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FOOD & DRINK

‘Worse than broccoli, better than pork’: France’s beloved lardons go veggie

Vegan bacon sizzles on a pan in the office of a French startup whose quest to produce the "holy grail" of the growing plant-based meat industry gained the financial backing of Hollywood star Natalie Portman.

'Worse than broccoli, better than pork': France's beloved lardons go veggie

Paris-based company La Vie recently raised 25 million euros ($28.3 million) from investment funds and climate-conscious celebrities like Portman, an avowed vegan.

If not the first to bring plant-based bacon to the market, La Vie’s founders are banking their success on mastering imitation pork fat, setting it apart from other brands.

“We’re the only ones in the world today to have succeeded in developing a vegetable fat that cooks, fries, infuses and browns” like animal fat, enthused the company’s chief executive and cofounder, Nicolas Schweitzer.

After several minutes on the frying pan, the rashers of La Vie’s imitation smoked bacon were golden brown, crunchy and similar in taste to the real McCoy.

Next up are lardons. The chunks of meat and fat also brown up nicely, but are a bit salty.

“We have a reduced salt version as well,” said Vincent Poulichet, 32, the company’s scientific expert and other cofounder.

The lardons received a C rating on France’s “Nutri-Score” food health rating scale — a middle score on the A to E ranking.

“Worse than broccoli, but better than pork lardons,” the company notes wryly on its website.

La Vie’s CEO, Nicolas Schweitzer (R) and Chief Technology Officer Vincent Poulichet (L) cooking some veggie rashers. Photo: Eric Piermont/AFP

Startups and established food manufacturers alike have been rolling out a variety of products that aim to replace beef, chicken and pork with plant-based ingredients.

But making faux bacon taste like the real thing is another challenge. Ethan Brown, the head of industry leader Beyond Meat, told the Wall Street Journal last year that making bacon, steak and raw chicken were all the “holy grail”.

A growing number of consumers are seeking to reduce or eliminate meat from their diets over concerns including animal rights and the industry’s impact on the environment.

According to a 2021 report by market research firm Euromonitor International, more than one in four consumers globally say they are trying to limit their meat intake, in addition to the 10 percent of people who are vegetarian or vegan.

London-based market research firm Fairfield expects the market for plant-based meat to grow by nearly 19 percent annually between 2021 and 2026, to hit $13 billion.

 5,000 trials

La Vie’s founders, who created their company in 2019, believe conquering consumers on taste is the real key to success.

“After three years of research and 5,000 trials we succeeded in the somewhat crazy challenge of reproducing the taste of pork,” said Schweitzer, 34.

The fat in La Vie’s imitation bacon and lardons is made mostly from sunflower oil and specially-treated water.

The meat part contains soy protein, salt, natural colourants derived from radish skins and tomatoes, and natural flavours.

It was after testing La Vie’s products at home in the United States that Portman joined the company’s financial backers.

“It was by giving people a taste of our products that we managed to put together this extraordinary round of financing,” said Schweitzer. “Right away, investors said, ‘Oh, yeah!'”

Venture capitalists like Oyster Bay, Seventure and Partech joined the funding round, as did the owners of several successful European startups such as Oatly, Vinted, Back Market and BlaBlaCar.

British and US markets

In addition to taste, La Vie believes its bacon is healthier for people, the planet, and of course pigs.

The company says its products contain less than a tenth the saturated fat of real bacon, and their production has fewer carbon emissions and uses less water.

La Vie’s imitation lardons are already on sale at Carrefour shops, and it aims to get them on the shelves of all major supermarkets in France in 2022.

It also sees vegan and vegetarian restaurants as key to getting more potential clients to taste its products.

La Vie aims to get its products on British shelves by April and then rapidly enter the key US market as well.

La Vie, which has partnered with an established cold cuts and prepared foods manufacturer, plans to quickly double its staff to 60 employees.

Member comments

  1. not one tiny little mention of cost….and there’s the rub. while many of us would like to support these companies, we find it difficult to do so because of the cost….if the real motivation is in helping the planet, perhaps pricing products out of reach for normal people isn’t the answer…i will guarantee you that if these products were cheaper than meat products, people would buy them and the companies would still make their exorbitant profits…

  2. How many E numbers and additives are mashed up in a pulp to imitate the taste of lardons, what damage is that doing to your health?

    If you want to go vegan, or veggie, that’s fine but don’t eat unhealthy chemical mixtures pretending to be good for the planet, these veggie companies just want to make profits, they are not philanthropic.

    Choice is ok, but it needs to be “informed “ choices.

  3. It is a fantastic step forward but I do agree with shoe regarding pricing. Until these alternatives are cost affective for everyone they will remain niche products.

    Now the day they can come up with a naturally cultured plant-based cheese that can melt I will be happy (in the world of plant-based cheeses this is an either/or situation – melty cheeses are not naturally cultured as they require tapioca starch to achieve the stretch and that requires heat to activate, nullifying the inclusion of cultures/moulds to produce the cheese).

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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