Chains have already made the move into retail ready meals and now even independent restaurants are getting in on the act.
London restaurateur Thea Brook expects listings in grocery by spring or summer for her eight frozen ready meal recipes, which are based on dishes at her Wallington restaurant.
Brook founded her eatery in 2013, removing all meat from the menu three years ago after finding success with her vegan supper clubs.
Before bringing the range to retail, Brook conducted testing for three months via a meal box scheme, which allowed customers to order eight plant-based dishes at a reduced price so they could try them at home and give feedback.
This scheme allowed the brand to test 24 different options, with dishes sampled including red Thai curry, Sri Lankan coconut curry, tofish bites and gratin dauphinoise.
The winning meals
Flavour and quality were key drivers during development of the ready meals, Laura Hope, sales and marketing director at The Brook, tells Food Spark. The final eight – seafood stew, jackfruit rendang, rich bourguignon, mac and cheese, coconut dal, black bean chilli, mushroom bolognese and veg tandoori– are all made using premium ingredients and containing no preservatives.
They also come in sustainable packaging: the food is placed in a wooden tray with a cardboard sleeve, making the product 99.9% plastic-free, according to the label. The only plastic is the shrink wrap.
“Ingredients such as jackfruit are used in our rendang and bourguignon. Although this is not so unusual to the vegan and veggie population now, it is a fantastic texture that is adaptable to many recipe flavours,” Hope says. “The bourguignon we have developed has a rich umami red wine base that you would associate with beef but we’ve used jackfruit instead. Marinating it overnight means it really takes on those flavours and gives you a satisfying, comforting dish. We also use nori [seaweed] in our seafood stew to give a traditional flavour evocative of a San Franciscan stew.”
All the meals are designed for one person and aim to appeal to all diets, rather than just vegans, reflecting the wide consumer interest in eating less animal products.
“There is a lot more information available about the meat and dairy industry and people are seeing the negative impact it is having on our planet,” notes Hope. “Product development has been easy for Thea in creating great dishes with flavours and textures that you associate with animal-based products but don’t actually contain any.”
Brook added that the brand wants to reach as many as people possible by showing that plant-based food can be exciting and delicious: “Our point of difference is that we are creating food for people with a traditional palate: our food will appeal to committed vegans and flexitarian foodies alike.”
For all occasions and new ideas
Hope says the feedback from the test phase has the brand confident the meals will hit the mark.
“We have even seen customers ordering a second box in the same month after enjoying certain dishes so much – and even a request for a box of eight mac and cheese,” she adds. “We have collated and reviewed all the feedback to help us finalise the retail range, including taste, instructions and packaging.”
Brook has many ideas for future products and several have already been developed in the test kitchen phase of the business, reveals Hope, “from bakery to our much-loved tofish bites to sauces and other exciting plant-based foods.
“However, we want to concentrate on our frozen food range to support people throughout the week, so they can have no-fuss vegan meals in minutes – from lunch at work to a night in at the weekend.”