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.
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.
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.”
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.”