Quorn got the go-ahead from MAFF in the UK back in 1985 when the first product to hit the shelves was Sainsbury's Quorn pie. The myco-protein now turns over $150m in the UK and Europe ­ including the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden ­ and extends its reach to France this summer when it goes into Carrefour stores. And although Europe offers big potential, Marlow Foods believes the US market will be the goose laying proverbial golden eggs, where only a few basic soy burgers currently tempt vegetarians and a growing army of meat reducers. Despite the US's huge population, the meat substitute category is surprisingly small and underdeveloped at $350m ­ and a staggering 96% of this is frozen product. Kellogg's owned Morning Star brand is the current market leader, followed by the Garden Burger brand, and Kraft-owned Boca products. In the UK, 45% of households eat frozen meat-less products while in the US, it is only 10%. Only 1%-2% of Americans are vegetarian (compared with about 7% in the UK), but the meat reducers are more significant for the firm. They make up around 30% of the population (compared with 40% in the UK) and will be heavily targeted. Global brand director David Wilson, a Quorn old hand, has been in the US since August and is heading the launch. He was responsible for the first TV advert starring Will Carling which he credits with making 80% of the British public brand aware. Says Wilson: "We've been starting to build an influencer campaign here in the States over the last few months, telling academics, nutritionists and the media about the product, as well as trying to build awareness among industry leaders ­ similar to how we approached the launch in the UK. "It's a big education process as the concept is a new one for people to get their heads around." Although Wilson goes back to the UK once a month to sit on the Marlow Foods board, he is based at the Food from Britain office in Connecticut, which is working alongside the firm on the launch. Together, they have organised focus groups to try to understand the target audience and location challenges, and have conducted quantitative market research to compare Quorn with the existing products in the category. "We're not marketing ourselves as a low calorie product though," he emphasises. "We're about offering great tasting food and we're going for the same positioning in the US." The target audience in the UK is a 25 to 45 year old ABC1 woman with a higher than average disposable income. And while this is similar in the US, there is a large empowered 45-plus age group which is clued up about nutrition and more willing than her British cousins to try new things. These, says Wilson, are more likely to be the early adopters of Quorn. "However, our primary focus will still be the aerobic mums' with a part-time job and family members eating at different times." But with a population of 270 million, and a multitude of supermarket chains across the US, it's not only consumer attitudes that need to be got right. It's vital for firms launching to get the distribution model right first time. "You need to segment and target more accurately as the cost of entry is enormous," says Wilson. "You can get carried away by the scale of opportunity and forget that the country is just so huge. To get one SKU launched and distributed in the major retailers will cost about $1m and we've got 90 SKUs, so you can imagine the maths!" Marlow Foods aims to launch into different markets around the US gradually, seeking out the hotspots for meat-free products. Major metropolitan markets on both east and west coasts will be targeted initially, with Boston the probable first area for launch. Other potential towns include San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Atlanta. Once it's on the shelves, Wilson plans instore demos to initially tempt consumers ­ a practice more common in the US ­ followed by an above-the-line promotion, including a series of TV ads and print ads. "To the uninitiated, the reference points are soy burgers. We need to shatter people's perceptions." Marlow Foods has already started talking to supermarket chains and has exhibited at the National Products Show and the Food Marketing Institute exhibition in the US this year which Wilson says has gone brilliantly. He has meetings planned next with Stop n' Shop and Shaws grocery chains, but the actual sales work will be done through one of Marlow Foods' partners ­ Acosta Brokers ­ which will help negotiate deals with chains. Wilson says that because US supermarkets are often less stringent about sticking to companies' merchandising requirements, these sales teams are vital to ensure Quorn is being properly displayed and promoted. Although buyers are just as assertive in the US, there are generally less under the table' deals made, with retailers used to dealing with low margins. Marlow Foods' business plan means that it links up with a number of companies in each market and as the US Quorn team is only two-strong at the moment an outside PR firm handles the media, while an ad agency works on its image. A US project management team is UK-based, but the manufacturing of the product will be done in the US, once the base ingredient for each product has been shipped over. For example, the nuggets themselves will be made in the firm's Yorkshire plant, shipped over and the contract manufacturers will breadcrumb them, pack, and deliver to customers. Two manufacturers have been lined up already in the Boston area, but Wilson plans to build Quorn's own factory in the US in three years' time. "It's good to team up with people who know the market as they know the buyers here, and the trade generally. It's a tough marketplace." Wilson adds: "We can expand by recruiting people but we want to grow much faster by teaming up with a partner. We've already talked to the top 10 food companies in the States, trying to get a joint venture distribution partnership going, or maybe some kind of licensed selling. The US is a big country and it's not easy to get national distribution, so it makes more sense this way ­ after all, we've already got partnerships in the UK with Sainsbury and Tesco which do their own label Quorn products, as well as Hazlewood which produces ready meals. We think we can realise a potential $0.5bn much faster this way than we could on our own. Maybe even $1bn in the next 10 years." Marlow Foods also has partnerships with Albert Heijn in the Netherlands and KF in Sweden. As part of its final preparations, the firm is working to develop the right flavour for US tastebuds, reducing sodium and working on standardising nutrition labels. Initially, all the range will be frozen. Price points will be higher ­ $3.50 a pack compared with £1.50-£2 in the UK ­ due to higher supply chain costs, and because the rest of the market is in this bracket. This higher price could go some way to recouping the costs as Marlow Foods has budgeted between $7m and $10m to launch the range this year, and has already spent about $1m for each year's work on the US market so far. But Wilson believes it is worth the expense. "The big three firms are just starting to get interested in the sector and I think they'll all start to put more marketing muscle behind their brands. Kraft is just expanding its range and sales are up ­ the whole sector is on the cusp of transformation, but no-one else has a product that delivers. "There's always a business risk and we're realistic about it, but from the research we've done and the reaction we've had from consumers, I feel very optimistic about our chance of success." {{FEATURES }}