Quorn Foods is adding five new roles to its innovation team. New hires offer a broad cross-section of experience, from a former contestant on The Great British Bake Off, to product developers in the retail and foodservice sectors.
“We’ve always invested heavily in R&D and these new roles highlight our commitment, as the global leader in meat-free, to be at the forefront of future innovation,” R&D chief Tim Ingmire told us.
“We have big ambitions to improve the impact our diets have on the planet and our health. The Culinary Innovation Team brings a renewed focus on culinary innovation and emerging trends as we create delicious and innovative food for our future.”
This means identifying ‘the next big product opportunities’ and ‘challenging the status quo in meat free’, the plant-based innovator continued.
Innovation to increase availability
So what areas are ripe for innovation?
Quorn’s innovation team will look at ‘everything from new trends, techniques, flavours, ingredients or recipes‘, Ingmire explained.
The focus is on delivering products to support Quorn’s ambition to ‘make it easier for people to choose delicious and sustainable food wherever they are’ – whether that’s at home, on the high street or at a restaurant.
Quick Service Resultants and other foodservice channels offer an appealing opportunity to extend Quorn’s distribution reach – and the company has already rapidly scaled-up in this channel. “We want to be accessible for everyone, and so you can choose to eat it everywhere. Quorn is already in over 100 products available on the high street including partnerships with food outlets, including Greggs, KFC, Costa Coffee and Pizza Hut as well as Stonegate and Harvester pub chains,” Ingmire elaborated.
Part of making its plant-based products accessible to everyone means extending the category’s attractiveness. Kantar Worldpanel data suggests that already 11.9m UK households buy into meat-free. This, Ingmire suggested, is a ‘great step in the right direction’ – but Quorn’s ambitions are bigger. “We want Quorn to be in everyone’s home.”
This means boosting the brand’s appeal to flexitarian consumers, who incorporate both plant and animal protein into their diets.
It is this consumer segment that is driving market growth at the moment, Ingmire observed. “Flexitarians and meat reducers are driving the current growth in the market. We’ll be focusing on products to help these customers transition into the meat-free category.”
Flexing Quorn’s muscle
Appealing to flexitarians is not about re-investing the wheel. Quorn is focused on delivering meat analogues that can be easily integrated into existing consumption patterns and meal planning.
The company already delivers a wide range of plant-based meat substitutes, from meat-free mince, sausage and burgers to chicken-like products. According to Ingmire, future innovation will focus an ever-more meaty organoleptic profile for plant-based items.
“We’ve set ourselves a number of key challenges including how we can improve the cooking experience to replicate that meaty sizzle, how do we create that meaty succulent look and colour, what flavours will help us achieve a juicy, savoury, natural flavour?
“We also have an ongoing texture development brief to keep that bite and chew closer to juiciness of meat and we’re always identifying ways to improve shelf life.”
Quorn products are currently based on mycoprotein, a single-cell protein derived from fungi. And while the benefits of mycoprotein mean it will continue to play an important role in Quorn’s portfolio, Ingmire revealed that the group is also looking at possible avenues of diversification.
“Mycoprotein, the super protein at the heart of all Quorn products, has a texture identical to meat, which makes it easy for people to choose food that is good for their own health and that of the planet. Mycoprotein will always play a central role in Quorn R&D as it provides significant nutritional and environmental benefits.”
However, he continued: “We are also exploring ways to diversify our product range by exploring new protein avenues. In addition, we continue to drive and explore new plant-based protein opportunity to support our partner brand Cauldron which is currently the largest plant-based brand in UK retail.”
‘We value the increasing dynamism meat-free’
Data from Research&Markets places Quorn – alongside its partner brand Cauldron - as two of the ‘dominant’ global players in the meat analogue space. “The top global players account for majority of the market share, with the rest being fragmented among small and regional players, across the world,” the market research provided noted.
Nevertheless, there has been a significant up-tick in innovation and product launches in the space as start-ups and established brands alike try and capitalise on the market’s global growth, with worldwide CAGR expected at around 6% through to 2023.
In the UK alone, sales of meat-free foods have grown a 40% from £582 million in 2014 to an estimated £816 million in 2019, Mintel reveals. Revenue in the country is expected to be in excess of £1.1 billion by 2024.
Mintel’s Global New Products Database revealed that almost a quarter (23%) of all new UK food product launches in 2019 were labelled as vegan, compared to 17% in 2018.
What does Quorn make of this increase in competition?
The businesses head of innovation is unfazed: “We value the increasing dynamism in the meat-free sector, it means that consumers have more access to sustainable options. With record numbers cutting down on their meat consumption, we need to deliver more choice and products that meet the needs of our consumers to further reduce our impact on the planet whilst providing delicious options that keeps them coming back into meat-free for more.”
Quorn’s new kids on the block
• Sarah Graham, Culinary Innovation Manager, joins Quorn from Café Nero where she was responsible for the rebrand of the Café Nero Food and Beverage offer, including the delivery of Café Nero’s plant-based growth agenda. Before that, she spent 6 years working as a Product Developer at Marks and Spencer, including on the launch of the M&S Plant Kitchen range.
• Stu Henshall, Executive Chef, has had a ‘unique journey; into the culinary world. A former contestant on The Great British Bake Off, Henshall was able to use this experience as a springboard to start his own food consultancy business, The Alternative Kitchen, to showcase the benefits plant-based protein.
• Sophie Whyman, Innovation Chef, has worked in ‘acclaimed restaurants across the world’. Most recently, she drive culinary innovation in the food-on-the-go sector at Adelie Foods, which saw the launch of the vegan all day bake panini into Costa Coffee and the development of a range of vegan sandwiches for the Boots food-to-go range.
• Tom Bell, Innovation Chef, joins Quorn from Marks and Spencer where he worked in its world-class culinary innovation team. Prior to this, Tom worked as a chef in the Michelin Star restaurant, Simpsons in Birmingham.
• Anna Hodgson, Innovation Chef QS, has supported the Quorn NPD team for the last nine months with the development of QSR products. This new role has been created specifically for QSR to demonstrate Quorn’s continuing commitment to the channel, the company said.