It seems even traditional meat suppliers want a piece of the plant-based action. Finnebrogue, the Northern Ireland sausage and bacon manufacturer, has just opened a new vegan and vegetarian factory.
While the company has been producing plant-based products for the last three years – both for supermarket own-label lines as well as branded burgers made with beetroot and quinoa, spicy bean, or halloumi and tomato – it has always been on a small scale.
Brian McMonagle, managing director of Finnebrogue Artisan, tells Food Spark the meat-free market has seen incredible growth in the last few years, but it’s not vegan or vegetarians that the company sees as its target.
“Figures from market research company Mintel show that 34% of meat eaters have reduced their meat intake in the last six months and a further 21% are planning to do so in 2019,” he says. “We think this is where the potential future growth of the vegan and vegetarian market really lies – not in more people giving up meat completely, but from those seeking one or two days off a week.”
Profits in plant-based
The manufacturer’s move into the area makes sense based on its sales, but its meat arm is still much more profitable, says McMonagle.
“Our vegan and vegetarian turnover has grown from £1.5m to £5m in the last 12 months – and we expect this to rise to £8m over the next year. Our whole business is turning over around £90m at the moment, up from £5m in 2009,” he explains.
“The majority of this is our world-beating sausage business, along with our revolutionary nitrite-free bacon and ham, our wagyu beef and our venison. We currently provide meat-free alternatives to M&S, Asda and Booker. This investment will enable us to upscale and provide us with the opportunity to service more customers.”
The new factory will be capable of producing up to £30m’s worth of vegan and vegetarian food a year, but McMonagle is tight-lipped on what the new product development team is working on, simply saying that there is extensive experimentation going on to create “new, succulent, tasty and nourishing products.”
“Innovation is absolutely at the heart of our Finnebrogue business,” he comments. “That’s why we have removed carcinogenic nitrites from bacon and ham for the first time, why we have invested £3m in a state-of-the-art vegan and vegetarian factory, and why we are developing new methods to eliminate plastic from our packaging and make our entire supply chain more sustainable.”
More vegan NPD
While Finnebrogue works on ideas in its new factory, more plant-based products have been rolling into retail over the past few weeks.
- Waitrose: it's fish-free fingers were its big reveal at the start of Veganuary, helping sales of its vegan and vegetarian ranges increase by 110%. These were the star performer of the supermarket’s 14 new lines, which also included fishless cakes made with chunky potatoes, butterbeans, herbs and seaweed; Italian-inspired veggie balls packed with mushrooms, lentils and vegetables, infused with herbs and passata; and a jackfruit pizza with chargrilled red peppers and smoked BBQ and tomato sauce.
- Aldi: its meat-imitating burger, which it says captures the smoky flavour of beef. It claims it is the first company to use all-British ingredients in such a product, which is made with soya protein and beetroot to help it ‘bleed.’ It joins other vegan NPD rolled out in the supermarket like its rainbow vegetable stew and bean spaghetti.
- Squeaky Beans: a new brand launched by Winterbotham Darby, focusing on vegan junk food. Its line-up features satay kiev, fishless fingers and nuggets made with soya and wheat protein.
- Sainsbury’s: added vegan croissants and pain au chocolat from French supplier La Boulangere, with the palm oil replaced by shea butter, and General Mills brand Larabar will make its UK debut in the supermarket with its vegan snack bars, set to appear in three flavours: apple cinnamon, banana choc chip and peanut butter choc chip.
- Bol Foods: new plant-based dinners, which comprise Bang Bang Sweet Potato Katsu Curry, Fire Roasted Cauliflower Tikka Masala, Soulful Tomato & Lentil Ragu Linguine and Ultimate Shepherd’less Lentil Pie.
- Selfridges: has sweetened its offering with what it claims to be the first vegan honey from Plant Based Artisan, made with sugar, lemon juice, lavender, apple juice and chia seeds. It comes in flavours such as fennel, orange blossom and lavender. Other unusual introductions include vegan mochi from Little Moon, which uses plant-based Belgian chocolate ice cream and sweet hummus from Hou, along with raw vegan butter cups from Love Raw in salted caramel, peanut butter and hazelnut butter flavours. Also being stocked are vegan ready meals like Asian teriyaki, coronation chickpea and creamy mac by Plantifull.