Winter is always the busiest season for retailers with Black Friday, Christmas and NYE all coming thick and fast from the end of November. And, in recent years, we’ve seen the season extend into January with the rise of ‘Veganuary’, with NPD teams having to wade into an increasingly competitive, plant-based battlefield once the turkey innovations have all been gobbled up.
Last year, the UK overtook Germany as the nation with the highest number of new vegan food product launches in the world with one in six (16%) food products having a vegan/no animal ingredient claim, doubling from just 8% in 2015 (Mintel).
Today, the plant-based market in the UK is worth £494 million, an 18% increase since 2018, with one in three evening meals now said to be meatless.
This January will be no different from last, with Sainsbury’s set to release a new own-label plant-based range from New Year’s Day. Plant Pioneers, which is made up of 31 ambient, chilled and frozen lines, arrives in response to “soaring demand” for plant-based in the UK, with the supermarket seeing a 40% increase in sales of plant-based products year on year.
“With more than seven million vegetarians in Britain and the meteoric rise of the flexitarian lifestyle, Britain has certainly got the taste for meat alternatives at meal times,” said Sainsbury’s Plant Pioneers product developer Charlotte Gledhill.
“Our new range of plant-based products provide innovative and truly delicious options to take the hassle out of cooking flexitarian. We hope to maintain our position as a leading provider of plant-based alternatives in 2020.”
Jack of all trends
In 2018, Sainsbury’s became the first UK supermarket to launch a pulled jackfruit product with their sweet and smokey BBQ pulled jackfruit aimed at tacos and burgers. This Veganuary, the supermarket is championing the trendy meat alternative once more with five new releases across the grocery and fresh categories, with the smokey BBQ now falling under the new brand name.
These include the spicy no lamb shawarma jackfruit and the Peking no duck jackfruit. Both come in individual pouch formats and tick the respective Middle Eastern and Asian trend boxes.
Young jackfruit and banana blossom, both in water, are also part of the range, with Plant Pioneers giving consumers the opportunity to cook their own meals with two plants that are slowly becoming mainstream food propositions.
New vegan steaks (made from mushrooms, wheat gluten, pea protein/flour and coconut milk) and smoky ‘vacon’ rashers are also found in the new Plant Pioneers range, while Sainsbury’s award-winning Shroomdogs appear in five different products (with two more containing Shroomballs).
It wouldn’t be a plant-based race without competition, however, and Sainsbury’s competitors have all been armouring up over the past few months.
Plant’s the name
Aldi, who enjoyed another hugely successful year in terms of market share growth in the UK, has revamped its flagship plant-based range for a second time this year, with the name I Am Vegan changing to Plant Menu.
Arriving this month, Plant Menu will be a 20-strong range initially, with the launch including masala roast cauliflower sausages and a red pepper and mango curry.
Interestingly, the main reason behind the second rejig is to become more accessible to non-vegans, with Marks & Spencer’s award-winning Plant Kitchen another example of a vegan own-brand with broad appeal.
M&S, along with Waitrose and Asda, are expected to launch more vegan products soon to align with upcoming Veganuary festivities, with Tesco launching their “affordable” Plant Chef range back in September, joining their much-lauded Wicked Kitchen brand.
There really seems like a lot to like in the plant-based range. From a marketing perspective, I don't think they need the 'no (meat product)' titles any more. They are probably doing themselves a disservice at this point by including it because it is not going to attract any more vegans/vegetarians to the product, but forcing the idea of a meat alternative will turn off some potential omnivores from trying it, since that type of product still has negative quality perceptions – although it is slowly getting better.
The pouch of shawarma flavoured jackfruit is a great convenience product – it makes me wish there were meat equivalents as it sounds quite good for a lazy dinner. Jackfruit is becoming common as a meat replacement option, so it will be interesting to see how other ingredients do with the public, such as Sainsbury's fairly novel use of banana blossom. I sense that there is a movement towards having the ingredients available rather than this being solely about convenience and ready-made products, which does appear to be a relatively new step in how this trend is progressing.
All in all, this should be treated as the expected baby steps. We sit on massive market uncertainty, so I wouldn't expect anything spectacularly novel for a while, but these are sensible developments.