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