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Author: Alice Grahame

Alice Grahame is a freelance writer based in London. She's worked for the BBC, Guardian and various NGOs. She enjoys walking, allotment gardening and trying new plant-based dishes.

How Vezlay Caters to The World’s Largest Population of Plant-Based Consumers

India is thought to have the most vegetarians globally, with up to 42% of people avoiding meat products. Vezlay was one of the first major Indian companies to recognise this opportunity when it was founded by Amit Bajaj in 2010. Today, Vezlay makes meat and egg alternatives primarily for the Indian market, and adapted for the tastes of its consumers. Their products can be found with distributers and retailers including Walmart, Reliance, Le Marche, Spar and Spencer’s. The products also appear in high-end hotels including Hyatt, Radisson, Le-Meridian, Shangrila, ITC, Taj, Leela. With strong growth from coming from northern India, they have now set their sights of the rest of India and beyond.  

Recognising An Opportunity 

The company was founded by businessman Amit Bajaj in 2010. The idea emerged when Amit was studying in Europe. He came across the concept of plant-based meat and was impressed by the innovation and variety of products available. A vegetarian himself, he decided to bring this inspiration home and launch the concept in India. With approximately 40% of the Indian population being vegetarian at the time (many for religious reasons), there was certainly a sizeable market for these products.  

At the time, meat-substitutes were limited mostly to TVP (texturised vegetable protein) soya chunks and nuggets. These plain, dehydrated products required preparation, flavouring and a lot of imagination to substitute meat in dishes. Amit recognised there would be a demand for better-tasting, healthier, meat-free products. Soya was chosen as a main ingredient due to its health benefits as a low-fat, nutrient-dense source of protein and its ability to absorb flavours and mimic the taste and texture of meat. Soon after, a manufacturing plant was opened in Delhi and after two years of research and development, the company began trading in 2012.  

Diverse Product Range 

Today, Vezlay makes over 40 products, mostly soy-based items with a high protein content in two different categories: frozen and ambient. The ambient range includes soy versions of popular meat items such as chicken pieces, kababs, and chops. The frozen range includes soya shish kebabs, shawarma-style kebabs, chicken pieces, nuggets and chaap sicks. The next products in their pipeline include vegan sausages, salami, burgers, momos, mayonnaise and scrambled eggs.   

Winning Over Tastebuds 

At first, promoting plant-based meat was challenging. Despite slow beginnings, as the concept of veganism grew globally, so did acceptance of these types of products in India. This was made easier by the products being designed specifically for the Indian palate. The food was popular not just with vegans and vegetarians, but also non-vegetarians. The company found that many consumers wanted to avoid meat but had not previously been able to find a healthy tasty protein substitute. Vezlay satisfied that need by offering a healthy soy-based option.   

Educating Consumers 

One of the major challenges in the start of their business was a lack of awareness of the possibilities of plant-based food. Amit Bajaj explains: “As pioneers in the sector, when the market size was small, we had to work hard not just to create a market but also to educate the consumer. We did extensive sampling at trade shows and festivals, wrote articles, talked about the product and plant-based sector in the media, and did lots of digital marketing including our YouTube channel which has lots of cooking demonstrations.”  

Good Business Sense  

Amit Bajaj describes the thinking behind the company ethos “We are a vegetarian family and from our research into the sector we found that a vegan meat enterprise made good business sense. The global packaged vegan food market is expected to grow at a rate of around 12% annually and is expected to be worth $15.1 billion by 2026.  

Vegetarian food is increasingly seen as healthier than non-vegetarian options, especially in the Indian context. Millennials and generation Z consumers are making more conscious choices. People are becoming more aware of health and hygiene issues around meat, especially since swine flu, bird flu and Covid-19.”  

The Future of Food 

Vezlay has ambitious plans for the next year, including moving to 100% plant-based ingredients (curd is currently used in the marinate for the kebabs but this will be replaced by a plant-based substitute). The company is developing more protein-rich everyday plant-based products.  

They are also working to keep prices as low as possible to encourage more people to give their products a try. Amit concluded “We firmly believe that the future of food is vegetarian and plant-based. We want to encourage consumers to continue to make conscious choices that are good for their health and the planet.” 

The Veganuary Effect: Dominos, Burger King and McDonalds Compete with 2023 Launches

The impact of Veganuary on interest in plant-based food has grown tremendously since its inception almost a decade ago. What began in 2014 as a UK-non-profit-based challenge for people to go vegan for a month is now a worldwide phenomenon and household name. The campaign expanded from 3300 participants in 2014 to an anticipated 650,000 today, with data showing one person every 2.4 seconds signs up for the challenge. It now has offices in seven countries (UK, US, Germany, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and India) and participants from almost every country in the world. The campaign is making waves across retail and foodservice like never before. 

Business Boost 

Aside from being an exciting time for vegan-curious consumers, Veganuary offers a big boost for businesses offering plant-based products. Last year established brands embraced Veganuary with new ranges. This included M&S’s 175 new vegan products, Burger King’s vegan nuggets, Subway’s fake meat sandwiches, Domino’s PepperoNAY pizza, Babybel’s plant-based mini cheeses and Starbuck’s TuNAH sandwich. This year has seen the launch of the first vegan Toad in the Hole in supermarkets, as well as Heinz launching the first plant-based version of its Cream of Tomato Soup and Beanz and Sausges, THIS launched its isn’t Streaky Bacon after 2-years of production, Squeaky Bean’s vegan Chorizo, and a range of new products from both Starbucks and Greggs.

2023 has also seen new product launches from major fast-food chains with McDonald’s launching its Double McPlant, and Burger Kind launching its vegan bacon and cheese across all 510 UK restaurants. So how can companies make the most of the month-long campaign? 

Converting the Masses  

Toni Vernelli, Veganuary’s International Head of Communications and Marketing, explains that Veganuary is important for businesses for two reasons: “Firstly, there is the sheer number of people who do it. Last year 630,000 signed up on the website, but research from Kantar and YouGov found that many more joined in without registering. That amounts to a lot of new customers in January who are buying plant-based for the first time. Secondly, because there is so much hype around Veganuary, supermarkets and high street restaurants do promotions on their vegan ranges. Figures show that even people who aren’t taking part are buying more plant-based products in January. So it is a great time to reach flexitarians.”  

