From fresh alt milk to pea and coconut cheesecake: What is the UK's ‘next big thing’ in plant-based?

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Which plant-based brands are the ones to watch? GettyImages/Sarsmis
Which plant-based brands are the ones to watch? GettyImages/Sarsmis

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What is the ‘next big thing’ to hit the UK’s plant-based scene? FoodNavigator hears from start-ups making fresh alt milk, vegan Detroit-style pizza, premium cheesecake alternatives, and egg-free fresh pasta.

The UK is a global leader in plant-based, with the British market considered the largest for plant-based alternatives in Europe. Mintel predicts meat-free food sales to exceed £1.1bn by 2024 – a significant increase from 2014’s market value of £582m.

Entrepreneurs keen for a slice of this growing plant-based pie are working hard to enter a variety of sales channels, from direct-to-consumer to retail and foodservice. As they build brand awareness, many hope to attract investment.

So which brands are the ones to watch? Pitching to investors at the recent Plant Based Summit hosted by start-up network Bread & Jam, FoodNavigator heard from four start-ups claiming to be ‘next big thing’.

Fresh alt milk: ‘We say no to plastic, one bottle at a time’

Plant-based milk alternatives have achieved considerable success in the UK, with the market worth $320.6m in 2019. In Europe, the UK accounts for 15% of all plant-based milk alternative sales, according to Grand View Research.

With oat, soy, almond, and coconut dairy alternatives now commonplace on-shelf, one may well ask: what’s next for the category?

According to founder of London-based start-up Goodness M*lk, Doyin Sogbesan, the answer lies in fresh alt milk. “We are a forward thinking, planet-friendly, organic plant-based milk company that uses dairy-free ingredients,” ​she told investors.

The start-up’s first range of dairy alternatives include SKUs made from oat, almond, and coconut, with raw material content significantly higher than its competitors.

The oat milk alternative, for example, contains 12% organic oats, the coconut alt milk is made from 20% mature coconuts, and its almond drink contains 10% almonds. This is a big increase from the ‘industry standard’, explained Sogbesan, ‘which has 2% if you’re lucky!’ “So we tell the consumer, you’re getting what you pay for.”

Aside from being fresh, the founder says its USP is its taste. “We actually taste good. We had 100 people do our taste studies and [collected data] from another 60 for focus groups. We realised that a lot of products out there didn’t actually taste good. People were just drinking plant-based milk products because they heard they were good for them, but they didn’t really know the benefits.”

Image source: Goodness M*lk

Goodness M*lk also has a strong sustainability angle. Its products are sold in glass bottles to create a ‘closed loop model’ in London. Consumers can return the glass bottles to be reused for the next product, the founder elaborated. For every nine bottles returned, the consumer will receive one on-the-house.

The start-up is selling at market stalls and D2C. Currently retailing at £2.99 per bottle, Sogbesan said a soon-to-be-launched subscription model will lower the price. Bottles can be collected at each delivery.

Concerning Goodness M*lk’s target market, the start-up is targeting both existing ambient plant-based milk drinkers as well as fans of fresh cow’s milk. “[Customers] will come from both. We can already see this from surveys that we’ve done,” ​she explained. “Currently, we have 60% plant-based [milk] drinkers and 40% who aren’t, but like the taste of the product.”

Detroit-style deep dish pizza

You’d be hard pressed to find a square-shaped pizza in the UK, let alone a rectangle. But that is what start-up Four Side Vegan Pizza is offering its consumer base in Manchester: Detroit-style pizza with, as the name suggests, four sides.

Detroit-style pizza is thought to find its origins in the Sicilian sfincione – a pan-baked focaccia topped with olive oil and tomato sauce. In Detroit, pizzas are cooked in industrial pans, covered in toppings, brick cheese, and finished off with a red sauce.

Four Side Vegan Pizza is undeniably inspired by Detroit’s speciality, but founder Dan Hope has ‘veganised’ the concept. In fact, Four Side is the ‘first, fully vegan Detroit-style pizza brand in the country’, Hope told investors at the Bread & Jam event.

Aside from its unique, colourful branding, Four Side stands out from the crowd by making all its meat substitutes in-house. The start-up has ‘perfected’ a cheese blend that Hope said ‘surprises and delights’ all its customers, ‘not just vegans’.

pizza damnederangel
Detroit-style pizza is thought to have its roots in Sicilian focaccia. GettyImages/damnederangel

Four Side is located in Manchester’s city centre, from where it sells via online delivery service Deliveroo. Since launching in January 2021, the start-up has generated £33,000 in revenue.

