The company said it is investing in new equipment to keep up with customers
At the beginning of the month, shoppers complained that British supermarkets had run out of Quorn mince and chicken nuggets, two of the veggie and vegan brand’s most popular products. Stock levels for a number of other items, meat-free sausages included, were also distressingly low.
At retailers such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose, customers found empty shelves after a Veganuary that saw “unprecedented” demand for one of the country’s best-known providers of meat alternatives.
The situation unfolded after a record 400,000 people worldwide signed up to commit to a plant-based diet throughout January, almost double than last year, thanks to the UK-based campaign.
Quorn’s global marketing operations director, Sam Blunt, said demand for Quorn foods increased dramatically as a result, and supply could not meet what was required given the surge, despite its new factory, which turns out 1.33 million packs of vegan food a week.
“We saw unprecedented levels of demand,” he said to i. “Other brands producing meat-free products have been experiencing the same, it’s not just us.
“Veganuary had record sign-ups, and not everyone who does it registers. We think we had as many as 4m customers in January. We don’t know how many will stay.
“It was disappointing we couldn’t meet demand but we’re increasing production capacity and investing in new equipment. It’s been our strategy for expand for two years, but it takes time.”
Mr Blunt said it has been “encouraging” to see so many people look to cut down on meat. Quorn, which has been flogging plant-based proteins since the 1980s, is reacting and responding to what shoppers want in a more modern retail environment.
It might have been Quorn’s partnership with Greggs in January 2019 – when it started providing its now famous mycoprotein for the Newcastle bakery’s vegan sausage rolls – that really propelled the company into the spotlight. Suddenly everybody wanted to know what mycoprotein was (it’s a fungus-derived fermented protein).
Quorn, once a relatively well-known but fairly unassuming plant-based supermarket brand, now even creates KFC’s “zero chicken” burgers, a hit especially with the millennial market, who want to eat less meat but don’t want to rely only on chickpeas and lentils to fill up.
Tim Finnegan, chief scientific adviser at Quorn, said the company is always looking at ways to “innovate” and new products are always being explored.
Mr Finnegan said: “We’re always looking to innovate and grow. Fundamental to our plan is to produce more vegan food.
“It’s a challenge to create the right tastes and textures. We’re looking at ways to develop. We’re now seeing result using mycoprotein with potato protein, and also seaweed.”
Quorn crispy nuggets: £12m in sales, up 360 per cent versus 2014
Quorn mince: £23m in sales in 2019, up six per cent versus 2014
Quorn pieces: £17m in sales in 2019, up 24 per cent versus 2014
Quorn’s evolution has occurred as its exposure has increased. Mr Finnegan said that when it made a vegetarian burger for McDonald’s in 2004, it was perhaps “ahead of its time”, which might be why you won’t see Quorn on menus there any more.
Advertising at the time was, according to reports, geared towards women and those keen to cut down on fat. The marketing sounds painfully dated.
Today, Quorn is still focused on healthy eating, but the environment might be the company’s boldest concern – as it is with so many British consumers in 2020. There is nothing more pertinent in food today than the issue of sustainability.
And so it isn’t any wonder that Quorn now also supplies the likes of Subway, Pizza Hut, and Costa, and sells out of products in supermarkets when shoppers are desperately trying to find protein for their dinner, without the need for animals.
“We’re talking to lots of possible partners,” said Mr Finnegan. “We’re open to offers. We’ve been working with people for decades and we’ve always been around – but yes, Quorn is now fully in the mainstream. We know people are eating vegetarian and vegan foods.”
As Veganuary subsides, Quorn has a little breathing space, though the company is still busy working to ensure it doesn’t again disappoint those eager for vegan chicken nuggets – a cult classic these days, particularly in younger circles.
Who knows, maybe we’ll see Quorn back in McDonald’s some time soon. It isn’t 2004 any more. People need their vegan chicken.