UK food manufacturer Winterbotham Darby saw this as an untapped opportunity and after a six-month development process unveiled a dirty vegan brand called Squeaky Bean.
Launching into 300 Asda supermarkets next week, the first round of chilled products include a satay Kiev, fishless fingers and nuggets. Despite the name, however, the products are made from soya and wheat proteins, rather than beans.
Co-creator of the brand, Sarah Augustine, tells Food Spark that the company saw an opportunity to offer a more focused plant-based offering and to design a brand that resonated with a younger audience.
“If you go into London and look at the street food trends, there is a lot of that junk food, dirty vegan food cropping up, like Temple of Seitan and Vegan Nights,” she explains. “What we wanted to do is try and bring an element of that into retail and have a brand that was just focused on one thing. Because the category is evolving, there are more brands coming into it, so I think that now it’s time to not just be a plant-based brand, you want to have your own niche within that.
“Dirty vegan is fun and we thought that we could use that to create food that is really delicious but also a brand that is just really exciting. I think that’s the bit that is missing, a brand that is quite bold, and we have gone for it.”
Making things messy
The brand name is a pushback against the squeaky-clean image that people might associate with veganism, says Augustine.
Part of the inspiration came from childhood favourites such as fish fingers and nuggets, while the satay Kiev was a gambit for something unseen before in the UK.
Social media was also a muse for product development. Augustine says they discovered a group of people that loved everyday foods like potato smiley faces, potato waffles, beans and nuggets.
“Those are the accounts we started to find and it made us laugh a bit and smile – that is where some of the inspiration came from, because our products are the kind that you might eat with beans, for example. It just gets a bit messy,” she explains. “Those are the kinds of people that we had in mind when starting this. And launching in Asda is great as it means we are bringing it to the mass market.”
The biggest challenge with the products was recreating textures, but Augustine is proud of the results achieved by Squeaky Bean.
“I think that is quite key, especially for a dirty vegan brand. You like those crunchy textures. It’s like when you eat crisps, it’s really satiating to have that good bite,” she says.
Since announcing the brand there have been a lot of people on social media requesting a garlic version of the Kiev, comments Augustine, but Squeaky Bean won’t just focus on coated products. There are plans to expand into other dirty vegan products, while she would also love to see a Squeaky Bean truck appearing at festivals.
A plant-based push
This is the first plant-based brand for Winterbotham Darby, although it already distributes Dutch vegan meat brand Vivera in the UK. Augustine says plant-based is now the third pillar under the manufacturer’s stable, which includes olives and antipasti, along with continental foods.
She predicts in future the plant-based market will become more rounded to give people the same choices that are already available in animal-based products.
“The market as a whole, I think it will evolve so that you have a spectrum within plant-based. So you’ll have the dirty vegan, but then have the more raw, less processed products coming out as well,” she comments.
“What we have seen is that frozen is still larger than fresh, but chilled is growing at twice the rate. But I don’t think that frozen will necessarily slow down. I think what we might see is these kinds of products spread out from just the plant-based fixture and actually launched in the fresh meat section and possibly other places in store.”