Tesco’s Plant-Based Wicked Kitchen Meals More Than Doubled Sales Projections

Author:  Source: LIVEKINDLY

Supermarkets are notoriously slow to change. They tend to assume, somewhat accurately, that their customers like things the way they are. We are, after all, creatures of habit. But we are open to change, too, open to something bigger and deeper than knowing for a fact that Oreos are always in Aisle 3. This openness to change was made evident in Whole Foods Market’s rise to success — scores of new brands, products, and entire categories attracted the curious as much as the confirmed. People were hungry for change. (Or they were just hungry, most likely.) They were willing to embrace the new — the organic or Fair Trade, the unprocessed, the additive-free foods long associated with grungy health-food stores and dusty co-ops. Whole Foods redefined food; supermarkets, consumers, and the global food system haven’t quite been the same since.

And there’s another shift in our food system currently underway, one embracing a diet that’s not only healthier for the people eating it, but better for the planet and the billions of animals spared, too, as more consumers opt for vegan and plant-based products. This shift, once dismissed as a diet fad reserved for the rebellious, misanthropic teen, is now being led by the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, and specifically its Director of Plant-Based Innovation, former Senior Global Executive Chef of Recipe and Product Development at Whole Foods Market, Chef Derek Sarno.

Tesco brought Sarno on in mid-2017. By January, Tesco became the first major conventional supermarket chain in the UK to launch a comprehensive private-label range of vegan meals. The meals, which range from wraps to pizzas, Indian dishes, and pasta dishes, were created by Sarno, who also helms the blog Wicked Healthy with his brother, Chef Chad Sarno. The line of 20 Wicked Kitchen meals rolled out into 600 Tesco stores at the start of the year and they “launched with a bang,” Sarno says. The most recent sales number show Tesco sold more than 2.5 million units of its Wicked Kitchen meals in the first 20-week period ending in May — more than double the company’s sales projections. The top-five best-sellers include the Sweet Potato Pakora Wrap, Nana’s Bolognese, BBQ ‘Shroom Sourdough Pizza, Sourdough Caponata Pizza, and the Hoisin Mushroom Wrap.

In a lot of ways, it was a gamble for Tesco. Its core shopper isn’t vegan. They’re likely not even vegetarian. But the flexitarian market is precisely what Tesco is after — the Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z consumers now alternating their protein choices just like they vary their milk choices, as the booming nondairy milk industry proves.

The gamble appears to have paid off. “Selling more than double predictions is huge for a new brand, vegan or not,” Sarno told LIVEKINDLY. Proving, what he says, is the undeniable need and demand for vegan food.

“I’m proud of all the work that Tesco has been able to accomplish with my support,” Sarno says. “Our mission at Wicked Healthy and my personal mission is to use our skills to be of most benefit to others. I like to call it ‘compassion in action’, using the skills I’ve trained to do all my life to bring veg center plate and make them the stars of the meal.” 

Tesco agrees, and is about to extend the Wicked Kitchen line as demand for the vegan products continues to drive more companies to market and more consumers to the shelves for products like the Wicked Kitchen meals.

“I mean, come on,” Sarno says. “To me, it’s clear as day; as someone who doesn’t eat any animal products myself, there was barely anything for me to eat in any of the retailers, making this a very easy win. All we had to do was what hadn’t been done before: put amazing foods completely free from animals on the shelf and they had to be delicious, easily accessible, affordable, and live up to the standards we hold on quality.”

The Wicked Healthy brand — Derek and Chad just released their first highly anticipated Wicked Healthy cookbook — has helped play a role in jettisoning veganism to its Instagram rock star status (a “club” which includes plenty of actual rock stars, by the way: members of the Wu-Tang ClanBryan AdamsMoby, No Doubt’s Tony Kanal, Def Leppard’s Rick Allen, and even the inimitable tough guy rocker himself, Bruce Springsteen is reportedly plant-based). Sarno’s full-sleeve tattoos, the brothers’ approach to traditional “man food” like meaty, saucy barbecue and stacked burgers, or the primary color themes on their Instagram feed — you won’t find hazy pastels or unicorn smoothie bowls here — all play a part in appealing to people across the board; it makes the Sarnos, and definitely their food, approachable and relatable, especially to a notoriously reluctant to change male audience.

“People get behind Wicked Kitchen because they feel the authenticity, the reason for it and the wicked compassion we’re serving,” Sarno says. “The undying passion and motivation behind it and what it stands for, these reasons ‘why’ should never be underestimated.”