Interviews

Quorn Foods: “We Are Expecting the Category to Recharge and Rebuild This Year”

Launched in 1985, Quorn Foods is one of the UK’s oldest and most successful meat alternative brands. The company was the first to recognise the potential of mycoprotein, a form of single-cell protein derived from fungi, as a healthier and more sustainable protein source.

Quorn products are now available in 14 countries, for both retail and food service. In 2023, Quorn’s parent company, Marlow Foods, created an ingredients division to make its mycoprotein available to other brands. Later in the year, the company’s food service unit was rebranded to QuornPro, with the aim of giving the unit its own values and mission. Quorn already has highly successful food service partnerships with major chains such as KFC, Greggs, JD Wetherspoon, and more.

We spoke to Marco Bertacca, CEO of Quorn Foods, who speaks to his optimism about the meat-free category’s regrowth in 2024.

What were the biggest successes and challenges of the last 12 months?
Now is the time to start talking about the solutions we can achieve together as an industry, rather than focusing on the challenges. Yes, the category, like many others, has seen a slow-down, but we must not forget that this comes against the backdrop of many consecutive years of incredible growth.

The reasons people buy meat-free are still there and as prevalent as ever. Consumers are still passionate about their health, the planet, and animal welfare. This is why we believe the category will return to growth again, as economic pressures ease and the market continues to restabilise. The most important thing is what we do next, as a brand and an industry.

“The reasons people buy meat-free are still there and as prevalent as ever”

I believe fungi and fermentation are some of the key solutions to many of the health and sustainability issues humanity is facing, and one of the best ways we can make a positive impact is together. That’s one of the reasons behind us making our mycoprotein available to other manufacturers for the first time last year. Through Marlow Ingredients we’ll be forging partnerships with like-minded organisations, like our first partner, Tempty Foods, helping us to make sure that great tasting, nutritious and sustainable products are accessible for consumers, wherever and whenever they make food decisions. In our unique mycoprotein, we have a super-protein with huge potential, and there’s still plenty of room for growth.

As the pioneer of meat-free, Quorn has continued to invest and innovate over the last year to futureproof both the brand and the category. In January last year alone, we brought over half a million new shoppers into the meat-free category through Quorn as a result of our ‘So Tasty!’ TV campaign. That’s just one campaign, imagine the possibilities of what else we can do.

We sold our first Quorn product in 1985 and even after all these years, we pride ourselves on being a brand that continues to hit firsts. Last summer we became the first meat-free brand to add NaviLens technology to our packaging. This makes Quorn, and eating meat-free in general, far more accessible and inclusive for visually impaired shoppers. I’m really proud of our team for getting this done and once again, leading our category.

Quorn vegan sausage rolls with technology for visually impaired consumers
© Quorn

It’s also really promising to see Quorn growing share in the category, whilst also performing ahead of total market. Last year we delivered sales growth ahead of the market, driving value share up and minimising price increases to help the consumer. Our market distribution grew by 7%, which means we made our great-tasting products available in almost eight thousand incremental new points of distribution – not bad for a ‘’challenging’’ year. We’ve had some amazing results and Quorn has been the one constant in an evolving category, remaining laser-focused on investment and growth into new sectors.

Tofu is one of the highest loyalty categories in meat-free and Cauldron™ has played a big part in inspiring shoppers to make positive plant-based changes in their kitchens, backed by a culinary-led approach to NPD and sustained brand investment.

2023 also saw the relaunch of our food service division with a bold new brand identity and culinary ambition. QuornPro will be all about building on our solid brand foundations to push boundaries and make our powerful super-protein the go-to ingredient on plates in all out-of-home settings.

We’ve also developed ongoing relationships with top UK academic institutions to strengthen our valuable research data. We’ve seen several scientific studies published over the last year that demonstrate the nutritional efficacy of our mycoprotein, including work from Northumbria University and the University of Exeter. This work is integral to what we do at Quorn and informs much of our strategy for the year ahead.

© Quorn

What is Quorn’s strategy to maintain its No. 1 position in the UK retail market?
Quorn is the UK’s No. 1 meat-free brand for a reason; nobody innovates and engages quite like us. Our range of delicious products is constantly being expanded and enhanced, always driven by a passion for taste, health, and sustainability. We’re continuously investing in marketing programmes to drive the category forward through Quorn and Cauldron, so that we can get more people eating meat-free across more occasions. We look at new ways to build this interest and awareness for the sector each year, creating high-impact campaigns alongside a tasty product innovation pipeline.

“I believe fungi and fermentation are some of the key solutions to many of the health and sustainability issues humanity is facing”

Knowing our current and future consumers is something we also pride ourselves on. Ensuring that every move we make will truly connect with our shoppers, particularly flexitarians who we recognise to be crucial for category growth, allows us to meet their demands and stay ahead of trends.

