Founder Dominie Fearn told FoodNavigator that mass produced offerings have given the ready meal sector a bad name. She believes rising cohorts of consumers demand more premium products made in an ‘environmentally conscious’ way.
Wild Hare -- so named because the wild hare is one of the best indicators of biodiversity of the land -- says its ready meal range uses high-quality, fresh, nutritious British grown ingredients, which are all of a sustainable origin. Practically all of the ingredients are traceable and transparent, with provenance at the heart of the supply chain.
Consisting of a range of options to suit multiple tastes, the Wild Hare’s initial offering – which has been created by Michelin pedigree chef Anthony Robinson – includes Chicken Thighs, Chicken Dhal, Cauliflower & Chickpea Dhal, and British Red Wine Braised Chuck Steak. With all options produced using sustainable processes, any carbon use is then offset to minimise the environmental impact.
Working closely with its farmers, The Wild Hare Group champions UK-based regenerative agriculture, which sees it incorporate ingredients designed to minimise carbon output. For example, Wild Hare’s range uses traditional UK grains, which require 50% less water than commercial wheat, supplemented by soil audits to ensure ongoing fertility while monitoring nutrients. Other sustainable approaches along the chain of production include using alternatives to plastic packaging to help enhance the environmental positives.
The company is working towards producing the UK’s first net zero carbon ready meal, helped by a new partnership with a specialist carbon-tracking start-up called Reewild enables detailed analysis of the carbon consumption in the supply chain, while allowing for any carbon footprint to be offset through a variety of sustainability projects
Wild Hare’s meals are stocked by the likes of Whole Foods and Selfridges London. It also recently unveiled a partnership with Weezy, one of the many new grocery delivery app start-ups to have sprung up in cities across Europe, most backed by large sums of venture capital money. Weezy promises to deliver groceries to consumers in major cities in 10-15 via its army of electric scooters or vans. The deal thus allows Wild Hare another method of keeping tabs on its carbon footprint, said Fearn. “Weezy can also create a receipt so that every time someone has our meal, they will have a receipt to show the amount of carbon that it took to get that meal to them,” she added.
The company produces about 1,000 meals a week. This will soon rise to around 9,000 thanks to new deals with Ocado and Amazon Fresh. It has also unveiled a range of children’s meals aimed at four to 10-year olds. Kids food, Fearn said, is another area ripe for innovation.
Too many existing ranges for one to five-year olds are ‘tasteless’ she claimed, featuring “a pasta shape with a bit of splodge”. But the ready-meal format is a convenient way to give kids a similar taste and nutrition experience as adults, she told us.
“They should have a range of meals that's very similar to what you're eating as an adult so that you can sit down and look like you're eating the same food. The whole principle of our dishes is that they are very similar to the adult range but they'll have less spice if it’s a spicy one, they'll have no salts, no added sugar, and we try and add three or four of your five a day.”
Existing government guidelines for children, meanwhile, are “really poor”, she added. “So we are almost writing our own saying no sugars, no or minimal salts and extra veg. We're making sure that if it's only that one meal they have they're going to be getting, it’s close to exactly what they need to eat within that day -- that's what convenient food is about.”
Paying the price for sustainability
This kind of healthy and sustainable convenience comes at a premium price, although the company is confident there is consumer demand for this kind of model.
“We're premium because of our supply chain. Our supply chain is very expensive,” admitted Fearn. “British chicken, chuck steak and grain are very expensive. I don't make much, I don't mind saying that. Hopefully, we'll make more as we get volumes. But currently there is a ceiling to what people think a ready meal should cost -- even they might spend more on a coffee.”
The sustainable backstory, however, is something shoppers are prepared to buy into, according to the founder. “We need people to understand this is a British, nutritious, sustainable range,” she stressed.
“We're not produced in massive factories. We're bringing home-made food made by chefs. It’s very important to show that we are an environmentally focussed group: it makes us stand out in a very busy marketplace.”