Tesco Plant Chef Vegan aisle shelf

Another week, another plant-based exit. Samworth Brothers has become the latest to pull the plug on its vegan operation, as it explores the closure of its loss-making Revolution Kitchen arm.

For the plant-based market, it’s a particularly galling blow. Samworth is a titan – with a turnover that neared £1.2bn in the latest financial year. It would have been in a prime position to take advantage of the growing consolidation in plant-based, exemplified by Heather Mills’ swoop for Plant & Bean and VFC’s rescue of Meatless Farm. That it has instead decided to offload the Melton Mowbray business suggests it has little confidence in the future of the category.

What’s more, Revolution Kitchen primarily plays in own label, which hasn’t faced the same downturn as brands (in fact, volumes are up in latest Kantar data). The business makes alt meat lines for Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and, to a lesser extent, Sainsbury’s. Its operations span the pioneering Wicked Kitchen brand, which recently came to the end of its exclusivity deal with Tesco.

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While Revolution Kitchen doesn’t account for a large portion of that business – it is understood to produce less than 10% of the portfolio – the potential for a rollout to other retailers should, in theory, be a powerful draw.

That Samworth is cutting its losses, despite its apparently strong position, is a damning indictment of the category. No doubt it will be seen as yet another nail in the coffin. But we’d be wrong to write off meat-free just yet.

It still generates sizeable sales – over £570m last year, according to The Grocer Top Products Survey. The core issue is, it’s just not big enough to accommodate the swathe of entrants in recent years. (It’s still small fry compared to fresh meat, for example, worth £4.6bn.)

So the story we’re likely to see is one of consolidation and rationalisation, rather than obliteration. There are still success stories to be found: see alt meat brand This, which gained key food-to-go listings this week. And those who survive the cull could stand to reap rewards. As one ex-Samworth staffer put it: “This is all part of the ‘right-sizing’ required after too many players piled in. Plant-based is not a fad.”