And he now has that ‘more’ in the form of a takeover of Livekindly Collective.
For years on the road with food trucks
Livekindly Collective, a maker of meat substitutes, buys Dutch Weed Burger. Livekindly calls itself a movement and aims to become one of the largest plant-based food companies in the world. And the plant-based burgers, nuggets and hot dogs from Dutch Weed Burger will help with that.
The mission is aligned with Dutch Weed founder and CEO Mark Kulsdom. “We are an Amsterdam brand and have been on the road with food trucks for years to tempt people here with our burgers. How cool to be part of such a global movement now,” says Kulsdom.
Meat substitutes are hot
Livekindly Collective is barely a year old and has already raised 535 million euros in growth capital. This year it already bought four other brands, including The Fry Family Food Co, LikeMeat and Oumph!, which are sold in more than 40 countries. The companies did not want to say for what amount Livekindly will take over Dutch Weed.
Two years ago, Kulsdom said growing from startup to scale-up was the biggest challenge for his company. And this acquisition is the result of that, he says now. “For three years now I have really had the idea that we should join a party that has a distribution network, sales and production capacity. The vegetarian market is growing so fast and has changed so enormously.”
Big guys step on the gas
Anyone who has visited the supermarket in recent years will see this change. The market for meat substitutes has been growing for a while, and the shelves with the various meat substitute products are getting bigger and bigger.
The Dutch bought last year 20 percent more meat substitutes than the previous year. The meat substitute market has doubled in three years. It is not surprising that large food giants have taken over the innovative companies that make meat substitutes in recent years.
In 2016, Nestlé bought the vegetarian brand Garden Gourmet. Unilever bought three years ago the vegetarian butcher and just this year the Brazilian giant JBS Holtense took over Vivera 341 million euros.
“The big guys give it a lot of gas,” says Kulsdom. “It was time for the money to go there. Also for decency. Because we have to deal with the planet and the animals in a different way.”
The story of his seaweed-based burgers began in 2012 when he made a documentary about plant-based foods with his business partner Lisette Kreischer in New York. “It was a road trip along vegan restaurants. Super healthy and delicious, and that appealed to us,” he says.
Back in the Netherlands, he started looking for a product with seaweed as a new protein source. That’s how he came up with the meatless burger. He is not a fan of the term meat substitute. “It’s not a meat substitute, this is healthier. It’s the first option we should choose. That search was really personal. I don’t eat meat, but I also just want to chop burgers.”
From Mystery Land to restaurant
Within three months, the Dutch Weed Burger arrived. “The first time we sold the burgers at Mysterlyand. And at the end of the day it sold out and we were a cult hit.”
The next step was a cargo bike, which he bought for 200 euros from a friend, on which a kitchen was built. “We went to events, to an art fair, and that’s how we slowly built it up. We’ve been in the Lowlands for five years now with a big sea container and we deliver to restaurants.”
Lockdown: new markets
Like many other entrepreneurs, Kulsdom is also affected by the shutdowns during the corona crisis. No festivals, no restaurants: so the stocks were left behind. “When it all had to close, we opened a webshop to sell the goods.”
It was a success, so a move towards stores followed. “There seems to be 80 percent of the market. It started with online supermarket Crisp and Albert Heijn. But also Thuisbezorgd and wholesalers like Hanos.”
The next step for the Dutch Weed Burger is abroad. “Vega is doing well in Sweden, Finland and the UK. That market is more mature than here. The app was a good test case. But to take the next step, you still need the big boys.”
And that’s where Livekindly comes in. For Kulsdom would prefer to produce seaweed near the stores where the burgers will soon be located. More sustainable, because locally produced raw materials do not have to be transported all over the world. “How cool would it be to work with seaweed farmers in North America to keep those lines in that chain as short as possible?”
The whole world as scope
Then it helps to have contacts. “Of course we bring a whole network ourselves. But suppose someone in Australia finds the product interesting. Then they have the contacts. It’s so cool. The scope suddenly goes all over the world.”
Kulsdom and his team of 6 employees join the new company and continue to work with the weed burger and other plant-based products.