Despite the overwhelming popularity of veganism in the UK, it’s safe to say that your local butcher isn’t about to chuck his giblets and start selling things like oat milk and tempeh anytime soon.
However, if you’re an online-only food delivery service that’s experiencing a 150% year-on-year increase in sales of vegan and veggie options, a change of tack may be worth a thought.
This is exactly what’s happening with frozen ready meal brand Thyme, which has decided to trial going meat-free in January – just in time for Veganuary, which it’s supporting with the Thyme To Try Vegan Meal Box.
The box, which will cost £10, contains three mains and three sides, including black bean and sweet potato chilli, a butternut squash and chickpea curry, roasted root vegetables and crispy chilli potato bakes.
It seems like a logical experiment, especially since Thyme’s vegetarian Christmas lunch is outperforming the turkey version three to one, according to Heidi Thompson, who took over the role of managing director eight months ago.
Having been with the business since it was founded two years ago, she has been instrumental in crafting the company’s response to changing consumer behaviour.
Thyme to shine
One of the biggest issues for Thompson has been overcoming the perception that frozen food is of lower quality.
“There are all sorts of challenges and barriers with frozen food, let alone an exclusively online food brand,” she tells Food Spark “We managed to solve the problem of not being able to offer samples by releasing two Thyme to Try boxes – one meat and one veggie – back in June at great prices.
Since starting as MD, Thompson has been overseeing a move towards vegan and veggie meals. It’s all hands on deck this week as it’s the busiest period that Thyme has ever had.
“It’s brilliant as we’ve had a great response from consumers for our products,” she says. “There will be doubters about frozen food, but it’s not only a really underutilised area but also a category that can provide an awful lot of quality.
“There are all sorts of challenges and barriers with frozen food, let alone an exclusively online food brand, but we managed to solve the problem of not being able to offer samples by releasing two Thyme to Try boxes – one meat and one veggie – back in June at great prices.”
Thyme originally started with safe options like cottage pie and lasagne, but the company noticed that the majority of questions and feedback concerned its vegetarian range. This increased interaction was also reflected in purchases of the brand’s veggie box, which now outsells meat by about four to one on average.
When creating meals, the Thyme development kitchen researches and writes up base recipes, with small independent suppliers then coming on board with ingredients and know-how to create a finished product.
All of Thyme’s ready meals are prepared as you would be able to at home, without any space-age kitchen tech or preservatives. Staff blast freeze the food as soon as it’s ready to keep it as fresh as possible until the moment of defrosting or cooking.
“Mac and cheese is one of our best sellers,” Thompson notes. “That, as well as our pastry-topped pies, including our mushroom, spinach and white truffle oil version. When we started, we thought people would use us to stockpile frozen foods for the freezer, but our repeat customer rate is very high.”
While the meat-free trend is a clearly a huge factor in the yearly increase in the sales of vegetarian products, Thompson also believes that there is more of a stigma around frozen meat.
“We have a frozen fresh guarantee with everything we send out and we use top of range preservation packaging… But some customers might still get worried about frozen meat being sent and delivered,” she says.
“It might well have had some bearing on the popularity of our vegan/veggie products.”