Give it some Oumph: the plant-based brand targets foodservice

The Swedish meat alternative may have started its UK expansion in retail, but co-founder Anna-Kajsa Lidell has her mind firmly set on infiltrating the restaurant market.

18 September 2018

Oumph has been making a lot of noise in the British retail sector with its plant-based product. Created from sustainably farmed soybeans, its nutritional profile, environmentally friendly credentials, different flavour options and texture have all proved popular with UK shoppers.

Its success has led Tesco, the only national retailer currently stocking Oumph in the country, to extend the range on display. On Sunday, the supermarket began offering the brand’s Italian-style pizza in 179 stores, following an enthusiastic response on social media.

“When we launched the pizzas in Scandinavia and we put that on our Instagram and Facebook, people from the UK were screaming ‘you must bring it, you must bring it!’” recalls co-founder Anna-Kajsa Lidell, who says that when Oumph originally conceived of offering a pizza, it wanted something that could be easily scalable. It also needed to be a popular option worldwide – and what country doesn’t love pizza?

“It’s good to play in the frozen segment, to be able to actually put the same product into many markets,” she adds. “It’s an awful lot of work to make a great pizza, the packaging, the PR and everything around it. So being a small company, to be able to bring it to many markets, you get great output for the amount of work you put it.”

In addition to the new launch, Tesco and Whole Foods already stock Oumph’s Thyme and Garlic, Pulled and Kebab flavours, as well as unseasoned The Chunk.

While its British journey began in supermarkets, the business now has its sights set on a completely different segment of the food industry.

“Our main focus right now is to do what we’ve done in Scandinavia, and that is to increase foodservice,” says Lidell. “So you can step into almost any kind of restaurant – fancy or fast casual or fast food – and actually know that you’re buying this top-notch plant-based food. You can identify it.”

From aisle to a la carte

While Oumph’s branded proposition first launched in Swedish retailers, the soybean meat substitute was actually trialled originally at food festivals and restaurants.

Arguably, it was the early partnerships with nationwide chains that helped cement its reputation. Sports bar chain O’Leary’s, which has around 100 locations around Sweden, and Max Hamburgers, which has even more, were both early champions of the product, creating menus around Oumph’s eats that namechecked the brand.

“There’s so many bad plant-based products out there, so many really boring soy protein products, it’s important for the restaurants to actually address that this is Oumph, this is high quality,” says Lidell, who remarks that retail and foodservice feed off one another. “It’s the best marketing we could have.”

That was back in 2015. Now, Oumph is in independent and chain restaurants all over Sweden as well as other countries in the region.

“This is what we are trying to do in the UK,” notes Lidell, who says that the brand chose Britain as the next target partly because it has a significant number of vegans from which the brand could then expand to other parts of the population.

Oumph is already beginning to make inroads into the hospitality industry: it’s on the menu at Thai chain Busaba, while Hilton are currently testing it in their hotels.

What is popular here is not necessarily the same as what is popular in Sweden, though, as Lidell has discovered.

“What surprised us a bit was the Kebab was the most appreciated product in the UK, which is not the same in Scandinavia,” she says. “In Scandinavia, Pulled Oumph is the star.”

Food for Progress

In the coming years, Brits can expect to see more Oumph products in various retailers, and Lidell says that the business is also talking with local manufacturers to discuss developing new items.

But Oumph is just one part of a larger picture. While it may be the more successful sibling so far, it’s actually the second child of Food for Progress, the parent company that Lidell describes as “the mothership for everything.”

Food for Progress’ mission is to create ‘one planet food’: food that can feed humanity in a sustainable (and of course tasty) way. To that end, the company originally started out with Beat, which was dedicated to putting more beans into food.

“In Sweden, people hate beans. It’s not like in the UK where you eat beans every morning!” laughs Lidell. “It was about challenging the system and trying to make this massive volume product, a hamburger, double as good and half as bad. That’s where it started, and then were realised you can enhance almost any of those loved products with beans and still get really great products from a taste perspective.”

In a similar vein to the sausages sold at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s that bulk up veg content, the Beatburger was formerly 50% meat and 50% beans. However, Beat's last contract with meat suppliers ended a year ago, so that Food for Progress could become fully plant-based.

The success of Oumph pushed Beat to the wayside, but in the coming year Lidell wants to revisit the brand and bring some new innovation to the table. “The basic sorts of Beat will continue,” she says, “but I think there will be add-ons to make it much more inspirational in totally different categories.”

Longer term, Lidell hopes to have co-creations connected to Food for Progress, making it into a company that works with similarly minded brands and creates a dialogue between big and small companies, so that they don’t just sit in their individual silos.

“Oumph is just one tool to ignite change,” she says, “making this world more sustainable because people want it, not because they have to.”

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