Getting Involved 

There are lots of ways that businesses can get involved and maximize the Veganuary effect. There is a downloadable business toolkit and the Veganuary corporate outreach team can be contacted for ideas. Special offers are listed on their website, so if businesses tell them, they will get a listing. A lot of brands do outdoor advertising and stunts to get media attention. It is an ideal time to send a truck out with samples – to get products in front of customers when they are curious and open minded about vegan food.  

Toni Vernelli adds: “You can use our logo on your packaging, promotional material, and social media posts without any copyright issues. Because the logo is so recognizable, it makes it very easy for participants to find things to eat. We have over a million followers on social media and have channels in English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. The hashtag #Veganuary2022 was viewed 42.8 million times on TikTok. So, using the hashtags is a great way to get customers to hear about new products.” 

 Participant Feedback 

Veganuary sends a questionnaire to all registered participants, and the responses are a great resource for businesses, with insights on what people find hardest. This research shows that despite huge improvements there are still gaps in the market. “The thing people miss most is cheese. There can never be enough of it because there are so many different varieties that people want veganised. We’re told the supermarkets have not yet hit the nail on the head with vegan cheese. People also say they miss eggs. There still isn’t an alternative to a poached egg. Milk chocolate comes up quite a lot. Even though there’s plenty out there it tends to be very expensive compared to dairy equivalents and doesn’t come in small bars, the size you’d see at a petrol station. And any type of fish product – there’s still not nearly enough fake fish out there.”   

Planning for the Future 

This year’s campaign theme focuses on a key issue for consumers right now: affordability. There will be examples of budget meals, one pot dinners, and making products go further to get best value, for example by using sausages in a casserole. Veganuary will also start preparing for its 10th anniversary, taking place in January 2024. It will be a chance to celebrate the advances in vegan food between then and now. Toni Vernelli reminds us: “Back In 2014 you would have struggled to find much more than a single brand of sausages, tofu, and felafel whereas now supermarkets have whole aisles of chilled and frozen products. There isn’t a restaurant chain or takeaway that doesn’t have vegan options.”   

Toni Vernelli believes there is scope for further collaboration in the future: “It would be great to do an award for best new product. We would also like to encourage staff at plant-based businesses to take the workplace challenge themselves, if they are not already vegan. It is a great way to get people enthusiastic about the products they make, experiment with recipes and bring in food to share.” 

You can see the latest news from the Veganuary campaign, including new product and menu launches on their instagram page.  

Consumer Attitudes Changing Towards Animal-Free Dairy, Study Shows

New research shows that early adopters are excited by the idea of animal-free dairy and want more information on new products. The focus group study report, published on Frontiers in Nutrition in October 2022, found that participants were up for trying new foods to help solve problems of the current food system, despite worries about the ‘naturalness’ of the products. However, they were sceptical about bold claims of risks and benefits, and wanted straightforward information. 

The study was carried out by Associate Professor Garret Broad of Rowan University, New Jersey, the NGO Mercy for Animals and Berlin-based precision fermentation company Formo. It consisted of focus groups carried out in the US, UK, Germany, and Singapore. The 50 participants were pre-selected for their willingness to try new products. One participant was vegan.   

They were shown a 90-minute slideshow of the impact of dairy and introduced to the concept of animal-free dairy, including how precision fermentation replicates cow DNA using microorganisms to make casein. They were also shown reasons why precision fermentation might be a bad idea.  

Relationships with Food 

Oliver Zollman Thomas of Formo explains that the researchers wanted to learn how consumers with an awareness of environmental problems responded to the solution that precision fermentation offers: “We wanted to see how people responded and how their minds worked, to get a picture of how our work interacts with issues people care about. We wanted to learn how the solutions we are offering connected with people’s relationship with food, nature, animals, and the environment to help us understand how to talk about them.”  

It follows previous a previous Formo study of 5000 consumers on how often people buy cheese against their age and income, which was a first step towards understanding who consumers of precision fermentation are likely to be. This latest study goes beyond how to sell products in the supermarket and looks at how to have the conversation in society about why it is needed.   

Palpable Excitement  

One key finding was how excited people were to have the conversation. Oscar Zollman Thomas: “Once we started the discussion it moved in a positive direction. Everyone was so engaged throughout the process. It’s clear that there’s a massive appetite for this topic. There was a huge awareness that something needs to change, and that the food system today doesn’t reflect their feelings about the world or their morality.  

 “People thought precision fermentation was an interesting idea. Many were enthusiastic had lots of questions. Even if people didn’t immediately say they’re giving up milk and animal products it made them question the current food system. And that is a positive thing for our planet and companies like ours who are trying to offer new solutions.” 

One surprising finding was that despite some worries about genetically modified food, the consumers were open to the DNA of microorganisms being altered. “They made a big distinction between changing the DNA of a plant or animal and changing the DNA of a micro-organism. It was more palatable to them than I had assumed.”  

Europe’s First 

Formo is Europe’s first cellular agriculture company currently using precision fermentation to produce animal-free dairy. The company is currently scaling up its processes and is likely to have products for tasting in 2023. However, there are still issues around the regulating of novel foods which must be resolved before animal-free dairy products are available to buy in shops. Positive consumer attitudes will be needed to convince the authorities to support precision fermentation products. This study suggest that the public are open to new foods if they are exposed to the thinking behind it.   

Oscar Zollman Thomas believes both understanding and educating consumers is crucial to getting public and authorities on board: “A takeaway from this survey is that investing energy in starting the conversation can be a really good way to get people thinking about what they truly want from the food system. Stimulating the discussion in society is a powerful way to get people thinking about how they want to change their behaviour and what technologies or products they can embrace. I believe 100% that it’s our job to educate people about the work we do. And, to encourage a conversation about what kind of food system we want and the kind of relationship with nature and animals we want. That is all part of our remit.”  

