January has always been a time when post-feasting guilt prods consumers towards making healthier choices. What better time to launch a nutrition-led ready meal service?
Vibrant Vegan began delivering its internationally flavoured frozen dishes direct to customers’ doors at the end of November, but hopes to ramp up operations this month, capitalising on Veganuary and those seeking a functional boost after Christmas and New Year.
As well as being vegan, the company has drilled down into a number of other dietary requirements. Dishes can be viewed through gluten-free and low-fat filters on the website. Alternatively, customers can order one of the pre-selected boxes, including the muscle-boosting Protein Power, the slimming Low Cal and the Slow Burner, which promises ingredients that gradually release energy over several hours.
“Millennials and generation Z are very lifestyle focused, and I think the functionality will naturally appeal to them,” founder Iain Burke-Hamilton tells Food Spark. “This service is all based around nutritional analysis, and we obviously worked with nutritionists to get that piece right.”
The product of 18 months development, Vibrant Vegan was able to draw substantially on Burke-Hamilton’s other business, Soulful Food Co, for recipes.
“Because we’ve grown up in the lunchtime sector, selling into a lot of the chains, lunchtime and breakfast has always been very functional,” he adds. “People want to feel invigorated by what they’ve had for breakfast, and after lunch they don’t want to fall asleep at their desk, so our food has always been fairly functionally led.”
While the nutritional content is a key aspect, it forms only one part of Vibrant Vegan’s unique selling point.
Packing in the pros
Sustainability is part of Vibrant Vegan’s DNA. In addition to the environmental benefits of eating less meat, consumers can feel safe in the knowledge that the packaging used to deliver their meals will not go to landfills. The trays are made from compostable sugarcane (ethically sourced, of course), while the boxes are assembled from recycled materials and the gel packs that keep the temperature cool can be returned to the company using the enclosed label.
Additionally, for every meal sold, Vibrant Vegan donates money to charity War Child, which provides aid and support to children in conflict zones.
“We’ve always wanted to build in the charity element to our business,” says Burke-Hamilton, “but whether we’re white labelling to people on the high street or selling it to supermarkets, the margin has never been there for us to be able to do it before.”
In addition to the charitable element, Burke-Hamilton says selling directly to consumers has also allowed his NPD team to have a freer rein than they would have had selling through retailers. Recipes incorporate all manner of on-trend ingredients, from the Hearty Persian Hotbox with baharat-spiced roasted cauliflower and falafel to the Smoky Jackfruit Chilli with sweet potato wedges.
In particular, Burke-Hamilton predicts the Tokyo Chick’n Katsu will be a hit: “If you walk down the high street, katsu is very, very popular anyway. Instead of the chicken, we’re using seitan, and it works brilliantly well. We’ve made our own crust out of quinoa instead of panko. It’s very creative and it’s also absolutely delicious.”
Playing with tempeh and smoked tofu, the plan is to tweak the menu every quarter with a few new dishes, drawing upon the “almost inexhaustible amount of flavour profiles” that Vibrant Vegan has developed over the last 10 years.
Was Burke-Hamilton concerned about employing the sometimes-contentious term 'vegan' in his company’s name?
“It was something we thought about a lot. Veganism as a movement has developed a lot over the last two years… There’s such a positive message around it that I think the stigma around the word is diminishing all the time as it naturally becomes more mainstream. I think dressing it up in a different way or calling it ‘plant-based’ is unnecessary, because I think it’s becoming much more widely acceptable.”