What makes Quorn different from other big names in the market?
Quorn is a beacon brand in meat alternatives, we got there with pure passion – for great-tasting food and for the planet. Nobody is doing it like us. We have a true affinity with our consumers and work hard to keep and build that trust with the best-tasting products, dedication to sustainability, and determination to meet and exceed market needs.

A spread of meals featuring Quorn
© Quorn Foods

We have a long and successful heritage that no other brand can come close to, having produced our unique Quorn mycoprotein at scale for almost 40 years. We have decades of data and scientific research to back up why it is one of the best protein sources. The taste, texture, and nutrition of our products are unmatched and that doesn’t happen by accident.

That’s not to mention all our sustainability credentials. Quorn was an early adopter of climate targets, and we have been measuring the climate impact of our products and operations for over ten years now. Since then, we have continued to be a spearhead for sustainability in the food industry, adding carbon footprint labels to all our products back in 2020.

That’s before you even look at the products themselves. All our products are made using Quorn mycoprotein, a unique super-protein that uses 90% less land and water and produces 98% less carbon emissions than beef mince. It’s also nutritionally outstanding, high in fibre, high in protein, low in saturated fat, and packed full of amino acids.

Taste is still the number one driver when it comes to food decisions. It’s simple, if a product tastes good then a consumer will be more inclined to repurchase it. We put our products through rigorous testing, to ensure they not only taste amazing but have the best texture to replicate meat. Our research shows that perceptions of Quorn continue to go from strength to strength, with increases in all key measurements this year, including the biggest ones – taste and quality.

“Quorn still accounts for one in every three products purchased”

The category has experienced a huge influx of new products and brands over the last couple of years and it has increased interest and awareness, which we love, but it hasn’t necessarily kept shoppers coming back. Quorn still accounts for one in every three products purchased, as we continuously reinforce its place as the most trusted and popular brand in the category.

The breadth of our range and the diversity of locations it’s available in also gives us a huge advantage. Not only are we market-leading in retail, but Quorn is available in high street QSR outlets like KFC and Greggs, pubs, and casual dining hot spots such as Slug & Lettuce and Pizza Express.

How is Quorn’s QSR expansion progressing? What were the biggest wins in this sector last year?
We’ve been continuing to develop relationships across all channels, including with our QSR partners. There are some amazing new product launches planned and further expansion is in the pipeline, within domestic and international markets. One of our great successes is the roll-out of products with KFC, with Quorn now at the heart of the vegetarian and vegan options on their menus across 22 European markets.

Since launching Marlow Ingredients, what have been the most valuable achievements and learnings?
We have been trailblazing in meat alternatives since we launched our first product in 1985. With all this research, science, and data to back up why our mycoprotein is probably the world’s best source of protein, we are genuinely excited about the potential growth of our new Ingredients division.

Our first partnership with Tempty Foods has been a real highlight this year. We started the division to join forces with like-minded businesses and were grateful to have such a level of passion from our first partner. Working with the team at Tempty has provided great opportunities for both brands, helping on the journey to make sure that great-tasting and sustainable foods are more accessible than ever before. We have since added more partners in other territories and are working with them on some very exciting launches for 2024, so do watch this space.

Tempty Foods
© Marlow Ingredients/Tempty Foods

We know there’s huge untapped potential for our mycoprotein, so setting up the Ingredients division was a no-brainer for us. Alongside the incredible nutritional and sustainable benefits it’s famous for, there’s fascinating research happening into its ability to create more sustainable products in other applications, such as dairy alternatives. We’ve done some initial development work that showed it can work across the whole dairy alternative space. Our work in yoghurt and cheese alternatives in particular is so far hugely successful. Nutrition and sustainability aside, the neutral taste and colour of our mycoprotein make it perfect for dairy alternative applications.

What do the next 12 months hold for the meat-free sector? Will growth return?
We are expecting the category to recharge and rebuild this year, definitely heading back towards growth as consumer confidence returns. Obviously, value for money will continue to be on shoppers’ minds so we will be keeping this at the forefront of our strategy as we move into 2024. We’re driving forward with plans to highlight affordability, quality, and taste, with fantastic money-saving deals and great-tasting products.

Excitement ultimately comes from new product innovation and consistently enjoyable products. This is what entices first-time meat reducers, as well as keeping those loyal vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian shoppers interested.

What are Quorn’s plans for the next 12 months in retail, food service, and ingredients?
We will be focusing on affordability, quality, building category awareness, and increasing accessibility. In retail, we have built up a strong presence in chilled and frozen, with a focus on frozen solutions for families. This year, we plan to tap further into chilled innovation with great deals and great-tasting products, as there’s still plenty of room for growth here. This starts with an exciting new launch landing in the chiller this month. Vegetarian Quorn Fillet Pieces have been redeveloped with a new taste and texture that’s insanely close to chicken. It will blow shoppers’ minds.

