Cast off your sandals, leave those mung beans on the shelf. You no longer have to be hippy to eat vegetarian.
Health and well-being have replaced ethics and animal rights as the big category drivers in vegetarian foods. And the variety of vegetarian products is growing as brand owners chase business - not among long-time lentil lovers, but among the 45% of us who, according to Mintel, claim to be reducing our meat intake.
The vegetarian or meat-free market was worth £630m in the year to January 30 [TNS Superpanel 52 w/e January 30, 2005], a rise of 4.5% on the previous 12 months. Predictably, performance varied across the sub-categories. Sales of frozen ready meals, for example, were down 16.6% in value, while frozen veggie sausages rose 11.6%, and frozen ingredients were up 15.5%.
But chilled products account for 70% of the category and are still gaining share. Analogue (meat lookalike) ingredients, where Marlow Foods’ Quorn is the dominant brand, are performing particularly well.
Analogue ingredients have grown 19% across chilled and frozen [TNS Superpanel 52 w/e February 27, 2005], which Marlow Foods marketing director Guy Longworth puts down to a combination of convenience and health.
“You can cook Quorn mince, for example, straight from the freezer, which is a big driver among busy mums. And it’s less than 3% fat,” he says.
Marlow Foods has just added fajita strips to its ingredients range and more NPD is in the pipeline.
The company invested £7m last year in marketing for Quorn, including TV ads, and plans a similar spend this year. With Heinz putting little support behind the Linda McCartney brand - which has underperformed the total market, according to TNS - Quorn now claims a 95% share of voice in vegetarian foods. It is also sponsoring National Vegetarian Week from May 23-29.
While Quorn and others are still keen to please Britain’s four million vegetarians, all agree health is the real category driver. However, mainstream consumers, while attracted by meat-free and often lower-fat options, are less tolerant of poor taste, texture and presentation than seasoned vegetarians were once expected to be. So brand owners are trying to widen consumer appeal with products that are as innovative as conventional lines.
Cauldron Foods, for example, has launched sun-dried tomato and black olive sausages and Moroccan
chickpea pâté, which sales director Ken Reed says reflect the same “cultural influences” that have driven NPD in other categories: more travel, more eating out, and so on.
In the ailing frozen ready meals category, Heinz has launched three new Linda McCartney recipes, including vegetable balti and pasta primavera, each with vegetarian-style chicken pieces.
Both Quorn and Linda McCartney have achieved growth with pastry products, and now Dalepak, whose products are strictly vegetable-based rather than analogue, has launched its own frozen pastry range. It includes spinach and feta cheese lattice, chargrilled pepper and tomato tarts, and roasted vegetable lattice.
“Everyone knows pastry is not the healthiest thing in the world,” says Dalepak marketing manager Charlotte Telford, “but consumers are saying they’ve had enough fake burgers and grills and want something they can serve up at dinner parties.”
Less focused on indulgence is a new range of deli slices, burgers, sausages and savoury bites being introduced to the UK by Acorn Management in partnership with Belgian manufacturer Fit Foods. All are organic, vegetarian and low in cholesterol, with added Omega-3 and 6 sourced from flaxseed and rapeseed oils.
Tesco is the market leader in meat-free sales, with a 30.4% share [TNS Superpanel 52 w/e January 30, 2005] driven by a large own-label range.