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Innovation awards

The Plant Base attended a brand-new networking event for the plant-based food and beverage industry this week – the inaugural Veg-net, held at the Stansted Airport Radisson Blu Hotel.

The brainchild of One Planet Pizza co-founder Mike Hill, Veg-net’s premise is simple: a business event designed to provide plant-based brands and buyers with the opportunity to connect in a way that is seamless and time-efficient. The concept sounds straightforward, but enabling networking to flow productively – with pre-arranged meetings, complemented by a morning of insightful panel discussions – is quite a unique feat for the industry, particularly when delivered in such an organised and punctual manner!

Yet, by the end of the day, a sense of achievement, positivity and collaboration was felt by many attendees, each bringing their passion for the plant-based category and their dedication to accelerating it further into the mainstream.

Jagir Mankodi, co-founder of Superfoodio during buyer meetings

The event kicked off yesterday (5 June) with a morning of panel insights, beginning with a keynote session featuring The Plant Base’s editor, Melissa Bradshaw, joining as a panellist alongside expert investor Jacob Linden from Kale United; senior buyer at Ocado, Katie Cross; and Ben Davies, CEO of market research solutions firm Vypr. The session was chaired by AJ Sharp, founder of Sharp PR, with a focus on opportunities for growth and the challenges facing the future of the plant-based F&B industry in the UK and beyond.

Each panellist shared their perspectives on how plant-based brands can capitalise on growth opportunities. The Plant Base’s Bradshaw spoke about the importance of authenticity and staying clear on your message when building a brand, offering examples of businesses that are seeing success in the category currently thanks to smart marketing, brand authenticity and high-quality products – such as This, Planted and Shicken.

Ocado’s Cross delved into the retailer perspective, emphasising that, when pitching to retailers, brands should cover innovation, ease of purchase and no risk to supply as key elements of their value proposition. She highlighted that plant-based food still makes up a small portion of chilled food sales, showing the opportunity for expansion. Cross also spoke about shoppers’ preferences for more whole food ingredients as many consumers seek to shift away from ultra-processed foods.

Meanwhile, Kale United’s Linden recommended that brands position everything they do from the point of view of an investor – demonstrating that they know their market, positioning and price. Vypr’s Davies also advised players not to underestimate the time, emotion and investment it takes to build a brand – a worthwhile end goal, but one that requires patience and incredibly hard work.

Event organisers (L-R) Amabel Gilding, Mike Hill, Nicoletta Dyble Hall

Research conducted by event partners Plant Futures and Vypr was presented by Kym Zielinski, insights specialist at Plant Futures, in an in-depth second session following the keynote.

The research, commissioned exclusively for the event, highlighted some interesting findings showing the category’s potential for growth, particularly within the flexitarian and omnivore categories.

Findings suggested that there is a mass market audience for plant-based products, with flexitarians and open omnivores representing more than two-thirds of the total consumer market and offering the biggest opportunity.

The research revealed that more than half of these two consumer groups had purchased a plant-based meat or dairy alternative product within the last six months, while vegans made up just 11% of the total consumer market.

Taste was revealed to be the primary driver of choice for shoppers, closely followed by price and health benefits. Open omnivores are influenced by point-of-purchase nudges, while flexitarians are motivated to seek out products that help them reduce their meat consumption and deliver environmental benefits.

Additionally, the research explored on-pack messaging and how this can increase appeal, for example by providing familiarity with brand logo and colours, leading with food imagery to emphasise tastiness, and allowing the consumer to see the product to signal quality and freshness.

A further two breakout panel sessions also took place, focused on brand building and finance. The finance and investment panel included Kale United’s Linden alongside Anant Joshi, host of the Plant CEO podcast; and Keith Lesser of Vegan Accountants. Panellists on the brand-building panel included Joe Hill, co-founder of One Planet Pizza; Mitch Lee, head of sales at Purezza and La Fauxmagerie; Jagir Mankodi, co-founder at Superfoodio; and Christa Bloom-Burrows, co-founder of Biff’s.

Branding workshop (L-R) Mitch Lee, Purezza and La Fauxmagerie; Joe Hil, One Planet Pizza

The beginning of the special pre-arranged 15-minute meetings between brands and buyers then commenced, bringing together brands such as Better Nature Tempeh and US-based Tofurky, with 17 buyers from UK and European retailers, wholesalers and foodservice companies.

Everything, from the meeting arrangements to the delicious food – a range of plant-based cakes and pastries to snack on throughout the day, as well as a buffet lunch packed with mouthwatering vegan salads and hot dishes – was meticulously put together by the Veg-net team, culminating in a free networking session, drinks and dinner.

The event’s co-founder Hill said: “There’s plenty of opportunity for plant-based founders to grow market penetration with mainstream consumers, and consumer insights really are the key to unlocking these opportunities. It’s great to be able to bring together the plant-based community, connecting like-minded founders with buyers, enabling us to all work together, share collective successes and drive growth in the category.”

#events #UK #VegNet

In review: Veg-net 2024

The Plant Base

6 June 2024

In review: Veg-net 2024

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