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Growing Plant-based Food Demand Catered to by Frozen Sector in UK

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Accelerated demand for quick, healthy and sustainable meal options, suitable for the whole family, is driving frozen meat-free sales in Britain. According to research by Statista, the UK vegan market is work almost £432 million, while Ocado calculates the value of the meat-free category as a whole at £646 million – up 18% year on year. 

“We saw a significant increase in frozen sales during lockdown last year,” said Gill Riley, marketing director at Quorn Foods. “This has slowed down as restrictions have lifted, but there’s continued interest in sustainable shopping and meal solutions that are tasty, quick and healthy.” 

Great Britain has the largest vegan market in Europe, with London named the UK’s vegan capital. This year, The Vegan Society found that 20% of Brits had reduced the amount of meat they were eating over the previous 12 months, while 12% had minimized their egg and dairy intake. 

Foodservice Trends

Due to the coronavirus pandemic-related economic contraction within the foodservice sector during the last 18 months, caterers are keen to make their menus work harder than ever. They are doing this by using fewer products, but ensuring that they are suitable for a range of dietary requirements.

“Delicious frozen products that are both vegan and gluten-free are being developed to help avoid menu proliferation and appeal to the widest audience,” said Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods. “Pre-prepared vegan and gluten-free products reduce touch points in the kitchen and thus help reduce the risk of cross-contamination. As a result, they are particularly beneficial if prep space is limited.”

Central Foods recently launched its KaterVeg! vegan mince, sausages and meatballs, which are both vegan-friendly and gluten-free, and are made with organic, EU-sourced, seasoned textured soya protein. In fact, more than 25% of the Central Foods’ frozen product range is now vegan. 

Chips (AKA french fries) are a staple menu item for the foodservice industry and have evolved way beyond a simple side dish. They now featured as dishes in their own right, loaded with an array of tasty toppings. 

“While perfect naked as a side, The Dukes of Chippingdom are addressing the trends we see in loaded fries and are an amazing base to create enticing and inventive vegetarian or vegan dishes that are dressed, loaded or dirty, for dipping or sharing or as a super satisfying main course,” said Andrea Deutschmanek, Lamb Weston’s international marketing lead for Northern Europe. “There’s been heightened interest in British products, which was enhanced during lockdown. How reassuring it is to have a top notch, tasty, irresistible frozen chip that is thoroughly British through and through and impervious to post-Brexit wrangles like import duties, border struggles or supply issues.”

Lamb Weston’s The Dukes of Chippingdom chips are vegan-certified and cut from 100% British potatoes.  Available with skin-off and skin-on, they’re gluten-free and endorsed by the Craft Guild of Chefs, with an above average rating.

When it comes to desserts it’s important that foodservice operators offer plant-based sweet treats on the menu to satisfy those looking for vegan options, as well as free-from puddings for those with special dietary requirements.  

Central Foods’ Menuserve pre-prepared, free-from desserts, which are also gluten-free, are suitable for vegans. Made with smooth and creamy vegan cream “cheeze,” these tasty desserts can be enjoyed by all diners. They are pre-portioned to reduce waste and ensure consistency of presentation. 

“Frozen, pre-prepared desserts help venues cope with unexpected demand and ensure that caterers can always maximize free-from diners’ options by upselling with a dessert at the end of the meal or with a coffee mid-morning or afternoon,” said Lauder.

New Product Development

The ongoing pandemic has placed the spotlight on health and convenience, which have been key drivers, along with taste, in shoppers’ decisions to switch to meat-free fare. Sustainability is also becoming a keen factor in diet change as people are now more aware of the impact meat farming has on the environment.   

In April Quorn launched its biggest frozen new product of the year, Quorn Roarsomes. It is specifically aimed at the kids market.

“By providing families with a tasty and fun way to engage children in meat-free products we hope to inspire a long-term interest in sustainable eating,” said Riley. “We’ve already seen great feedback from consumers, and early sales are encouraging with the product delivering over half a million pounds in value sales just three months after launch.”

The crunchy nuggets, coated in breadcrumbs, come in three different shaped dinosaurs: T-Rex, Brontosaurus and Stegosaurus. They are low in saturated fat and high in protein.

“Our Quorn Roarsomes is one of the most exciting additions to the Quorn range yet,” added Riley. “We feel that this launch drives perceptions of fun, stretching the brand into a more playful territory. We’re on a mission to constantly create delicious and innovative foods for vegetarians, vegans and meat reducers alike.”

Waitrose and Tesco Private Label Innovation

As the number of vegans in Britain has quadrupled in four years to some 600,000 people, concerns over animal welfare and the environment have seen supermarkets invest in plant-based products under their own brands. 

Waitrose & Partners has a range of private label vegan SKUs totaling 120 products. Its latest range, introduced in 2020, includes a number of first-to-market innovations such as the Vegan No Egg Fried Rice, cooked rice with tofu, petits pois, spring onion, ginger and sesame seed oil. Then there’s the Crisp-Crumbed Seitan Slices (seen immediately below this paragraph) and Fishless Goujons (pictured beneath the main headline at the top of this story), made from banana blossom, a natural ingredient found at the end of the banana fruit cluster with a fleshy, flaky texture that mimics fish. 

“Our flavor packed range offers both simple ingredients for customers to build their own dishes and comforting ready meals for a quick and easy dinner,” said Simona Cohen-Vida-Welsh, Waitrose & Partners’ vegan developer. “Cutting down on meat, increasing your vegetable intake or going vegan has never been easier!” ​

Tesco also has an own label vegan line. Created by head chef Derek Sarno, the range features 100% plant-based ingredients from hearty grains and pluses to spiced, grilled, seasoned and slow roasted vegetables.

“It’s great to see more people switching to a plant-based diet and we want to make it as simple as possible to do so,” said Sarno. “We understand that those who are new to eating vegan meals can struggle for inspiration, so the new Tesco range is full of plant-based alternatives to classic dishes, allowing people to continue enjoying their favorite flavors while cutting out animal products.” 

As consumers demand more meat-free options, retailers and foodservice operators are taking note. Introducing plant-based options will not only have a positive impact on sales, but on the environment too.

– Reported by Sarah Welsh