Beyond Meat burger

In the meat-free market, fakery is an attribute. Over the past year, category-wide sales have fallen £37.3m. But certain brands are bucking that trend, many of which have one thing in common: products that aim to get as close to the taste of meat as possible.

Richmond, Beyond Meat, The Vegetarian Butcher, Squeaky Bean and Meatless Farm all cashed in with their faux meat lines this year – adding a combined £14.7m.

The lion’s share of that figure came from Richmond’s £9.1m gain. The brand is meat-free’s third-biggest player after just three years, having attracted millions of extra shoppers to the market through the likes of plant-based sausages, chicken-style pieces and a streaky bacon alternative.

“Since the launch of Richmond Meat-Free Sausages in September 2019, we have brought more new shoppers, about 2.5 million, into the meat-free category,” says Chris Doe, marketing controller at owner Pilgrim’s Food Masters.

For The Vegetarian Butcher, which is up £272k, innovating for established meat-avoiders is key to its strategy. To that end, the brand launched Mexi-Hen Fiesta – marinaded plant-based chicken pieces – in May.

“Shoppers that already invest in the plant-based market are an adventurous group and search for ways to reinvent their mealtimes,” says Georgina Bradford, marketing director for nutrition at brand owner Unilever.

Meatless Farm has also been broadening its appeal, unveiling the likes of Plant Based Steaks – its first beef alternative – in April.

And Squeaky Bean got similarly beefy with the launch of its Horseradish Beef Style Slices and Chargrilled Steak Style Strips in August.

These products cater to shoppers seeking “meat-free options that go beyond simulated staples like mince meat or traditional meal centre solutions”, says Squeaky Bean marketing controller Becky Youseman.

The strips and slices are also indicative of the brand’s “high attention to detail on the finished product and our relentless focus on innovation and quick to market NPD” she adds. “All of our products not only taste incredible, but also have a really satisfying texture, which means consumers looking for a meat-free alternative don’t need to compromise.”

Having added 17 more lines over the past year, Squeaky Bean has registered a value rise of 28.1%, making it the second-fastest grower in the top 10.

So overall, fake meat appears the place to be. But not to the exclusion of all other formats. That much is proven by Bol, whose value has soared 77.1% to take 11th place in the category. It makes a point of avoiding the use of meat alternatives in its Fresh Veg Pots, One Pot Meals, Posh Noodles and the like.

“Many fake meat products have long ingredient decks, are packed with artificial ingredients and are highly processed”, argues Bol head of marketing Victoria Wicks.

“We made the decision to not stretch into the world of fake meat and instead focus on what we do best, which is celebrating vegetables,” she adds.

Bol’s success is down to its eclectic portfolio, which also features Power Soups and Power Shakes, Wicks says. “It is really important that we appeal to everyone, from vegans through to people simply trying to cut down on the meat in their diets.”

Squeaky Bean’s Youseman agrees variety is a key selling point. Meat-free shoppers want suppliers “to cater for different eating occasions that match their lifestyle – from snacking, lunch and Friday night in to breakfast”.

One such occasion that’s growing in popularity is the ‘fakeaway’. As the cost of living crisis bites, more Brits are turning to grocery for cheaper alternatives to traditional takeaway food.

As such, category leader Quorn has been expanding its nascent Takeway lineup with the likes of Southern Fried Wings and Spicy Buffalo Fillets, as it seeks to claw back the £14.7m lost in the past year.

“Value has become the key purchase motivator and is at the forefront of many shoppers’ minds, as cash-conscious consumers look to save money amid increasing costs of living,” explains Gill Riley, Quorn marketing director.

“Our Takeaway range provides retailers with the perfect solution to meet the needs of their shoppers, who still want a treat despite cutting back,” she adds.

It’s a need state also being exploited by challengers such as VFC with its chicken shop-style lines. The brand entered Sainsbury’s in April with its Original Recipe Vegan Fried Chick*n Fillets and Vegan Fried Popcorn Chick*n, and has already sold £658k in retail.

That appetite for takeaway fare at home is also evident by vegan fast food chain Neat Burger, which in March announced plans to expand into retail, and The Tofoo Co’s recent launch of a BBQ Popcorn line.

The tofu-based SKU followed the brand’s Straight to Wok duo in December 2021 and Sriracha chunks in March 2022 – all intended to “remove the faff and fiddling prep associated with cooking with tofu, an issue that 42% of consumers cite as putting them off using the ingredient”.

Convenient options

This desire for convenience has been noticed by other big players in meat-free, too. Take Meatless Farm and This, both of which have moved into plant-based ready meals in recent months.

This has also tapped on-the-go occasions with a convenient selection of sandwiches and snacking pots. The aim is to satisfy younger shoppers, explains co-founder Andy Shovel, as “22% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 19% of 25 to 34-year-olds say they eat prepared and convenience food a few times a week”.

Furthermore, Shovel points to “more gen Z-ers buying frozen food and plant-based frozen food; around 26% of 18 to 24-year-olds now buy more frozen equivalents of their regular fresh purchases.”

It’s a stat that explains why This made its frozen debut in the summer, rolling Isn’t Chicken Tenders, Isn’t Pork Sausages and Isn’t Chicken Nuggets into Sainsbury’s. “Plant-based products like ours can help provide a long-term boom for frozen food,” said Shovel at the time of launch.

The Vegetarian Butcher also sees opportunity for growth in the freezer aisle, adding frozen versions of popular chilled lines such as Happy Go Clucky chicken-style burgers and Unbelievaballs ‘meatballs’ in the spring. It’s worth mentioning the trendy VFC brand is also in freezers.

These lines may just manage to heat up meat-free sales by this time next year.

Top Launch 2022

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Parisian startup La Vie, maker of plant-based bacon, is loathed by French pork farmers, who complain the brand’s lardons are too similar to the real thing. Investors, on the other hand, love it. In January, the brand  attracted €25m of funding from the likes of Oscar winner Natalie Portman and Oatly chairman Eric Melloul. Now it’s the turn of Brits to give their verdict on the brand, which made its UK debut in September with two tasty – and charmingly packaged – variants made from soy protein.

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