La Fauxmagerie: Taking Artisanal Nut Cheese Mainstream

La Fauxmagerie, the plant-based cheesemonger has grown from pop-up to supermarket supplier in less than four years. The business began as a unit in Brixton Market selling artisanal nut-based cheese. It now makes its own products in its state-of-the-art factory and sells in Waitrose. We spoke to co-founder Charlotte Stevens about the company’s meteoric rise.  

Market Gap 

Rachel Stevens (left) Charlotte Stevens (right)

The story of La Fauxmagerie began in 2017 when founders, Welsh sisters Charlotte Stevens (vegetarian and lactose intolerant) and Rachel Stevens (vegan) couldn’t find a non-dairy cheese they really liked. They felt that many of the cheeses in supermarkets were too oily and tasted of coconut. The nut and soy-based artisanal brands with stalls at Borough Market tasted good, but were too expensive. They were surprised to find that there was not a single vegan cheese shop in the whole of the UK.  

Charlotte Stevens had been wanting to start her own business for a while and decided a plant-based cheese shop was a great choice for an ethical, purpose-driven enterprise. She explains: “I worked in tech, where you would need investment of millions to start a business. It seemed impossible to start with nothing. But it was something I personally cared about, a mission, an opportunity, a gap in the market and a service that I personally would benefit from. I invested my savings of £10,000 into opening a pop-up shop in Brixton. That is how we beta-tested the market, to see if people cared about vegan cheese. And it turned out they did. We got press coverage and loads of customers, with people queuing out the door, and it grew from there.”  

 Curated Offering 

The siblings researched around 30 suppliers and chose their favourite 10 to sell. They wanted to stock only the best, to show that vegan cheese can be delicious. Charlotte Stevens adds: “We sourced products from small batch suppliers from across the UK. We wanted to support the producers and make plant-based cheese more accessible and affordable. The goal was to make an easier customer journey and create a space where you could find a curated selection.”  

 Due to an huge amount of publicity, including some unwelcome attention from UK Dairy, the pop-up was very popular. Many customers travelled some distance, suggesting an online shop would do well, so online sales were introduced. The company outgrew its Brixton shop and moved to bigger premises in Shoreditch, which now also houses their Cheese Cellar where they host vegan cheese and wine evenings.  

Own Brand 

The sisters then took the bold and expensive step of making their own products, to sell alongside existing artisanal brands. They began manufacturing in spring 2021, producing mould ripened blues, camembert, and brie. Charlotte Stevens says this was a dramatic learning curve: “Cheese is difficult to make because it’s prone to contamination. There’s so much that can go wrong during the ageing process. If you’ve got 1% too much humidity in the air, you risk batch failure. I had to learn about climate control, and we brought in some hydroponic technology to help with that. We spent 2021 trying to scale our batches and improve consistency. By 2022 we nailed it, and now make large batches with consistent results.”  

Scaling Up 

La Fauxmagerie began another exciting chapter in 2022 when the Waitrose innovation team got in touch. Products are now available in over twenty Waitrose stores. Charlotte Stevens says the collaboration is a good match: “They are known for working with small batch suppliers and they are very innovative. Their consumer base is less price sensitive than other supermarkets and they are a bit bolder with their products.”  

The company did not reach out for finance until the Waitrose partnership required a big scaling up of manufacturing. To reduce production time from 12 hours to two they needed a 500-litre hydraulic kettle, costing £60,000. Investment was also needed for warehousing. Charlotte Stevens says she was careful to wait for the right time to work with investors: “We had some investors approach us in 2019 when we first opened, but we weren’t ready. We didn’t know what our roadmap was going to look like. For our first year we had very little data to evaluate. We wanted to be driven by what customers wanted not what an investor wanted. A year later we knew what we wanted: a manufacturing division, our own products, an online shop, and a sit-down experience. I think we made the right call to delay pitching to investors until the end of 2021 when we were a completely different business.” 

Charlotte Stevens’s job is very different today compared to when the company started: “At first it was just me and my sister running the shop and packing online orders. I built the website, did the design work including packaging and labels, social media, photos on my iPhone. In 2019 we hired part time staff and by 2020 there were four of us. It was only in 2021 that we grew the team to the 12 we have today. A typical day for me involves cheesemaking, business development, social media, speaking to wholesalers, account management, research and development, new product design, data analytics, forecasting, planning, that kind of stuff.” 

Future Plans 

Thanks to investment in better equipment, economy of scale and streamlined logistics, La Fauxmagerie has achieved its goal of making artisanal non-dairy cheese cost less. They also tweaked recipes to reduce reliance on nuts, which are expensive. However, they still want products to be more accessible and are hoping to lower prices further, aiming for £3.50 per 100g.  

For the future, the company is looking at further expansion with international distribution. While excited by the prospect of precision fermentation and plant-based casein, Charlotte Stevens says there is plenty to love about the nut cheeses that are already in the shops. “We want customers to recognise that our products stand up in terms of taste and quality against their dairy counterparts. We want to see customers routinely buying an almond or cashew cheese alongside a goat or sheep version. Now the battle is getting the price down, so that when stood next to a dairy cheese, a non-dairy one can compete on price as well.”  

Uncorking the potential of Vegan Wines

Vegan wine is an area that can confuse both businesses and consumers. Many would reasonably assume a glass of fermented grapes would be naturally plant-based. However, animal products can be used in the fining process to remove sediment and improve colour and flavour. Fining agents can include egg white, isinglass, (from fish swim bladders) chitin (from crustaceans), casein (milk protein) and gelatin (from pig or cow connective tissue). Ox blood was used in the past but is now banned in the UK, EU, and US.  

In the UK more than 1500 wines carry the Vegan Society trademark which means the product is checked for animal products the production process and finished drink.   

There is even an online directory of vegan alcohol to help consumers navigate this tricky landscape.  

