Last month, Nestlé revealed plans to ramp-up its innovation with plant-based products saying that they have a “once in a generation” opportunity to revive their ready meal and prepared dishes division with plant based.
“This [prepared dishes and cooking aids] category is a signature category for us,” Mark Schneider, Nestlé chief executive, told our colleagues at Food Navigator. "It has delivered solid growth, but not exciting growth in recent years.”
“What you’re seeing here is a once in a generation opportunity to revive, rejuvenate, re-energise this category because these [meat alternative] ingredients, these plant-based ingredients, can find their way in so many of our dishes in follow-on products that make up this category.”
Plant-based has shot to the top of the retail agenda in recent years, with the major supermarkets unleashing an unprecedented number of plant-based products for Veganuary two months ago.
Vegan ready meals were found across the ranges, from Co-op’s Gro to Asda’s Plant Based, with Tesco’s director of plant-based innovation Derek Sarno telling Food Spark that “convenience, affordability and desirability” were the key drivers for their Veganuary.
While the mainstream plant-based realm is still in its infancy, convenience-led, pre-prepared vegan ranges (including ready meals and sandwiches) enjoyed considerable success over the past few months, with flexi and vegan consumers alike eager to embrace new textures and flavours.
And, with lesser-known world cuisines starting to become viable mainstream options in product development, could there be an opportunity for NPD teams to spread their wings and inspire a new generation of vegan scratch cooks through creative ready meals?
One ready, one scratch
Scratch cooking is a clear UK trend stemming from the emergence of the more curious and experimental UK consumer of today, with a 2019 survey from Streetbees revealing that 54% of Brits cook from scratch at least four times a week.
Vegan scratch cooking is a relatively new arena for many, especially for non-vegans looking to cut down on their meat intake, but Simon Wright, sustainable food consultant and founder of OF+ Consulting, is one to predict that it could really come to the fore this year.
“One opportunity for 2020 will be education on ‘vegan scratch cooking’, where retailers sell ingredients which permit a more natural, plant-based diet based around organic whole foods – fruit, veg, nuts, grains, bean and pulses – making this more accessible to the masses and provide a competitor to recently launched over-processed food and drink,” said Wright.
This education with scratch cooking could, in part, come from the consumption of new, globally-influenced ready meals, with Mark Richmond, head innovation development chef at Asda, telling Food Spark that there is a growing trend for home experimentation in the category.
“We know from the data that we’ve collected that people are scratch cooking a hell of a lot more,” says Richmond.
“There was an influx of consumer interest into Veganuary recipe sites during the push this year with people looking for inspiration with what to cook. Global cuisines are being incorporated into plant-based diets – all our ready meals stem from globally led cuisines – and there are certain generations buying these products because they’re looking for inspiration around meals times.”
“They might try a ready meal and decide, next time, to attempt to cook it themselves. There is a real wish to experiment in terms of scratch cooking within this category.”
All the plants
Earlier this month, vegan ready meal delivery company, Allplants, completed the UK’s largest ever vegan crowdfunding push, raising £2m of investment in just 48 hours.
Founded in 2017, the company have served one million dishes from what they claim is the UK’s largest dedicated plant-based kitchen, with founder Jonathan Petrides telling Food Spark that they have witnessed a surge of interest in their vegan ready meals over the last two years.
“We have experienced 160% year on year growth and this January was our biggest month to date,” says Petrides.
“Two of our most popular dishes are healthy alternatives to hearty classics your mother might’ve cooked at home - our lasagne noci and creamy rigatoni carbonara. In March, we’re launching four new dishes, and until the end of 2020 we’re launching two dishes every month.”
Upcoming dishes at Allplants have clear global influence, including the tempeh rendang curry, three mushroom risotto and golden peanut satay, with Petrides revealing that most of their subscribers had never shopped for ready meals before.
“Funnily enough most Allplants customers happily share with us that they never eat ready-meals and rarely pass via the frozen aisle on their grocery shop.”
With even ‘first time’ ready meal shoppers coming aboard the vegan train, there seems to be a real opportunity for prepared meal development, with consumers now looking for scratch cooking cues as part of a desire to become more plant-based savvy.