More and more consumers are aware that the future is plant-based, a large proportion still need to be convinced. Taste, texture and price positioning remain focal points for producers and retailers, says market leader Garden Gourmet.
To reduce our ecological footprint, we will also need to reduce our meat consumption. Brand manufacturers and retailers are putting their shoulders to the wheel in the plant-based category. However, the first months of the year were not great for the meat substitutes market, says business manager Arthur Duquesne de la Vinelle of market leader Garden Gourmet.
“The whole FMCG sector is struggling as consumers are eating out more again. The basis of comparison is difficult after a very strong first quarter in 2021. In that challenging context, Garden Gourmet still achieved a record market share of 30.5% in Belgium. From the second half of the year onwards, we expect nice growth figures for the category again.” Our interlocutor recently took charge of the Benelux activities for the vegetable brand, for which Nestlé has high ambitions.
“That will be exciting: The Netherlands is a very interesting market for plant-based. They started earlier, there are many start-ups and companies from outside Europe often choose the Netherlands as their base: think of Beyond Meat that built a factory in the Netherlands, or Unilever that took over The Vegetarian Butcher. The country is truly the playground of the vegetable sector. Garden Gourmet is also market leader there, but less dominant than in Belgium, because there are strong local players.”
The future looks bright for the category, but a handicap for plant-based products is the price difference with meat. “We see from a European study that the penetration of the category is higher in markets where the price gap with meat is smaller. There is a direct correlation, not so much with the absolute price but with the gap between veggie and meat.”
Price is therefore one of the keys to growing the category, Duquesne believes. “Today we are not cheap. We try to be ‘affordable premium’: at around 20 euros a kilo, we are certainly not the most expensive brand on the market either.” He sees two major challenges.
The first challenge concerns the price of meat: “We are aware that food has to remain affordable for the consumer, especially in the current circumstances. Nevertheless, we can ask ourselves whether certain types of meat have not become too cheap. I am amazed every time I see chicken in the supermarket for three euros a kilo.” He points out that the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy also aims to get rid of meat that is too cheap.
“And secondly, we need to find solutions in our value chain to bring our cost prices down. But that is not so easy. We invest enormously in R&D, we are now building a new factory in Serbia for 70 million euros, and the basic ingredients remain expensive…”
Those investments are necessary, because in this sector innovation remains a lever for further growth. “Recently we tasted our upcoming innovations and for the first time we felt that there is really no difference in taste and texture anymore with the reference products. We are getting to that level now.”
Garden Gourmet wants to continue to differentiate itself and still sees opportunities in charcuterie, prepared meals, pizzas… “It is important that we keep the right balance between the maturity of the category and how we can translate that into unique products. We have to guard the rotations. For classics such as burgers or sausages, this works well. They do not always have to be meat alternatives, by the way. We are one of the few that also works with vegetables: vegetable balls, falafels… We are going to take that ‘next level’ step for vegetable products, like we did for the meat alternatives.”
Vuna, the plant-based tuna alternative launched by Garden Gourmet at the beginning of this year, has had a very good start. “We are continuing with the European roll-out. The product is going viral: people are really convinced when they taste it, we notice this in the high number of repeat purchases. Lifestyle and cooking magazines are giving positive feedback, well-known chefs are using it, and people are constantly tagging us on Instagram… Great fun! Sushi corners in retail will soon be offering vegan sushi with Vuna.”
Duquesne is also expecting a lot from a plant-based alternative to egg that will hit the market in early 2023. “That is a phenomenal product, suitable for frying like an omelette in the pan, but also as an ingredient in cakes. Very handy for people who want to cook and bake more plant-based in an easy way.”
Want to know more about Garden Gourmet’s plant-based plans? On 9 June, Arthur Duquesne de la Vinelle will speak at the RetailDetail Food Congress in Antwerp. Themed The Future of Food, the conference will also feature speakers from Deloitte, Delhaize, Gorillas, Kriket, Coca-Cola, VLAM, Pieter Pot and Mosa Meat. A must for every food professional! Tickets can be ordered via this link.