We spoke to vegan wine expert and businesswoman Frances Gonzalez. She is the founder of Depacito Distributers, a US plant-based wine distributer. She is also the founder and owner of Vegan Wines, a plant-based wine store and club. She explains: “We’re the only vegan-owned wine company that is fully vegan – from the soil to the cork. There are a lot of wine wineries that say they are vegan friendly, but we are completely vegan.”  

Global Reach 

Frances Gonzalez imports 100% plant-based wine from France, Italy, and Chile, and distributes US-produced wine from California, Oregon and New York. The wine is sold via the online store, Wine Club, and by wholesale distribution. The company ships to 38 states and has customers in New York, California, Chicago and Puerto Rico. She describes what that entails: “I visit vineyards applying a set of guidelines based on everything I have learned, and I make sure the wine I import fits within our guidelines. We research everything from the soil to the glass. With a lot of the wines, we import we are the sole importers into the States. We import from small wineries where patience is the number one ingredient.” 

The business was set up in 2017 after a trip to France in which Frances learned that wine could contain egg and other animal products. “I was a wine lover who had been vegan for 25 years, the more I spoke to the farmers and winemakers the more I realised how many animal products can be used in wine legally.”  On returning to the US, she did some research, speaking to restaurants and wines schools, and found it very difficult to get a straight answer about whether animal products were involved. The URL was available and the business was set up. She says: “I am a vegan first, and then a wine lover. I needed to learn about wine, but this was not covered in wine school, so I went straight to the farmers. I hired a sommelier and a nutritionist who are both vegan.” 

Behind the Label 

Frances’s job involves searching high and low for the best vegan wines; “We have visited many vineyards and found a few gems. For example, in Italy I visited farms, tasted the wine, and asked all kinds of questions. I wanted to learn what was behind the label. I asked about how they treat their employees. If they had sheep grazing, I would ask if the animals would become food, or if they used animal manure from slaughterhouses. Do they use fish fertilisers? Does the cork contain beeswax? It takes a long time to get the information and that is why our portfolio is limited. But it is doable. I found farmers who worked without animal manure and instead used a green harvest process to make sure the grapes do well. The younger generation of winemakers are taking the less is more approach, using fewer additives, and they are proud of the wine they are producing.” 

Distribution Business 

The company has two vegan salespeople in California and the wine is available in various restaurants such as Pura Vita and Margo’s in California and Earthen and Soda Club in New York. They also supply many restaurants that are not geared towards plant-based: “We have some restaurants that don’t have a single vegan dish on the menu. They love our wines because they are amazing. When I deliver, I try and convince them that they’d attract more customers if they had some vegan food options.”  

Direct-to-Consumer Business 

The wine is sold to the public via an online shop and a subscription-based wine club. Most wine club members are not fully vegan but are drawn to the range because of the transparency of the products, and the knowledge that they won’t contain any additives like sugar or sulphites. Club members get recipes and the chance to add plant-based cheeses, chocolates, and meats: “Each bottle we sell is paired with a recipe and a vegan cheese. We also do events which are a one stop shop for compatible vegan food and drink.”  

Partnering with Brands 

The company is always looking for new partnerships with plant-based food producers: “We are always keen to collaborate with people who make vegan cheese and charcuterie. For example I am currently talking to a vegan charcuterie company to make a charcuterie board for the holidays. There are now a lot of amazing plant-based cheeses that appeal to people who are not vegan. We have found some amazing plant-based cheeses to partner with such as Miyoko, and Rebel. We also work with Meaty Max who do excellent vegan charcuterie, and Farmer Jones, a farm where they grow food without animal products in the soil.” 

One of the biggest challenges was getting the business to be taken seriously by the wine industry. Because of this, the company now works with the wine educators who train sommeliers, giving them information on what to put in their training packages: “I also make sure I have time to talk to the restaurants we supply. It important that they take to heart the message that if they have amazing dishes, they also need to pay attention to their drink menu.”   


What’s Trending in the Plant Based World?

Plant Based World Expo Europe was held in the National Hall, Olympia on 30th November – 1st December 2022. It was a bigger venue than the previous year and attracted nearly double the number of visitors. Around 180 exhibitors presented their plant-based offerings, contributing generous samples, cookery demonstrations and talks. This strictly B2B event was a chance for innovators, producers, and services to meet investors, distributers and buyers from supermarkets and foodservice. The hall was buzzing with demonstrations and negotiations. Some of this year’s stallholders will likely be next year’s household names. Plant-based bacon makers La Vie, new to the UK market last year, now returning as established supermarket suppliers. It has since been reported that German cheesemaker Simply V has announced will be launching five of its almond cheeses in the UK next year. For this reason, the expo is a great place to spot trends and get a hint of what might soon be available. Here are some developments that were trending at Plant Based World.  

Sliceable seafood  

There was some very tasty plant-based fish on display including some delicious, breaded fillets from French vegan company Kokiriki and Asian brand Omni. A potential game-changer is a newcomer to the space – Romanian company Verdino who now have a presence in the UK. Their Unfished range includes sliceable and diceable faux salmon and tuna, and they have mastered a realistic fishy favour. The products are likely to be snapped up by sushi and sashimi makers wanting to attract plant-based customers. These establishments will also love Jens Moller’s three varieties of seaweed caviar.  

Blended milks 

Soya, oat, rice, chickpeas: why stick to just one plant-protein when you can mix them up? Combining key ingredients means the drink can be optimised for taste, nutrition, and price. There were several blended milks to try at this year’s expo including: 

Naturli’s Do Not Call Me M-lk. Claimed by some to be the creamiest plant-milk, it is a hybrid of soy, oat, rice, and almond. The Danish brand is available in the UK from QuickVit and, given the success of the brands butters, is likely to be available more widely in the not-too-distant future.  

Yofi is a French organic vegan start-up. The key ingredient here is chickpea which gives high nutrition and a creamy texture. The two choices are oat and chickpea, and rice and chickpea. We can confirm that there is no hint of chickpea in the flavour. Yofi will be available to buy from their own website soon.  

