Plant Power to the People!

Eating up our vegetables used to be a chore but, now, it’s becoming a lifestyle statement. If we aren’t woofing down courgetti, we’re swigging holier-than-thou kale and spirulina smoothies. So, what’s going on? Two principal things which are inter-linked:

  • we’re not all turning into vegetarians but we (and, particularly, women) are electing to have more plant-based meals and snacks than previously. Why? The deadly dull nut roast and soyburger is dead and, now, we can buy really tasty, colourful, convenient vegetable- and pulse-based foods. What’s more, they are consonant with healthy lifestyles. Brassicas are in vogue – who’d’a’ thunk it!;
  • concomitantly, in many higher income countries, consumers are electing to reduce their meat consumption (particularly red meat). Reasons offered include (in order of importance) – healthier diet, saving money, animal welfare concerns, food safety worries, and saving the environment.

In the retail and eating out sectors, nimble companies, often new start-ups, have been quick to harness the power of plants. Alpro is, perhaps, the doyen – 36 years old and offering 100% plant-based food and drinks which are 100% dairy- and GMO-free. Winner of The Grocer  2016 brand of the year , Alpro beat out classic UK companies such as Warburtons, United Biscuits and Young’s with its on-trend “free from” drinks, yoghurts and desserts made from soy, hazelnut, almond, coconut, rice and oats.

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Take a look at Rawligion in Central London offering a wide range of super premium juices and other drinks. The coffee is ‘cold-brewed” to maintain the “raw” mantra. Incidentally, eating and drinking raw foods isn’t new – in the 19th Century, Reverend Graham, inventor of the Graham cracker and Maximilian Bircher-Benner with his eponymous muesli were early raw food zealots (mind you, both of them were crackers!).

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Prêt-à-Manger has ramped up its range of vegetable-based meals and snacks under the strap line “Not just for Veggies”i

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Additionally, Prêt has opened a completely vegetarian restaurant in Soho, London. Its competitor Leon has banners outside its restaurants espousing “The Power of Plants” to promote its Summer range of vegetable-based meals. What’s next – a veggie Tesco Express?

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Are you a spiralizer? It’s fashionable to be so! Courgetti – spaghetti-style courgettes/zucchini and boodles – noodle-style butternut squash – are much in vogue. These are brilliant new products which have breathed new life into traditional vegetables. And what about cauliflower rice and cous cous? Cauliflower is flying with our favourites being seared cauliflower steaks and cauliflower hummus.

Putting vegetables “centre of the plate” isn’t new, of course, and the myco-protein (a mushroom-like fungus) Quorn has been at it since 1985. Significantly, however, Quorn is merchandised in the meat cabinet. The Cooperative retailer trying to woo repeat custom, have a discount coupon offering “£2 off your next purchase of meat, fish or Quorn”. The meat guys better be on their mettle – the Filipino Corporation Monde Nissin acquired Quorn for US$800+ million in 2015 and, clearly, see that meat substitutes have a big future around the globe. Later this year, look out for the launch in the USA of a plant protein burger from Impossible Foods that will look like, taste like and smell like the burgers we know and love.

When David Hughes was a boy, if he listened carefully outside his front door at Sunday lunchtime, he could hear a chorus from his neighbours of “eat up your vegetables or there’ll be no dessert”! Eating your vegggies, frankly, is passé – now, you’ve got to drink them! You don’t have a NutriBullet or Nutri Ninja blender? Hang your head in shame. Pure juices and smoothie retail sales went backwards in 2015, suffering from the demonization of sugar in many markets. But making smoothies with vegetables and fruit at home is seriously in vogue as consumers perceive that they can control sugar content if they produce the drinks themselves. In fact, you can have a box of smoothie ingredients delivered every week if you want to avoid shopping in the supermarket.

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Mind you, the big retailers can spot a lucrative and healthy trend, too. Asda are merchandising premium “cold pressed” vegetable juices in the Fresh Produce Department (note how the “cold pressed” label for juices leverages the health halo associated with extra virgin olive oil). Marks & Spencer have a fruit & vegetable display to encourage customers’ smoothie-making side! Best of all, Sainsbury’s stole the PR show of the week by having a “Vegetable Butcher” demonstrating in one of its stores how to use produce in a 1,000 different ways.

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“Plant Power to the People”, we say. But, it’s more than just fruit and vegetables. Protein-rich pulses (e.g. lentils, peas, beans) are having a very strong sales moment, too and, by the by, the UN declared 2016 to be The International Year of Pulses. M&S have launched a high fibre/low fat outdoor-bred pork and bortolli and cannellini bean sausage. Brace yourselves, meat people. You need to up your game or you’ll lose customers in the vegetable and pulse revolution!

 

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About the authors
Prof David Hughes: Around the world, David speaks to senior agribusiness and food industry managers about global food industry developments that are and will affect their businesses and industry. Energetic, engaging, humorous and insightful, David gains the very highest evaluations at seminars, conferences and Board level discussions in every continent he visits. Miguel Flavián: works for several Spanish organisations and companies to help them to learn from the developments of the British grocery market and improve their business back home.
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