“We know there’s huge untapped potential for our mycoprotein”

As the beacon brand in meat alternatives, we are continuing to innovate and ensure we have the best available range in the market throughout 2024. Expect to see more new vegan and veggie products, from both Quorn and Cauldron, hitting the shelves. We’ve already moved into multiple new spaces over the last 12 months, with innovations in chilled snacking, frozen sharing, and midweek dinner options, but we plan to continue expanding on this.

© Quorn

Within food service, it will be all about powering up protein on more plates. We know that our unique super-protein can inspire and engage operators. We will continue to break free of limitations on food solutions for our operators that not only taste amazing but solve real business challenges. That includes everything from the cost per serving to nutritional requirements, such as increasing fibre or reducing saturated fat, calories, or salt.

We’ll also be focusing on how we continue helping our customers provide Net Positive solutions through food, supporting them and their clients to achieve their sustainability goals. Building on initiatives like our award-winning food concept designed exclusively for Sodexo, Carbono Cero. The first global recipe bank of low-carbon dishes, designed from the ground up to ensure that the carbon impact from the food is the smallest it can be, all powered by Quorn mycoprotein. We will continue to innovate and unlock different occasions and food service channels across Europe, using our food solutions approach to connect and partner with chefs and food teams.

Marlow Ingredients will continue to push the boundaries of how mycoprotein can increase the protein and fibre textures of everyone’s favourite products. The innovation from this division is not restricted to meat alternatives and we’re really excited about the possibilities that lie in other food applications.

Recruitment into the category through brands that consumers know and trust is key, now more than ever. We have lots more exciting plans in the pipeline to continue making meat-free appealing and exciting across all sectors.

©Quorn & Sodexo

Which are the most popular Quorn products and does this vary between markets?
Our iconic Quorn Crispy Nuggets are the UK’s No. 1 meat-free nuggets and continue to be the most popular entry point for the category. Our Mince and Pieces also take the top spot in frozen ingredients. In chilled retail, Quorn products dominate once again in key sectors such as deli and snacking. Our vegan Quorn Ham and Chicken Style Slices, Cocktail Sausages, and Picnic Eggs are all big hits with shoppers, and it’s not hard to see why once you’ve tried them. There’s nothing else that comes close on taste or texture in the chiller cabinet.

As you’d expect, we have different bestsellers in each sector of the food service industry. Mince and Pieces do remain a staple ingredient across most. This has been reinforced as we continue to roll out our Meat Halfway campaign, mixing Quorn with meat to improve the nutrition and sustainability of core menu items, like Chilli Con Carne.

On the high street and in pubs, our vegan ChiQin range and Veggie Quarter Pounder are selling incredibly well. Crispy chicken and messy burger builds are a go-to for most diners, not just vegans, and our customers have shared great feedback on the cost-effectiveness of these products versus meat alternatives.

Kids love our vegan Dippers and Sausages and these are extremely popular with school caterers who are trying to lower the carbon footprint of their menus, whilst keeping children excited at mealtimes. Getting the younger generation excited about eating meat-free is so important, as we look to influence sustainable diets in habit-forming years. They are the future, and one day the planet’s survival will be in their hands.

Quorn expands Chiqin range with vegan strips
© Quorn

What is the strategy to retain eggs in some products and are there plans to ultimately veganise the entire range?
We are always evolving our product development strategy in line with consumer demands, but it’s so important to us that we keep up the high quality of our products to get the highest number of people eating less meat. We work hard to strike a balance between maintaining great taste, a diverse product range, and delivering on all shopper needs.

“…despite the category slow-down, there’s still a significant desire to reduce meat consumption across a wide range of consumers”

Free-range eggs are used in the Quorn vegetarian product range. As a business, we are passionate about promoting high levels of animal welfare and have a very rigid policy for the supply of eggs in our products. In recognition of this, Quorn won a ‘Good Egg Award’ from Compassion in World Farming.

Who is the primary consumer of Quorn products, the flexitarian, vegetarian, or the vegan?
Our data shows that, despite the category slow-down, there’s still a significant desire to reduce meat consumption across a wide range of consumers. The top drivers are still health, sustainability, and animal welfare, and they translate to flexitarians, vegans, and meat eaters.

As the leader in meat-free, Quorn succeeds in appealing to a broad cross-section of consumers who have different dietary demands and preferences but have those all-important key drivers in common. Ultimately, we want to encourage as many people as possible to make even small changes to how they eat, not just for their health but for the health of our planet. We’re always looking at ways to reach the biggest number of consumers, and that includes keeping our range as accessible as possible for everyone.

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