Shicken Range-3

One way plant-based ready meals can adapt to cost of living fears is by repositioning themselves as alternatives to weekend takeaways or eating out. After all, supermarket purchases are cheaper than a Deliveroo.

“I think a lot of out-of-home [spend] is probably coming into retail,” says White Rabbit director Nick Croft-Simon. “And that’s where we sit as a premium option, because of the ingredients we use.”

It’s a trend already being observed by plant-based peers. “As purse strings tighten due to the cost of living crisis, we have seen ready meals establish themselves as an affordable alternative to takeaways,” says Meatless Farm founder Morten Toft Bech.

“We have seen a shift in shopping habits as more shoppers look for meal solutions that offer value for money and allow them to reduce food waste.”

Among the winners of this trend is Shicken Foods, a meat-free brand that has its sights firmly set on the ‘fakeaway’ market. It was launched in lockdown by Satvinder and Parm Bains, who created plant-based ready meals based around family recipes.

“We’ve been vegetarians for 30-plus years and we wanted to share meat-free versions of the home-cooked recipes passed down the family with other families,” says Parm Bains.

Shicken began solely as a direct-to-consumer brand, but it now has listings at Costco, where it’s set to expand in early 2023.

“What sets us apart is replicating the flavour, the texture, the experience of the restaurant quality of any Indian curry house in the comfort of your home,” Bains says. “We haven’t turned down the flavour levels or the richness.”

Even as shoppers become more cost sensitive, Bains stresses dialling down quality isn’t an option. He claims many meat-free ready meals are using water as a base to cut down on costs, partly because retailers are applying pressure on suppliers to offer cheaper options.

“With any Indian cooking, onions should be the base for your sauce,” he says. “We’ve stayed true to that in our meals – you add to the onions to make your dish so you’re building to that explosion of flavour in your mouth.

“We focus on the quality first, and then worry about the cost. I’m too passionate to allow anything in the kitchen or the factory without my wife’s stamp of approval on it.”

How plant-based ready meals are heating up: Plant-based category report 2022