LONDON — “Plant-based is no longer a selection of bland, mushy vegetables squeezed into a breadcrumb coating,” said Jonathan Morley, managing director of Plant Based World Europe, which took place Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in London. “With huge leaps in taste and texture, along with manufacturers scaling up their operations to reduce unit costs, the final hurdle is availability.”
That’s what many of the more than 150 plant-based brands and suppliers exhibiting at the expo hope to achieve sooner than later.
Wicked Kitchen, Minneapolis, is already there. The animal-free company is on a mission to improve the lives of humans and animals by inspiring the world to eat more plants. Founded by chefs and brothers, Derek and Chad Sarno, Wicked Kitchen puts flavor first in its meal solutions. The brand first launched in January 2018 in the United Kingdom in collaboration with Tesco. Following its success in the United Kingdom, the brothers brought the brand to the United States in 2020.
“We are a culinary company,” said Pete Speranza, chief executive officer. “The brothers were not looking for ingredients, they were creating ingredients. They believe variety is what it takes to inspire people to eat more plants.”
The company’s range includes breakfast, lunch and dinner options, everything from shelf-stable noodle cups to frozen ready meals. There’s also a growing line of dressings and sauces, and frozen desserts. When the brand launched at Tesco, it started with 20 varieties of frozen ready meals.
“And since, Wicked Kitchen continues to keep growing in other categories across the store,” said Kate Ewart, a consultant who worked on the launch.
Wicked Kitchen was Tesco’s most successful launch to date. In five years, the brand grew to 150-plus products in 16 categories. It is the No. 1 brand in market share in the plant-based space.
Mr. Speranza said the United Kingdom is leading the plant-based movement, with the United States about two years behind, the European Union three to five years behind and Asia five years behind.
“Looking over the plant-based landscape, Wicked Kitchen stands out in the crowd not only because of our tremendous growth but also because of our variety across various supermarket departments,” Mr. Speranza said. “The fact that retailers are picking up multiple SKUs and some are even dedicating entire frozen door sets for our products is a testimony that they want to present customers a variety of options under a single flavor-forward, plant-based brand that has broader appeal.”
While retail has been the focus for Wicked Kitchen, this past year the company developed a strategy and pipeline to supply the foodservice sector in the United States and United Kingdom. For many exhibitors at Plant Based World Europe, foodservice is their only focus, especially in the United Kingdom, where vegan restaurants are all the rage. It’s also very common to see a display dedicated to plant-based foods on a hotel’s breakfast buffet as well as premium plant-based options on the menu of a high-end restaurant.
That’s where Redefine Meat, Rehovot, Israel, is a leader. The company’s brand, New-Meat, focuses on muscle cuts that provide the full sensory experience of meat, including flavor profiles, texture and aroma, according to the company. The New-Meat portfolio is available at almost 1,000 locations across Europe and Israel. They include steakhouse chains, some of Europe’s high-end restaurants and fast-casual premium venues, many of which had never served alternative meat.
“The embrace the culinary world has given to our New-Meat in such a short period demonstrates that we are creating a category of our own,” said Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, CEO and co-founder. “Combining our unique technological capabilities with the advantage of working intimately and cooperatively with the high-end culinary sector, we are unveiling our most complex and broad portfolio of New-Meat products to date, which have been created with chefs, for chefs. We will accelerate our rapid expansion in Europe and continue our aggressive growth strategy to become the world’s biggest ‘meat’ company.”
Other noteworthy new products featured at Plant Based World Europe include soy- and mushroom-based lamb pieces formulated for kabobs and flatbread sandwiches from UK-based Mock. From Verdino Green Foods, the Unfished brand now includes smoked slices, poke cubes and ready-to-eat, plant-based fishy meals and salads. Spain-headquartered Revolugreen, a refrigerated and frozen plant-based meal company founded in 2021, is growing its portfolio with convenient foods such as vegan Spanish omelet, “meatballs” in curry sauce and noodles with “chicken.”
Quorn Foods is now in the refrigerated luncheon meat-style slices space with plant-based Yorkshire ham and roast beef. Earlier in the year, the brand added frozen barbecue wings to its lineup.
Marco Bertacca, CEO of Quorn Foods, shared five imperatives for growth in the plant-based space. The first is to clarify the benefits, everything from health to environment. The second is to keep formulations clean and simple.
“Also, communicate your commitments,” Mr. Bertacca said. “This includes commitments to consumers, investors and policy makers. Go from being a supporter (of plant based) to being an advocate.”
He said cost and affordability are paramount for growth. And, most important, you have to make the food irresistible.
“The breadth of innovation makes it the perfect solution to the ever-growing pressures on the food industry to find a solution to sustain the human population and protect our strained planet,” Mr. Morley said.