Spanish brand Ecomil is also mixing it up, with chia and almond, coconut and almond, and spelt rice, oat, and hazelnut on offer. This is an addition to some unusual plant milks such as quinoa, sesame, and tiger nut. Some of their single plant milks are available in UK health shops.  

AMC Natural Drinks are blending plant milk in a different way – with fruit. The Spanish fruit distributer has diversified its range to and invested in R&D to produce bioactive drinks with gut-health-conscious consumers in mind. We can confirm that the mango, coconut milk and turmeric gut health shot we sampled at the expo was delicious. The company has sites across 50 countries including the UK and provides products to supermarkets, wholesalers, and foodservice.  

 Artisan cheeses 

Plant-based cheese has come a long way in the last couple of years. We are surely past the days when people complained they could never give up dairy because of cheese. These Mediterranean gems prove that that dairy-free no longer means missing out on flavour and nutrition.  

Mozzarisella magics a dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, allergen-free alternative to cheese from brown rice. The product on display, a giant round parmesan replacement had the tangy taste and crumbly texture you would expect. A selection is already available in the UK via Vegetarian Express and Wholefoods.  

 Les Nouveaux Affineurs have adapted traditional French cheesemaking techniques including ripening and fermentation to make something that could easily be mistaken for a rich camembert. Produced in a new state of the art factory in Paris the products are available all over France we hope to see these gems on our side of the Channel soon.  

Whole cuts of meat 

While burgers, meatballs and sausages have become meatier in the last year, the new holy grail is un-minced cuts that wouldn’t seem out of place in a butcher’s shop.  

Redefine Meat has created New Meat – juicy, chewy plant-based pieces that realistically mimic the flavour, texture and experience of eating animal flesh. The method is understandably a guarded secret but involves 3D printing to create a carbon copy of muscle mass. Ingredients include soy, pea protein, chickpeas and beetroot, with the tenderloin and lamb flank being the most impressive shape and feel. The advertising is aimed as much at hardened meatheads as vegans. It is available in high-end eateries including Selfridges in the UK, and in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, France and Israel.  

Mock is another premium plant-based meat brand. Created exclusively for foodservice the brand is one of the few to offer vegan lamb pieces. The samples were moist and chewy tapping into core memories of late-night kebabs. The protein comes from soy, mushroom stem, and wheat gluten. It is available from Vegetarian Express in the UK.  

Further afield  

Plant Based World Expo is an international affair, and we spotted several companies who had travelled some distance to allow their products greater visibility in the UK. These include event sponsors, V2, Australia’s number 1 plant-based meat    

Brazilian plant-based advocates have had a boost with the election of vegetarian Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva. The president-elect has vowed to put environmental conservation high on the agenda. Two Brazilian plant-based companies were represented at the Expo: Future Farm, now distributed in 30 countries including the UK, and Grupo Planta a restaurant chain in Brazil and white label producer across Latin America. 

Nilky is Turkey’s first vegan drinks brand. The start-up was founded by two idealistic entrepreneurs determined to protect the planet from ecological damage. The company produces almond, oat, hazelnut, and coconut milks which it sells in Turkish supermarkets and are hoping for interest from UK distributers.  

Vezlay is a manufacturer of soya meat products in India. It was one of the first in the country to position soya as a meat alternative for vegetarians. On display were their range of ambient ready-to-eat meat-substitutes such as their moist and tasty soya chikka.  

Fungi Fat 

For alt-meat producers looking for a healthy way to make their food juicier and more succulent Scelta Vegout could be the solution. A collaboration between Yorkshire-based VegOut Fungi and global mushroom producer Scelta Mushrooms, the fat replacement has no trans fats and is lower in calories that actual fat. IT will likely be a welcome addition to sausages, burgers and other faux meats.  

How Plant-Based Businesses Can Survive The Cost-of-Living Crisis

The cost-of-living crisis, whether caused by low wages, austerity, rising costs of energy and ingredients, COVID-19, Brexit, or all the above, poses a threat to food businesses and especially plant-based ones. According to a UK Office of National Statistics report from July 2022, around half of adults are buying less food, and around three quarters were very or somewhat worried about the cost of living. So how well will plant-based businesses weather the storm, and what can they do to survive these multiple crises intact?  

For established vegan consumers there are plenty of ways to spend less. The Vegan Society website has lots of tips on how to make the most of affordable ingredients like lentils, oats and chickpeas. There are also recent studies showing eating plant-based can be more affordable than eating animals. An Oxford University study from 2021 found that in the US, UK, Australia and Western Europe eating more plant-based dishes could cut food bills by a third. It has also been reported that in the Netherlands plant-based meat has become cheaper than the animal equivalent. The research shows that in the Netherlands discount supermarket options at Aldi and Lidloffer great benefits for those who exchange meat for meat alternatives, with savings of €6 per kilo.   

Image: Indy Kaur

However, in the UK, with many plant-based products coming from younger, less-established businesses, and plant producers getting less government support than meat producers, the uncertain economic climate is likely to cause issues. We spoke to Indy Kaur, plant-based food consultant, founder of Plant Futures and former plant-based food strategy lead for Tesco. She says the area most likely to struggle is chilled meat-alternatives: “There is no real incentive for somebody who’s not currently buying plant-based meat alternatives to now start buying it when they’re facing a cost-of-living crisis. We know from Kantar consumer data that consumers are also now struggling to afford to eat healthily, which is one of the key drivers in switching to plant-based food. I think we need to be sensible and understand that there are a lot of people that don’t earn a lot of money and they are going through a hard time. I think getting new people to buy chilled meat-alternatives is going to be difficult right now unless brands can invest in promotional mechanics and leverage Veganuary’s campaign where plant-based sales always spike. It must also be said that veg-led products like pulses, lentils and legumes may do better if consumers can learn how to cook with them.”  

