensure that we market products commercially. I really enjoy creating plant-based products and surprising customers with new ideas.”

“The plant-based market is growing rapidly”

Niek Jan has worked with his family’s company since 2016. “It is so great to be part of the fourth generation, together with my brothers and sister, and continuing to build the family business. Before this I worked at a multinational company. I wanted to spend ten years working somewhere else, before I joined the family business. But I didn’t last that long”, he says, laughing.

“The plant-based market is growing incredibly quickly. What’s more, I find plant-based really interesting and fun. You are contributing to sustainability and you are working towards something positive. And that is needed: there just is not enough space on our earth to continue with our current consumption pattern.”

“It just has to not taste good once and they will never buy it again”

“Consumers have different reasons for eating less meat. They are willing to compromise on some things, but not on things like flavour. Flavour is important in retail: it only has to not taste good one time and they will never buy it again.”

“Category managers want to offer their shoppers a good basic range of products. We specialize in making custom plant-based products. We therefore have a wide customer base of various A brands for which we develop and package custom products. We ensure that we are well aware of the laws and regulations in the country, so that we can advise our customers properly. The briefing of a customer is the guideline, but we also proactively think along. ”

Women eating plant-based protein burger

“A tastier, juicier vegan burger with an even better bite”

How does Schouten keep the product range so up-to-date?”Because we do so much work in developing plant-based products, we have a separate team for innovation. This means we can make the best vegetarian and vegan products. We give them a better bite and we make them tastier and juicier – that is, an better sensory experience. It is important that the consumer who tries a vegetarian burger for the first time thinks, ‘This is actually really delicious!’.”

 “We are constantly optimising. Can the flavour be improved, can the burger be healthier, can it be tastier and more flavourful? Could the plant-based product be even more widely used? Does it cook well in the pan but also in the microwave? Is it easy to process? We ask ourselves these questions every time we develop plant-based products.”

Innovation and a critical eye give vegetarian food a head start

“To keep your advantage against your competitors, you have to constantly improve your products. We have been working with plant-based products for thirty years and have extensive experience with raw materials and ingredients. We now have more than six hundred vegetarian and vegan products from which to draw. If you want to keep standing out in the plant-based market, you have to innovate continuously and be critical of yourself.”

“In plant-based, innovation is never over”, says Niek Jan knowingly. “On the one hand, you have plant-based products that resemble meat. And they have to be increasingly similar to meat; they have to be juicier as well as cook and taste like meat. Then, there are the plant-based products that don’t resemble meat. There are also tons of possibilities in this area.”

The shopper continues to surprise

“We scour the market for new ingredients and technologies, follow trade magazines, newsletters and seminars, and work together with knowledge institutes, universities and raw material suppliers. We try to follow all consumer and competitor trends but we also look at what is happening in other supermarket categories. In retail, food service and industry we keep our eyes and ears open.”

“When we have an idea, we turn it into a briefing, together with the marketing department. This takes place based on market data. After an internal assessment and approval, we get to work in our R&D kitchen. If we are successful in the kitchen, then we scale up to the factory. This is what happened without Vegan Green Tuna, for example. This was such a success that we hit the news with it all over the world. We are very proud of this!”

Our Vegan Green Tuna was in the news all over the world.

NIek-Jan Schouten – R&D and Business Development Director

Tailor-made plant-based products

Niek Jan also likes to listen to the customer for inspiration in product development. “It is important to know what is going on. This way you can enter into a strategic partnership with the customers with whom you work closely. This kind of partnership means that you can also involve customers early on in the product development process and regularly surprise them: ‘Look, this vegetarian or vegan product may also be of interest to you’.”

 “We are also a specialist in co-development: developing custom plant-based products for retailers in the Netherlands and Europe. For this we often work together with the customer’s R&D managers and product developers. We talk to innovation managers and see what they think is important and where consumer needs lie. This way, you come up with the best vegetarian and vegan products for their shoppers.”

“That one plant-based product that everybody wants”

Niek-Jan Schouten, R&D and Business Development Director.

Niek Jan enjoys every day he works at Schouten. “What I enjoy the most about my job is the contact with customers and suppliers. It is also great to work with the Research & Innovation team to come up with new products. Sometimes I also work in the kitchen myself, because it’s just cool to develop that one product that everyone wants.”

“I hope that customers think we are innovative trailblazers, and that they feel like we listen to them, and know what there is a need for. And that we are known as a company with extensive knowledge of plant-based products and makes the right connection between consumer and product.

Niek-Jan Schouten – R&D and Business Development Director

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