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Sensory experience key to sustaining growth of meat-free category

January 16, 2023

New research commissioned by Pilgrim’s Food Masters, owner of the Richmond and Fridge Raiders brands, has revealed that consumers would shop for more meat-free products if they trusted that taste and texture were improved.

With this year’s Veganuary underway, the data reveals a clear opportunity for both brands and retailers to support more consumer uptake of meat-free foods on a sustained basis, as the growth potential for the category remains unequivocal.

The category is now worth £531 million and a recent survey suggests over half (52%) of UK consumers have eaten a meat-free product. In the past two years alone, meat-free shoppers have increased by 6.5%. Health and environmental factors are the biggest driving forces behind purchase: 37% and 31% of consumers cited these reasons respectively.

Despite the growth, there are still barriers holding back the category. One in four (26%) consumers say they would eat even more meat-free products if they were confident they tasted good. Specifically, it is taste and texture that is preventing 17% and 16% of consumers respectively from buying more meat-free products.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is over lunch and dinner that consumers are most likely to serve up meat-free dishes, with 38% of those polled saying they would opt for meat-free products for dinner and 23% for lunch. This is further evidence that whilst new product development has focused on the dinner occasion to date, the lunch moment, as well as snacking and breakfast, are still underserved.

It is through focused development on these meals and occasions that brands can truly unlock the growth potential of the category. Richmond, for example, launched Meat-Free Deli Slices. Developed for lunchtime, the product claims to recreate the sensory experience of meat and can be added to sandwiches and wraps. Snacking giant Fridge Raiders, meanwhile, has been instrumental in developing the meat-free snacking occasion through innovation. 81% of the brand’s meat-free purchases are incremental to the category, proof of the occasion’s potential.

Stocking a variety of products is also a key pillar in continuing the category’s evolution; 11% of consumers stated if there were more flavours available, and a wider variety of proteins used, they would purchase more meat-free options. The success of Richmond’s seasonal Meat-Free BBQ Sauce Flavour Sausages is evidence of this. Launched in April 2022, the product became the fifth best-selling sausage in the category over summer 2022, success that led the brand to introduce a new seasonal product; Meat-Free Sage and Onion Sausage. It is through continued flavour expansion such as this that will unlock further category growth.

“We know there’s clear consumer appetite for meat-free products driven by sustainability and health needs,” commented Conor Lowry, Category Controller at Pilgrim’s Food Masters.

“But we know consumers still have barriers around perceived taste and texture, and as a category we need to continue to raise the bar and deliver against expectations. Listening to consumers and responding to their needs is crucial to enable the category to reach its full potential. Consumers expect more in 2023 so continued development is key.”

Brands that have fostered consumer confidence on taste have an advantage. Richmond, for example, having built solid shopper trust from its meat portfolio, has shown an ability to leverage this to bring shoppers into the meat-free category. Richmond, now meat-free’s third biggest player, claims that it is the number one brand for recruiting consumers into the meat-free category because shoppers “know the range tastes great”.

To cement its place as a category leader, Richmond has spent an entire year refining the taste and texture of its range of meat-free sausages, mince, burgers and meatballs. The brand’s Meat-Free Mince now uses a new protein that delivers a more meat-like texture when cooked, whilst the raw product has been refined to ensure a closer color match to raw beef. The entire enhanced range is rolling out in stores month.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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