There has been a flurry of innovation in the chilled meat-free category in recent years, with companies competing to produce the most realistic and tasty substitutes. Indy Kaur believes it will be a difficult time for these products. “Compared to the chiller space given to meat, the room for plant-based meat alternatives is small. This means retailers are having to arrange many brands and formats into just two or four chiller bays. Over the past four years there has been a strategy from retailers to embrace new product development, but with sales starting to plateau as consumer demand flattens, retailers are having to reassess and justify the space against retail sales. Ultimately, the consumer will decide which brands and products will thrive. It will be a turbulent year, and I expect next year is going to be difficult too. This is not triggered just by the cost-of-living crisis. It is the natural dynamic of an emerging market but made harder by the cost-of-living crisis.”  

Just as retailers are creating value meat ranges to ride out the cost-of-living crisis, there is a need for more value plant-based items. This has already emerged within supermarket own labels. Tesco Plant Chef, Aldi and Lidl have successfully pushed down the price of vegan ranges. Another example is Alpro, widely available and relatively affordable yoghurt, which for a large pot is the same price as its dairy equivalent.  

Indy Kaur believes there is an appetite for more value mainstream ranges: “There is a need for more commodity-style unbranded components. Dehydrated textured vegetable protein chunks are cheap but are mainly found in health food shops. Canned jackfruit and banana blossom are good base ingredients that could be used to create new dishes, but they’ve not been adopted by the mass market yet. There are also opportunities for more frozen bulk-buy ranges. Quorn does well with its big bag format that is ready the freezer when needed, and there is room for more value pack options.”   

A look at the demographics of plant-based shoppers suggest that they tend to be more affluent than average. A 2021 survey published by the Good Food Institute found that compared to the average consumer, buyers of plant-based products tend to be younger, higher earning and are more likely to have a college or graduate degree. Indy Kaur says there are still some market segments that could be better served: “Products tend to be aimed at single or double higher-income households, young professionals, and empty nesters. There are fewer branded products targeted at families and children at affordable price points. That’s the whole area that hasn’t been explored at all.”  

Despite the harsh economic climate Indy Kaur believes it is right for mission-driven innovators to focus on meat-alternatives: “animal-free proteins are key to getting where we need to be in the long term. In 2020, the market share of meat substitutes in European retail was just 0.7% of the meat market. If we want a more sustainable food system in which, let’s assume, 50% of meat is from plants and 50% from animals, we’ve only just scratched the surface. I think we’ve benefited in the industry with a short-term boom that saw real growth very early on, driven by vegans and flexitarians. To get those products into the mainstream is a whole different ballgame. We need to understand it is a long-term transition not a short-term win.”  

Supermarkets are still crying out for new products and one necessary area of innovation is around costs. One area to explore is the use of by-products as ingredients. This has been done by Israeli company More Food that makes a white label high protein meat-alternative from by-products from sunflower oil production. Integrated supply chains is something that the meat industry does well, with by-products routinely become ingredients. Indy Kaur says this is not yet embedded into the plant-based industry: “We still have a long way to go. It’s difficult because there’s such a buoyancy in innovation. We’re still learning and developing new products all the time. But it absolutely needs to be part of the strategy.”  

One thing needed for plant-based businesses to thrive is a consolidated voice to push for government support, like the way the meat industry lobbies for support. The UK Plant-based Food Alliance campaigns on behalf of the sector. The coalition, whose members include Oatly, Alpro, Upfield, The Vegan Society and the Good Food Institute, are calling on the government for recognition in policies around food production. The organisation’s CEO Marisa Heath says supporting farmers to shift to producing more ingredients for plant-based food would help to reduce costs and prices: “Government subsidies have supported the production of meat and dairy and now that the objectives are changing around public funding for farms to try to support biodiversity and other environmental goals there is an opportunity to support more regenerative systems where there can be multiple outcomes. Being able to source ingredients close to the manufacturer should help to reduce costs.” 

The group would like to see the government set targets for the public sector procurement of plant-based food, which would help producers: “It would give the sector some financial stability in receiving a proportion of the £2b+ spend on food for schools, prisons, local authorities, and the NHS. Scaling up is important as the bigger a business gets the costs per unit should reduce. Government support through foreign investment and export opportunities would also help with this.”  

The organisation would also like to see food included as a key factor in net zero planning.  Marisa Heath adds: “If the government made that the case, all food strategies being developed across the country by large business, local authorities, universities and so forth could include plant-based in their sustainability plans. This would boost plant-based companies and help with scaling up. It would be great to see the Government come out with a public campaign to nudge people to think about their diet and indicate their faith in the plant-based sector to deliver good, nutritious food through wider policy. Other countries are doing this, and it is proving successful.” 

Opportunities for Plant-Based Brands This Christmas

With Christmas fast approaching many plant-based businesses are wishing for a seasonal sales boost to help with the uncertainties of recent years. The festive season is traditionally a time for feasting and vegan brands in retail and foodservice are hoping for increased spending on the big dinner, home gatherings, office parties and evenings out.  

For retailers the busy Christmas season is not mid-winter but July. That is when their Christmas ranges are finalised and launched, in time for the crucial October-December shopping period. Given that products generally need a twelve-month lead in period, now (December 2022) is a good time for food suppliers to think about Christmas 2023.    

Plant-Based Dishes on the Table  

A report from the Vegan Society last year found that 20% of Britons were planning on including vegan dishes in their Christmas meal. 16% said they would eat meat, but with some vegan options, 3% said they were eating vegetarian and 1% said they would eat a fully plant-based dinner. The top three items were meat-alternatives (such as seitan, tempeh or plant-based chicken), nut roast and roast potatoes. 11% said they were looking forward to making a plant-based dessert, while 13% admitted they were worried about serving a vegan cheese board. When asked for reasons for consuming these items at Christmas, 52% said taste, 42% said price and 27% said carbon footprint.  

The supermarkets know that many people want to reduce meat consumption and have steadily improved meat-free options. This year’s festive items in the UK include M&S mushroom parfait and plant-based turkey, Tesco’s maple & bourbon no-gammon joint, Asda’s breaded vegan brie, sweet chilli bites and soya-turkey crown, Aldi’s no-turkey crown, and Sainsbury’s nut roast with orange and cranberry glaze. Most offer meat-free ‘pigs in blankets’. OGGS, the aquafaba egg replacer, has plant-based mince pies in Tesco.  

