Start-up takes on vegan meat market with lesser-known alternative: ‘Our mission it to get seitan into the mainstream’

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

Seitan's core ingredients are wheat and water ©GettyImages/DanielMegias
Seitan's core ingredients are wheat and water ©GettyImages/DanielMegias

Related tags: vegan, plant-based, meat analogue

UK start-up LoveSeitan wants to increase consumer awareness around this lesser-known meat substitute, “so it’s as well-known as jackfruit and tofu”, says co-founder Steve Swindon.

Seitan is a low fat, high-protein meat substitute with a firm texture. Made from core ingredients gluten and water, the product is regarded a traditional product made for the past 1,500 years.

Yet even in the midst of a plant-based boom – a market that Allied Market Research predicts will increase from €1.5bn in 2018 to €2.4bn by 2025 – seitan remains one of the lesser-known vegan meat alternatives.

LoveSeitan is working to change that. “Part of our mission is to get the word ‘seitan’ out there into the mainstream,” ​co-founder Steve Swindon told FoodNavigator, “so it’s as well-known as jackfruit, tofu, and other vegan meat alternatives”.

Overcoming the ‘rubbery’ texture challenge

LoveSeitan co-founder Nick Abear has been making homemade seitan for 20-odd years. Having perfected a recipe that involves sourcing the ‘right ingredients’, mixing for a precise amount of time, and cooking the seitan at a tried and tested temperature, the friends decided to share Abear’s seitan with the wider community.

“A number of commercial seitans, in my experience, have a ‘rubbery’ texture to them,” ​said co-founder Swindon, “which can be off-putting”. ​ 

When LoveSeitan began selling from a stall at local vegan events in 2017, its products had a consistently ‘more pleasant mouthfeel’, without ‘that slightly rubbery overtone’.

The following year, the duo met VBites founder Heather Mills, and impressed her. Her decision to invest in LoveSeitan enabled the start-up transfer manufacturing to VBites’ factory in Corby, Northamptonshire.

“Almost immediately [after the investment] we started manufacturing in bulk,” ​Swindon recalled.

Sei-what?

Seitan is based on wheat protein, using flour that has had all starch removed. To this, LoveSeitan adds several ingredients including nutritional yeast, herbs and spices, soy sauce, and water. The start-up also produces a soy-free version made with natural flavouring.

The current product line includes Classic Seitan, Chilli & Garlic, Smokey Dokey (made with smoked paprika), Sage & Onion, and Funky Chyck’n. The duo worked hard to get the right flavour notes from custom spice blends, and said they stand out as one of very few seitan companies playing with flavour. “Nobody seems to be doing that on the market.”

six-labels2 seitan
©LoveSeitan

From a nutritional standpoint, seitan is low in fat, contains approximately 30% protein, and is cholesterol-free. LoveSeitan’s offerings are fortified with vitamin B12 and provide a good source of iron and calcium. Its soy-free range has 40% less salt, noted Swindon.

“There is a big demand now for high protein, low fat products. If you compare it to meat products, it has similar protein levels as chicken, and is incredibly low in fat.”

Seitan’s ‘recognisable’ ingredients list also resonates with the brand’s trade customers, we were told. “The vegan market is characterised by a slew of products that are often quite highly processed, with questionable chemicals in them to make them behave like meat.”

While technically, such products are ‘great’, the co-founder said consumers appreciate looking at LoveSeitan’s back-of-pack and ‘knowing what’s in there’.

LoveSeitan is yet to calculate its product’s environmental footprint, but the co-founder told us that as a wheat product, it’s ‘about as sustainable as a loaf of bread’. The start-up is also sourcing from the UK where possible to keep down transport miles.

From direct trade to distributors

As the biggest producer in the UK, and among few in Europe, the company sees a ‘really big opportunity’ to grow and become a ‘dominant player’ in the category.

Today, approximately 80% of LoveSeitan’s business comes from foodservice and the start-up is building listings through wholesalers and distributors. The company recently signed with national distributor Bidfood. “The idea is that we move all our direct trade customers into our foodservice channels,” ​Swindon explained.

In doing so, LoveSeitan will build its presence in restaurants, cafes, and into the public sector – including in prisons, schools, hospitals, sport stadiums, and catering establishments.

In retail, the start-up sells direct-to-consumer online and is listed in around 50 Co-op stores across central England. This is a channel Swindon told us he predicts growth. “There is a big demand for convenience, so we are looking to do more in that sector in terms of finished products.”

Having observed growing interest from Europe, LoveSeitan expects to be expanding into Member States in the coming months.

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