Unilever is acquiring meat-free products manufacturer The Vegetarian Butcher as part of a strategy to expand its portfolio into plant-based foods that are healthier and have a lower environmental impact.

With this acquisition, Unilever says it is responding to a trend among consumers to increasingly opt for vegetarian and vegan meals.

Founded by Jaap Korteweg in 2007, The Vegetarian Butcher is now being sold in more than 4,000 outlets in 17 countries. Korteweg said: “We want to take the next step – conquer the world. It is our mission to make plant-based ‘meat’ the standard. We believe that with Unilever’s international network, this acquisition will help to accelerate our mission.”

Unilever and The Vegetarian Butcher started working together in 2016 when they jointly launched the ‘Vegetarian Meatballs in Satay Sauce’ and ‘Vegetarian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce’ lines, which were marketed under the Unox brand.

Nitin Paranjpe, president of Foods & Refreshment at Unilever, said: “The Vegetarian Butcher is a brand with a clear mission, many loyal ambassadors, a good following on social media and a strong position in the market. The brand will fit in well within our portfolio of ‘brands with purpose’, which have a positive social impact, are better positioned to meet the needs of consumers and are growing faster. Importantly, this acquisition will help us to accelerate our journey towards more plant-based food.”

The deal is expected to be completed before the end of 2018, with the 90 employees expected to remain with the business under Unilever’s ownership.