Interview with an Innovator

This co-founder Andy Shovel: ‘Plant-based is still not seen as normal'

The former owner of beef-pushing burger joint Chosen Bun explains his U-turn on meat and why creating a vegan-friendly bacon alternative was a key objective.

31 May 2019
meat alternativeNPDplant-basedsupermarketsrestaurantsvegan
meat alternative, plant-based, retail, vegan,
Andy Shovel (left) and Pete Sharman

Shovel on Paper – CV

  • Founded burger delivery service Chosen Bun in 2012 with Pete Sharman
  • Sold the business in 2016 and began experimenting with plant-based food
  • Launched This in 2018 to offer meaty meatless products

It’s often the case for meat eaters that, when presented with a meat alternative, their first reaction is: ‘What is this?’

Plant-based dining is all the rage in the UK but, while the vegan wave continues unabated, it’s fair to say that carnivores are still struggling to come to terms with meatless options. Bacon is bacon, many will say, and so why should they opt for a bacon alternative if the real thing is there for the munching (sustainability and animal welfare aside)?

Enter This, a fledgling start-up created by Andy Shovel and Pete Sharman – two carnivores who used to run the burger chain Chosen Bun. Peddling meat-free chicken and bacon (to start with), This is simultaneously targeting foodservice and retail, starting in June with Patty & Bun, which is introducing goujons and rashers into stores nationwide. Holland & Barrett will also debut This across 650 stores from July.

This may be all about meat-free alternatives but it’s targeting non-vegans, offering four ready-to-cook ‘chicken’ products (dark soy and garlic pieces, goujons with breadcrumbs, goujons with rosemary breadcrumbs and sea salt with cracked black pepper), three ready-to-eat ‘chicken’ options (rotisserie, BBQ and tikka pieces) and ‘bacon’ rashers.

Shovel talks to Tom Gatehouse about how being a meat lover helped him create This and getting the nutritional profile right.

 

Pete Sharman and I come from a thoroughly meaty background, but, after we sold Chosen Bun in 2016, we set about trying all the meat-free alternatives on the market, as we figured that the future of food is very much in the plant-based realm.

Some alternatives were better than others, let’s just say, and so we set about creating This with our secret weapon: the fact that we’re both meat eaters!

We secured around £1m in funding and started to work with a couple of global flavour and texture companies and an on-site food scientist to create our patented products. After two years of R&D, we believe that we have the most realistic plant-based meat alternatives in the world!

We went through around 2,000 iterations of This across our eight products taking into consideration fibrous textures and essential tastes and smells. It took a long time, but This was worth it.

In terms of the nutritional profile of This, it’s almost the same, if not better [than meat] and uses around 90% less resources than the real thing. This is also low in calories and doesn’t contain antibiotics or nitrates. We wanted This to be indistinguishable from actual meat so you won’t know the difference!

All This products are made with a soy and pea blend, are high in protein, have a long shelf life and are also fortified with both iron and B12.

We have no plans to open up a restaurant with This. We’ve had enough of late, late nights in kitchens.

There’s a lot of fanfare about plant-based burgers, but we reckon that beef isn’t as big as chicken in the UK. That’s why we’ve gone heavily with chicken to start with.

With bacon, it’s really the gold standard for meat lovers. The smell, the juiciness and the craving that meat eaters get when on a hangover! If we can crack bacon, we decided, how can we not succeed with meat lovers?

While plant-based has come a very long way in a short space of time, the category is still not seen as ‘normal.’ That’s partly because the stuff out there is all very much primed towards vegans and veggies. We want to be part of the norm when shopping and, through that, help the normalisation of plant-based food.

There are plenty of carnivores who want to cut down their meat intake, for whatever reason, but they still can’t identify with many of the products out there. We want to change that. So, while This is for vegans, This is also for everyone. This changes everything!

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