Derek Sarno talks Plant Chef roll out in Tesco: ‘This is a no brainer for me’

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tesco has launched a new own-brand line of plant-based foods: Plant Chef ©Tesco
Tesco has launched a new own-brand line of plant-based foods: Plant Chef ©Tesco

Related tags: Tesco, plant-based, vegan

Tesco has launched a new own-brand range of plant-based foods under the Plant Chef label, which the retailer’s head of plant-based innovation, Derek Sarno, says responds to a ‘clear opportunity’ for ‘affordable, more familiar dishes’.

The UK’s largest supermarket retailer, Tesco, has increased its selection of plant-based products with the launch of Tesco Plant Chef. The ‘affordable’ range has been brought in to help meet growing demand for vegetarian and vegan foods.

Indeed, plant-based food has become the biggest culinary trend of the decade, according to IRI data, with demand helping to boost the chilled vegetarian and vegan sector by 31%.

The new range includes a variety of 100% plant-based ‘family favourites’, including Butternut Cauli Mac (£2.50), Breaded Goujons made from soya coated in breadcrumbs (£2), Battered Fish-Free Fillets made from soy in tempura batter (£3), and Mushroom Pizza (£2.50).

According to Derek Sarno, who heads up plant-based innovation at Tesco, the launch responds to a gap in the supermarket’s own-branded offering following the launch of its successful Wicked Kitchen line​.

“While developing Wicked Kitchen there was a clear opportunity to be working on another line that would be focused on affordable more familiar dishes,”​ the plant-based innovation chief told FoodNavigator. Plant Chef should make it ‘easier than ever’ to make ‘better choices’, he continued.

Wicked Kitchen, on the other hand, is more focused on tackling ‘first to market items’ and offering ‘more innovative chef craft’ in the category, Sarno elaborated. “If Wicked is making coolAF food in retail then Plant Chef likes to play it a little more safe, less rebel like and I love that just as much.  If there is a space to be filled plant based, we’ll have it covered.”

From a health standpoint, Plant Chef has been developed with the same or better nutritionals compared to their animal-based counterpart, we were told, with ecological advantages. “Plant-based is better for the environment, so this is a no brainer for me.”​  

Wicked expansion

At the same time, Tesco is expanding its Wicked Kitchen line – a ‘chef-owned’ brand developed between Wicked Healthy co-founder and brothers Derek and Chad Sarno, and Tesco. Wicked Kitchen has sold more than 10 million units to date.

Wicked kitchen plant based meat range-6
Tesco has expanded its range of Wicked Kitchen offerings ©Wicked Kitchen/Tesco

New products include Wicked Shredded M’Shroom (£3) and Coconut Crack’d Corn – a blend of sweetcorn mixed with garlic, ginger, coconut and herbs (£2).

Both Wicked Kitchen and Plant Chef will sit in the meat aisle to offer flexitarians an ‘immediate alternative’. The supermarket noted that this will then be expanded out into other parts of the store.

“In the next few weeks we’ll be turbo charging Wicked into other categories like produce, with fresh kits [containing] king and brown cluster oyster mushrooms, so people can make [their] own 100% veg-wicked style ‘meats’,”​ said Sarno.

Two new category ranges will also find their way into the grocery section mid-October, he continued, as well as a “full expansion of offerings in the chilled ready meals/dessert, and some really exciting new developments…It’s coming”.

New meal offerings under the Wicked Kitchen label follow in the brand’s ethos, said the plant-based innovation lead. “We want [consumers] to scratch cook and when [they don’t], we have things ready for [you]. Wicked is not just about making plant based food delicious, it’s also about challenging current processes in the food system and showing entirely new plant based practices that don’t rely on or need animal products. We can all read what is happening with the environment so we’re putting our skills to use.  There is no need to kill sh*t for flavour.” 

Both Wicked and Plant Chef are aimed at flexitarians, vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters, he continued, essentially ‘targeting people who eat’.

“This food is designed for everyone who wants delicious food and cares for more than just what goes in their mouth.”

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