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Quorn’s Cheryl Graham on sustainability, brand design and recipes!
Cheryl, it’s great to connect. Can you give us a potted history of Quorn and where the brand is today?
It all started back in the 1960s when Lord Rank and his scientists started the search for a more sustainable source of protein – they were well ahead of their time! A lot of testing, refining and research continued and our super-protein – Mycoprotein – was officially named by the UK Food Standard Committee in 1974. Our first product launched in 1985 and over three decades later, here we now are.
And Quorn still rules the roost when it comes to meat free brands?
Today, Quorn is the UK’s No. 1 meat free brand, with a market share of 28% and growing. We’re the beacon brand within the category, and this is proving to be vitally important as the nation navigates turbulent economic times.
On that, has the sector experienced any difficulties in recent times?
Yes, the meat free category – like many other sectors – has seen some challenges over the last 12 months. Inflationary pressures have inevitably led to changes in shopping behaviour. Despite that, Quorn is bucking the trend within meat free. It’s a challenging trading environment for all brands and sectors at the moment, yet we have been outperforming the category for 10 months.
That’s good to hear! I’m a long term consumer of Quorn and have been really pleased to see Quorn becoming more available in ‘on the go’ situations. For example, I bought Quorn sandwiches at recent tradeshows at London’s Olympia venue. Can you tell us a bit more about your approach to licensing and partnerships in the food category?
You aren’t alone, I’ve been vegetarian now for 34 years and until more recently I found it challenging to find great meat free food when out and about. This is a big part of where my passion comes from, to ensure we can deliver more meat free meals, to more people and across more occasions. I’m not quite at global domination, but I like to think it’s not too far off!
Here at Quorn, we have a very clear ambition and that’s to be a net positive business by 2030 and, in that year, serve eight billion meals – the equivalent of one for every person on the planet. To deliver against this ambition, we need make Quorn products available to more consumers in more locations, which we are constantly striving towards delivering.
Even with all the financial pressures that consumers are facing, we are still seeing shoppers look towards meat alternatives for tasty and convenient meal options that are better for them and the planet. Health and sustainability continue to be key purchase drivers, but we are, of course, seeing value for money become an even more important consideration.
Our licensing partnerships enable us to work with likeminded experts within specific sectors that can expand availability of our delicious meat free products in different locations and different occasions – in home, out of home, on the go and everywhere in between.
Our partnership with Simply Lunch is a perfect example of this. We have created a tasty and affordable range of Vegan Sandwiches, Vegetarian Wraps, a breakfast Sausage Ciabatta and our newly launched BBQ Chicken Salad and Ham & Cheeze Ciabatta. These products are predominantly sold within food to go fixtures in universities, schools, colleges, workplace canteens, amusement marks, booths, WH Smiths and many other places. It opens up even more opportunities for consumers to purchase great tasting Quorn products, helping people to reduce their impact on the environment through what they eat.
How do you decide who to work with when developing NPD like this? And how do you decide what products to develop through licensing?
Tasty, sustainable food and the consumer are at the heart of everything we do at Quorn and is something I’m personally very passionate about. Therefore, when we start considering any new partnerships, great tasting, healthy and sustainable food is top of the agenda. But, as mentioned, we also consider how this can open up Quorn products to more shoppers in new environments.
By working closely in partnership together, we look for our partners to bring expertise within their product category, and we bring decades of meat free market knowledge and experience. Together this is a real winning combination and where I feel we can really hit the sweet spot.
Once we are working with a partner, we look at current food trends and also where we feel the gap in the market is. This helps drive our strategy so that we can begin the food development process.
Starting with a number of options, we research them with consumers and put them through internal testing with a number of teams, and then when we’re sure we have something that’s just right, we jump into the best part – product creation! When it comes to presenting our products to customers, Quorn will also partner through this process to support in delivering the decades of knowledge and expertise in the meat free market to maximise opportunities for all parties.
Our partnership with Simply Lunch has been pivotal to delivering on all of this. Together we’re creating food that not only tastes great but is building a better future for the planet, and every month we are expanding into new locations, tapping into new audiences.
We’re really excited to be expanding the range this year with the ciabatta and our first ever salad offering, delivering on our goal of creating healthier food for people and the planet. We have big ambitions for Quorn in this area, so watch this space!
Quorn has a very recognisable brand identity and brand colours. How easy is it to maintain this when moving into new categories?