Moving forward, Four Side has grand expansion plans, the founder explained. “To increase our reach to the suburbs of the city, we are opening a second location…and we anticipate that this new site will generate higher revenue…due to a higher proportion of family purchases driving a larger basket size.”

The start-up will add ‘one or two’ more additional locations later this year to cater to diners from June onwards. Mid-term, Four Square plans to expand into ‘smaller university towns’, such as Lancaster and Preston, for delivery and dining. The strategy here is to avoid high rent and heavy competition prevalent in bigger cities while the start-up scales, Hope elaborated.

Retail is also on the cards. “We are perfecting our plant-based ‘Ndjua salamis and cheeses and we are close to signing off a bake-at-home product, which will be the first Detroit-style pizza in this category, vegan or otherwise,” ​we were told.

Pea and coconut alternative to cheesecake

London-based Posh Puddin’ is a premium vegan dessert brand. Founded by mother-daughter team Marie and Shauna, the start-up claims to be sustainable and scalable.

In November 2020, Posh Puddin’ launched its pea and coconut alternative to cheesecake in the fresh dessert category. “Unlike our competitors, all of our ingredients are made in-house, using organic and natural ingredients and packaged in zero waste packaging,” ​co-founder Shauna McClure explained.

Sold in eight flavours, ranging from Salted Caramel with Sticky Apple to Cherry Bakewell and Crème Caramel, the base of each SKU is made from similar ingredients: gluten-free oats, pea protein and starch, coconut cream and oil, natural colourings and flavourings, sugar, and apple cider vinegar.

McClure believes Posh Puddin’ has what it takes to lead the plant-based cheesecake category. “Big brands have done the hard work. They’ve mainstreamed plant-based foods,” ​she told investors. “It’s given us an opportunity to sell to a number of emerging markets and one day become a market leader.”

Likening its approach to that of challenger brands Pip & Nut​ or Fever-Tree, the co-founder said Posh Puddin’ is a ‘premium product’ that will ‘shake up its category’. “We are not a brand that has produced a plant-based option to jump on trend. We are a family-run plant-based business…”

Here, UK dessert brand Gü Puds comes to mind. The company recently added plant-based alternatives to its range of cheesecakes.

At £3.99 per pudding, Posh Puddin’’s offering is more than double the price of Gü, yet McClure sees economies of scale bringing the cost down. “When we scale up and bring that cost down…we will become more competitive. I think the price range is around £2-2.20 for a vegan cheesecake on the market, and we will absolutely hit that competitive angle.”

posh puddin
Image source: Posh Puddin'

Over the last four months of trading D2C, Posh Puddin’ has sold more than 1,000 units and secured a listing with Daylesford Organics. Moving forward, the co-founder suggested she is keen to expand its presence in retail. Posh Puddin’ is “ready to hit the shelves”.

Egg-free fresh pasta

The name for plant-based fresh pasta start-up Pastan comes from the joining of two words: vegan and pasta.

The idea for the concept, according to co-founder Jérôme Ibanez-Fawcett, responds to a gap in the market for fresh, plant-based pasta. “As pasta lovers, we couldn’t find fresh vegan pasta on the market with a strong vegan ethos,” ​he told investors.

Together with co-founder Dean Fawcett, Ibanez-Fawcett created a brand that ‘only works with fresh products’. Its aim is to ‘contribute to the future of food’, while ‘protecting our planet’.

Pastan makes artisanal, homemade fresh vegan pasta, sauces and ‘delicacies’. “We produce a range of filled and plain pasta, as well as gnocchi,” ​he explained. The gnocchi has a shelf-life of 20-32 days when pasturised.

“We also produce sauces, plant-based parmesan, and cream cheese, as well as [sweet and savoury] doughnuts.”

Image source: Pastan

Pastan is working across multiple sales channels. In retail, the start-up has recently signed a trade agreement with Asda’s vegan counter in Watford on the outskirts of London. Pastan is also selling D2C with two order slots per week nationwide, and sold out of its dark kitchen during lockdown. In foodservice, Pastan has opened a pop-up in Covent Garden which opened last week.

Moving forward, the duo wants to continue managing the dark kitchen in London, but is eyeing opportunities outside of the capital, with ‘Bristol and Brighton at the top of the list’.

Another UK start-up, Peafu, also pitched to investors at the Bread & Jam event. You can read more about the start-up’s new tofu alternative made from peas, rather than soybeans, here​.

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