Gaps in the Market 

Indy Kaur is the founder of Plant Futures, a UK plant-based food advisor and consultant, and former plant-based strategy lead at Tesco. She says she has noticed huge changes to plant-based offerings over the past four years: “Base ranges have got bigger across all retailers, spearheaded by Tesco and Wicked Kitchen in 2018/19 and paving the way for the rest of retail. The big trend over the past two years has been carve-able centrepieces, and we’ll see more of that this year, as well as fun and quirky party food.   

There are still gaps in the market like the classics, Yorkshire puddings, infused cream, and panettone but I am assured products are on the way! What I am most excited about is seeing premium nut-based cheeses hit supermarket shelves for the first time in the run up to Christmas. Previously available online only, almost all sites would sell out in the weeks up to Christmas and I’m glad to see retailers are taking note. Cheese-alternatives has been the one major category lacking in taste, something that nut-based cheeses are able to deliver on. They are made using a handcrafted, artisanal process, mastered by start-ups in the UK. These aren’t cheese-alternatives, they are nut-based ‘cheeses’ adding a whole new dimension to traditional cheeseboards everywhere.” 

Surprise and Delight 

Indy says supermarket buyers are always on the look-out for something new and special: “They will have development teams for their own brand products, working alongside suppliers, so from outsiders they are looking for exceptionally creative and innovative items. As well as the traditional items that people buy every year, they are seeking an element of surprise and delight. They want to entice consumers into their store with a really great product. They want to offer new culinary experiences, new formats, new flavours but importantly, create memorable moments.”  

Indy Kaur warns hopeful suppliers against pigeonholing themselves as ‘vegan’: “As soon as you say vegan or plant-based you risk narrowing down your audience. Only a small proportion of consumers are vegan, so you need to appeal to the mainstream and talk about how great your product tastes. I think it is important to be careful on the messaging and to focus on indulgence. Because at Christmas time people don’t really want to think about health. They want to spend their money wisely and indulge.” 

Beyond the Christmas Dinner 

Claire Roper is a marketing and innovation consultant for the foodservice sector who was previously Head of Marketing at Quorn. She agrees that Christmas is all about indulgence: “Families and groups of friends want enjoy food together, so retailers and other outlets need plant-based options. Christmas also offers several different occasions for businesses to focus on, from the big meal on the day, to party food, to festive snacks and sandwiches. They need credible alternatives that taste good and offer a comparable experience to the non-plant-based version. Nobody wants to be let down at Christmas. Using flavours that taste good will ensure there is an option that sells well because it makes the customer feel they are being treated to something special.” 

One trend Claire Roper has noticed in recent years is premiumisation – the segmenting of ranges by price: “Something that is now common in supermarkets is the tiering of offerings and Christmas is no exception. It is an opportunity for brands to produce higher end items, alongside more affordable ranges. We’ve seen added value as well, such as M&S’s musical biscuit tins that are useful as a gift. Flavours can be presented as higher end too, with rich indulgent tastes, like truffle, that add something different.” 

For plant-based brands Claire Roper has the following advice: “Embrace Christmas! It’s a great opportunity to showcase something different and allow new customers to experience how tasty plant-based food can be. There are lots of opportunities so see what works for your brand and put some thought into how you can make something tasty and special.”  

Rhythm 108 – Re-imagining Swiss Chocolate for the 21st Century

Siddhi Mehta has done what many food businesses dream of – taken her plant-based business from kitchen table to global distribution. She is the founder of Rhythm 108, a bakery and chocolatier that produces vegan, gluten-free, organic chocolate, biscuits, and cookies in decorative home-compostable packaging. Siddhi’s original idea of traditional Swiss treats with a twist is now an established brand available in numerous UK supermarkets.  

Siddhi admits she didn’t know much about the food industry when she started, it was a move to Switzerland that piqued her interest: “I was fascinated by the slower pace of life and the culture of craftsmanship. At the same time people were starting to talk about sustainability and the ethical implications of animal agriculture. I was shocked to learn that animal farming is a primary driver of climate change.” 

Rhythm 108
Image: Rhythm 108

Rhythm 108 launched in 2015 as a one-woman project running from a shared kitchen.  After experimenting with more ethical recipes, she started selling items at a local market and found that people were interested. She remembers: “I met two Swiss pâtissiers who were fascinated by what I was trying to achieve. They wanted to work with me and apply their traditional craft to reinvent Swiss chocolate for the 21st century, with better values. We worked hard to replace butter, sugar, and eggs in biscuits and cookies, and milk in chocolate. As soon as we developed our signature vegan milk-like chocolate, it became a big hit.”  

For the first couple of years sales grew by word of mouth. The products appealed to health conscious, environmentally aware early adopters, who quickly took to the range. The first sellers were yoga studios and organic stores. “Switzerland has one of the largest networks of independent organic stores of any country. It also has one of the highest values of organic food consumption per capita. I think consumers were already in the mindset of wanting to make a difference through their choices, so it caught on and that’s how we grew. It was through word of mouth that we got into our first supermarket in Switzerland.”  

Siddhi Mehta Rhythm 108
Image: Siddhi Mehta

In 2016 the company began exporting their most popular items. “At first, we were with independent wholesalers and in independent stores in the UK. We built up a network before we went to bigger supermarkets.”  

Their best seller was, and still is, a vegan praline chocolate bar in a 33-gram size. It remains one of the market leaders in the vegan confectionary space: “What made us stand out was that we were plant-based, gluten free and organic. We were also one of the first companies to experiment with plastic-free packaging, so we were in a unique position. What stood out was our emphasis on conscious craftsmanship. The feedback we got on taste was exceptional. Our online reviews were almost all five-star. People said they couldn’t tell it was vegan. I think there are still some people who expect vegan chocolate won’t taste good because they’ve had disappointing products before. Chocolate is such an indulgent experience that when it’s disappointing it’s heart-breaking. That’s why word of mouth is so important.”  

