How far have the Big 4 come on plant-based foods?

If you head to the vegan section of your local supermarket, you’ll probably notice a big difference from a few years ago.

The fact that stores even have proper vegan sections is a serious difference.

As Tesco’s head of plant-based innovation, Derek Sarno, recently told the Grocery Gazette, we’re living through a “rising up of something”.

Driven by health and environmental issues – Britain needs to slash its meat consumption by a third by 2030 to reach its net zero target – vegan food sales have soared.

Many people believe our diets are going through a revolution.

It’s being played out on shop floors up and down the country, as retailers try to carve out a chunk of this rapidly-expanding market.

Some have been more successful than others.

So, which of the Big 4 have come out on top in the bid for plant-based supremacy?

READ MORE: Premier Foods in £250m push to triple plant-based sales

Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s is one of just two British supermarkets which reports the proportion of its protein sales that come from plants.

At 10 per cent, this is just a shade below Tesco – the other supermarket.

It was also one of the grocers to sign up to a WWF environmental scheme this month, committing itself to raising this number to 50 per cent.

However, speaking at Cop26, chief marketing officer Mark Given admitted Sainsbury’s was a “very, very long way” from this goal.

He also raised concerns about the unhealthiness of processed vegan meals.

“We do worry about some of the salt and fat content in some of the alternatives that are out there,” Given said.

“That’s something, with our suppliers, we’re working very carefully to balance.”

READ MORE: Sainsbury’s launches plant-based tea bags

Tesco

Talking to this publication last week, Tesco’s vegan tsar said the retailer had “led innovation” in the market.

“We were the first brand to launch a range of… [plant-based] ready meals, pizza, salads, sandwiches and fresh chilled food,” Derek Sarno claimed.

Naturally you’d expect him to praise his employer – but Tesco is the only supermarket to set a target for sales of these products.

By 2025, it wants customers to be picking up four times the number of vegan foods.

Of the two supermarkets to report their proportion of plant protein sales, Tesco comes out on top at 12 per cent.

It has also promoted vegan brands through its incubator programme, with the most recent cohort including the dairy-free energy drink Tenzing.

However, Sarno denied that it specifically targets vegan manufacturers, arguing that Tesco concentrates on “what’s new and up and coming and innovative”.

READ MORE: KP Snacks launches new plant-based range

Morrisons

Morrisons is often criticised by healthy food campaigners for being less transparent and ambitious than its competitors.

Earlier this year, a trillion-dollar group of shareholders urged it to set targets for sales of foods low in fat, salt and sugar.

Publicly, at least, the grocer does not have made a policy of increasing vegan food sales.

It is attempting to reach its net zero goal in shifting to more sustainable farming, using “low food-mile feedstuffs” and “using renewable energy”.

By contrast, Tesco has made increasing sales of plant-based meals a key plank of its net zero strategy,

However, this is not to say that Morrisons has neglected the vegan market.

In 2018, it launched its own-brand range V Taste, which produces “Beef-less Steaks” and “Fish-less Fillets”.

READ MORE: Moving Mountains launches plant-based fish fillets

Asda

Like Morrisons, Asda did not sign up to the WWF pledges, and does not admit to its sales of vegan foods.

At least at the retailer’s top table, there does not seem to be a desire to transform consumer behaviour.

On the shop floor, however, it’s a different story.

Asda narrowly missed out on the vegan crown in a Garden of Life study, with 72 plant-based own-brand meals to Tesco’s 76.

It also scooped “Vegan Retailer of the Year” at the most recent Quality Food Awards.

At its Watford store this year, it launched a meat-free “butcher” counter known as “Veelicious” for a six-month trial.

Chief strategy officer Preyash Thakrar said it would show “what resonates with customers to enable us to enhance our plant-based proposition”.

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