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UK retail sets example for plant-based category wide innovation


The urgency of an overarching category manager for plant-based foods has never been this high. The biggest plant-based product categories (long-life milk and fresh meat) have come to a tipping point of becoming mainstream during the covid-19 period. 

However, consumers are demanding plant-based options category wide. An offering of vegan meat and milk aren’t enough. Plant-based innovation in the whole range of the supermarket is a must to keep fulfilling the demand these consumers. 

The Vegetarian Category Manager

In the Netherlands, it is often the case that a food retailer has a “category manager vegetarian” for the vegetarian and vegan meat category. This category manager falls mostly under the meat department (including fish, poultry and thus vegetarian). The smaller retailers combine such category management roles with multiple product groups. This means that a category manager is responsible for e.g. poultry, fish and the vegetarian/ vegan meat range. So time to spend on innovation in the plant-based meat space is limited. Let only for a category wide approach. The other category managers, e.g. the dairy category manager, will have to set up the vegan range in the category by itself. 

Vegetarian and vegan range at Jumbo Foodmarkt Leidschendam (Mall of the Netherlands)

UK plant-based strategy

In the UK we see more integrated vegan roles popping up in retail. Tesco has a Chef Director of plant-based innovation since a couple of years already. This director is Derek Sarno, a very well known chef in the field. They co-created the brand Wicked Kitchen, but he also works on other plant-based innovations within Tesco. Now, Tesco is looking for a brand manager plant-based products too. Thereby intensifying the work in this field. 

Category wide innovation at Tesco

This is not limited to food retail. Also in UK food service we see examples such as Papa Johns hiring a Chief Vegan Officer. In the Netherlands, the promising prospects for the vegetarian and vegan category are underlined by almost all retailers. In the podcast of Albert Heijn, “at our plate”, the category manager vegetarian and convenience highlighted that vegetarian has to become the biggest department on the long-term. 

Category wide innovation

Designating an employee that’s fully responsible for the vegan innovations will definitely help in the speed of innovation. In some organizations, an advocate of this topic will also help to point out the importance of these innovations plus to make shelf space available for plant-based options. 

The plant-based long-life milk and meat alternatives prove that once the range of offerings is expanding (and taste and price are good), more customers choose for these products. By focusing on innovation in all categories, the percentage of plant-based products will even grow steeper than it does nowadays. 

A dedicated vegan dairy shelf at Kaufland, Germany

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