Siddhi describes the transition to supplying supermarkets as incredibly challenging, but she was able to draw on skills gained earlier on in her career: “You need to be ready for the volume, and for changes and cancellations to orders. Luckily my degree in engineering meant I understand the technical aspect of production. We were smart about finding the right machinery and adapting it for our use. Our factory landlord, who is quasi government, supported us in repurposing the factory. We put processes in place and learned as we as we went along.”  

The company also invested heavily in training and paid for staff to qualify in skills that were essential for dealing with supermarkets, such as production quality control.  

 Making a success of any food business is a challenge, but Siddhi never doubted that her mission was the right path: “Sometimes buyers can be risk averse and want to know that a product will sell. We were all taking a huge bet that this market would grow. Some investors and senior businesspeople I approached for mentoring didn’t believe I was serious about building a global brand. But I’ve always wanted to build a company where we’re making an impact. If we’re going to spend time on it, it needs to be something meaningful.” 

Today, the company has a team of eighteen and Siddhi’s working day is very different to the early phase. “I used to spend seven hours in production and do all the admin. There was no time for strategy. Today my job is looking at the next six month and opening doors and growing the business.”  

 Siddhi says that in her experience the most productive thing plant-based start-ups can do is focus on the thing that they do well: “Think about what unique angle you are bringing to the table, and why. There are lots of creative ways you can finance your business. In today’s environment when things are tough if you can focus on revenue and margin you can build a business without large fundraising rounds, and grow a sustainable business for the long term.” 

Plant-Based Interest Booms in the UAE

Interest in plant-based eating has grown dramatically in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the past five years, with new products arriving on supermarket shelves and menus every month. According to Global Data the value of meat-substitute products in the UAE rose from $8.2m to $12m in 2019 and is predicted to reach $15m in 2023. Many vegan brands familiar in the West are now available in the UAE such as Beyond Burger, Meatless Farm, Impossible Burger, V-Bites, Violife and Quorn.   

Divyesh Bhatia, Co-founder, Vegarian

Divyesh Bhatia is the Co-founder of Vegarian, a Dubai-based vegan food distribution operation in the Middle East, South East Asia and the UK. He partners with vegan brands across Europe, helping them grow their businesses by supplying their products to retailers and foodservice companies, and handling distribution, logistics, warehousing and sales and marketing. Vegarian’s current portfolio includes Meatless Farm, VFC, Mr Freed, and Fellow Creatures. He explains: “When a plant-based company is looking for someone on the ground I’m here to help them distribute and promote and their products, whether for retail or foodservice. We have contacts with the relevant retailers, hotels, restaurants, and cafes. I act as a partner on the ground who represents their best interests and helps grow their brand.”   

The UAE’s interest in plant-based food is driven by several factors. Due to limited arable land, climate issues and water shortages, around 90% of food is imported, with produce coming from South Africa, India, Europe and beyond. The market is heavily influenced by dietary trends overseas.   

The UAE’s unusual demographic lends itself to an openness to different foods. With a population of 9.8m, around 90% of inhabitants are expats. The community is multicultural including many Europeans and South Asians who bring their culture and food preferences. South Asians bring a tradition of vegetarian cooking, with around 35% of people in India estimated to be vegetarian and many more avoiding meat on certain days.   

The most populous city, Dubai, is a popular destination for social-media-influencing visitors, whose posts enhance its reputation as a foodie destination. There are more than 150 vegan-friendly restaurants in the city. This includes fully vegan places like Seva, Bounty Beets and Soul Sante. In addition, Emirates airline has recently announced a multimillion-dollar investment to improve vegan options in its onboard catering.  

Divyesh Bhatia explains that interest in plant-based food is driven largely by health and environmental concerns: “I’ve noticed a change in attitude since the pandemic started. People want a healthier diet. Many consumers are taking a more conscious approach in what they choose to eat. People are aware of the links between Covid and animal agriculture, and that eating meat can cause health problems. There is also a strong interest in sustainability and there are initiatives from the government and retailers to support sustainable choices, such the banning single use plastics. The government is also supporting the manufacture of cell-based meats and non-dairy cheese.” 

A recent example of this is government support from the Ministry of Economy’s NextGen FDI initiative, which is enabling the development of a new production facility for animal-free dairy in Abu Dhabi. The innovative US/Australian company Change Foods will be scaling up production of animal-free casein milk protein at the plant. This will speed up the production of dairy-alternatives that are bio-identical to their dairy equivalent, resulting in more realistic vegan cheese in shops.  

Divyesh Bhatia points out that making vegan food appealing to non-vegans is crucial for the success of the sector: “There are not so many pure vegans here, but plenty of consumers who are leaning towards being flexitarian. One of the tasks for us is educating local consumers. In the past there has been a stigma around vegan food. People didn’t expect to like it. That’s why whenever we onboard new products we are very selective regarding quality. We are always looking to bring in new products to fill gaps in the market. For example, we don’t yet have enough vegan creams and plant-based honey alternatives. Consumers here like variety and to try new things so we would love to see new innovative products.”   

For brands looking to enter the UAE market Divyesh Bhatia is keen to point out that just like everywhere else, price is an important factor: “When people hear about Dubai and expats they assume that everyone wants luxury brands. But contrary to popular belief consumers are price sensitive. I tell potential brands that we want to price products close to the non-vegan counterparts. For example, we are working with Fellow Creatures who produce vegan Swiss chocolate and we explained our thinking to their team when signing them and priced it in the range of other non-vegan chocolates. We want everybody to try it so we set a price that will encourage consumers to take a chance to explore vegan and plant-based options.”  

As demand grows and plant-based food scales up, he is optimistic about the future growth of sector: “When products become more appealing because they taste great and are a reasonable price retailers and restaurants really take an interest. In terms of eating out – in the last six months we’ve seen a lot of chains adding plant-based options and several new plant-based restaurants. That is a big indicator of how consumer tastes are changing, and it is very nice to see as someone who supplies solely vegan and plant-based products in the UAE.”