Pie chart: how Pieminister is making this baked good hip again

The brand’s latest retail range targets snacking and international flavours, but it also has big plans to tap into delivery and sweet variants.

12 June 2019

Australians love a pie all year round. It’s a continuous craving, one that helped to inspire Pieminister’s latest retail range.

With its internationally inspired patties, the brand wants to position the pie as an all-day snacking option.

“In the UK, we eat pies seasonally and sales are much quieter in summer. The Aussies will have them much more handheld and in garages and on the go, whereas we eat them on a plate and with mash and think it’s a wintery thing,” Pieminister co-founder Tristan Hogg tells Food Spark.

“We wanted something that could work better for us in the summer. We didn’t want to do pasties or pork pies – things everyone already does well; we wanted to come up with something light and summery and came up with idea of patties.”

Rolling out in Ocado this month, the four patties can be eaten hot or cold and come in flavours like Jerk Chook (free range chicken and beans) and Smokin’ BBQ (pulled pork). There are also two vegan options: the Chana-Rama with spicy chickpea, spinach and potato,and the Holy Chipotle with black bean and chipotle. 

The range will also be stocked in selected Sainsbury’s stores nationwide at the start of July at an RRP of £2.50 for a two-pack.

“Over the years, we have come up with loads of different pie flavours and more ethnic flavours, but ultimately the bestsellers are more traditional ones,” comments Hogg, though that didn’t deter him from experimentation.

“The real skills are in the different flavours here and we wanted something we could play around with that was more fun and interesting. That’s where the patties work well.”

Street food trends drove the development of the fillings, but Hogg had quite a task whittling down the 50 flavours initially brainstormed. These options were put to 300 people for an internal vote and, later, a broader customer base to “verify” the ideas.

Though some of the most popular variants aren’t part of the recent raft of products released – the team haven’t yet managed to make a ricotta and spinach patty work, for example – the plan for continuous roll outs means they don’t have to rush to perfect the recipe.

Hogg is already looking ahead to the launch of sweet patties, along with seasonal varieties, Asian and Mediterranean-inspired eats, and even a mince pie for Christmas.

“We are talking to various supermarkets and they are asking more about seasonally changeable stuff,” he reveals.

Playing to the younger crowd

Veganism is a trend that is hard to ignore these days, but the aspect of it that particularly grabbed Hogg’s attention as it appeals to its core demographic: 18 to 35-year-olds. Traditional pies tend to attract the over 50s.

By introducing a whole vegan menu to the restaurant side of the business, Hogg hoped to tackle the reasons why they aren’t as keen on eating pie as older Brits.

“It’s ethics but also dietary requirements,” he comments.“We have a gluten-free range and meat people can trust. When everyone else was struggling during ‘horsegate,’ our business got a spike.”

He believes veganism is only going to get bigger as the quality and stability of products improve – Pieminister had struggled to use soy milk or cream previously because the flavour was too strong, but hit the jackpot when a manufacturer released a new product last year that worked perfectly in their pies.

Health and diet generally are having a massive influence on the pie scene, according to Hogg, who attributes this trend as contributing to the decline in sales of traditional versions.

He’s also aware of the growing distaste for goods pre-packaged in plastic – a key driver behind the plastic-free wrapping for the new range.

The patties’ packaging includes fully recyclable cardboard and a transparent outer layer made from wood pulp. It also bears a plastic-free logo from campaign group A Plastic Planet.

This format has also been rolled out across Pieminister’s classic and gluten-free pies in store, while the gluten-free pasty has been rolled thicker to eliminate the need for a plastic tray.

Dark kitchens and insect experiments

Hogg’s company has its fingers in many pies, including delivery.

“We are trying to get dark kitchens nationally to get foods into people’s homes as well as our restaurants,” he says.

Pieminister has 15 restaurants across London and in Bristol, with another three scheduled to open by the end of the financial year.

“We are going for simple pie-and-mash cafes... It’s high quality, ethical food and service, but people can come in, eat and be out in 45 minutes,” he explains. “We are looking at smaller sites, around 1,000 square feet. It’s a massive advantage compared to other pie makers that sell in supermarkets as we have live billboards.

“I like to think people can really engage with us, unlike most of other food brands, which is really powerful.”

Looking long term, Hogg has his eyes on current pie-in-the sky ideas like insects. He believes meat alternatives have to come storming in eventually, including British acceptance of bugs.

It’s an arena Pieminister has already experimented with, creating The Hopper for British Pie Week last year. Consisting of crickets and black beans cooked in a tomato, chipotle chilli and sour cream sauce with fresh lime and coriander,it sold 5,000 servings and generated plenty of buzz.

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