As a well-established leader in the meat free category, it’s important in any partnership or collaboration for us to consider the use of our distinctive brand assets such as our Quorn orange colour and logo.
Quorn is a beacon brand within meat free and we know through brand tracking studies that consumers think highly of Quorn across multiple attributes, such as trust, taste and quality. It’s really crucial in the planning stages to consider how we use those distinctive brand assets to really communicate the Quorn brand effectively. We have a high level of brand affinity, trust and loyalty from our shoppers that can be a real benefit to retailers.
When we are working on co-branded solutions, we work really closely with our partners to understand how we can merge the two brands together on pack without losing the essence of either brand; we should ultimately both hero each other. Our top selling Ginsters x Quorn Pasty is a perfect example of this being executed. It fully communicates the Ginsters brand heritage and the Quorn branding enhances the pack and highlights the meat free credentials that everyone knows us for.
Events like Veganuary are more high profile these days. How has that helped you build and develop the Quorn brand?
January has historically always been a really high penetration month for meat free, driven further in recent years with the growing popularity and engagement from campaigns such as Veganuary. This is a wonderful thing as ultimately means more consumers are eating meat free, benefiting their health and the health of the planet.
And more awareness also means more competition, I imagine?
As a brand, we welcome the competition as it means that people eating meat free have more choice and are more likely to adopt more sustainable eating habits long term. Despite the increasingly busy market, Quorn ended 2022 on a high with value share up 2.5pp in Q4, achieving growth ahead of the market in both chilled and frozen meat free.
“Our journey into licensing is only just starting, and I’d love to hear from others on potential partnership ideas.”
This January alone, we brought in more than 528K shoppers to the meat free category (1: Kantar, Purchase Panel, 4w/e 22 Jan 2023). Given the cost of living crisis we are currently facing, shoppers revert back to known and trusted brands, and within meat free this is definitely Quorn.
We have a wider variety of products than ever before which has enabled us to appeal to a wider range of shoppers, demographics and ages. Seeing our NPD pipeline diversify and stretch into new product areas is something that really excites me personally, as I know we are launching products which will tap into new audiences and will drive the category, and brand, forward.
I have also noticed Quorn in the ambient aisles and featuring in products like pasties. What other plans are there for Quorn in other food categories?
Yes, our Quorn branded partnerships now operate across all three temperature streams of chilled, frozen and ambient. As mentioned, we are on a mission to make Quorn products available to everyone.
Imagine every place in or out of store you find a meat product, why should there not be a Quorn product there? By getting into as many new locations as we can, this supports our ability to drive trial of the Quorn brand through new consumers who may not have tried us or tried eating meat free before. Interest in Flexitarianism is growing and exciting new products that taste and feel like their meat equivalent are key to tapping into this trend.
Do you see opportunities for Quorn in categories such as restaurants? Maybe a fully branded Quorn café?
Absolutely, you can already find Quorn in so many out of home locations, everywhere from KFC, Greggs, Wetherspoons and Harvester to Slug & Lettuce, Pizza Express and Costa. We work closely with lots of pubs, QSR, restaurant groups and coffee shop partners to ensure they have suitable meat free offerings available. You can see the list of outlets where Quorn is on the menu here https://www.quorn.co.uk/eating-out.
Before I let you go, one last question… Can you recommend a Quorn recipe to our readers?
Yes! My personal favourite would be the Quorn Thai Green Curry which is on our website along with literally hundreds of delicious recipes. Although I believe the Quorn Chilli Con Carne is our most popular recipe online, it’s a great family meal – quick, easy and delicious! Here’s the link for anyone interested https://www.quorn.co.uk/recipes.
Or if you are really short on time, then our Quorn Thai Green Curry 400g meal is a super tasty alternative. It’s my personal favourite of our range of five chilled prepared meals – shameless plug from me!
One final point from me… Our journey into licensing and partnerships is only just starting, and I’d love to hear from others on potential partnership ideas. Where would you like to see Quorn? Who should we be collaborating with? Please get in touch at email@example.com
I’m sure lots of people will reach out. Thanks again Cheryl.
Ian Downes will be part of a panel discussion about brand licensing and partnerships in the food sector at IFE next month. For more information, head to: https://www.ife.co.uk/2023-seminar-programme/begin-brand-extension-unlocking-profitability-powerful-partnerships
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