Australian food and beverage company Soulfresh is capitalising on the growing demand for better-for-you meal options with the launch of a “next generation” meat substitute range.
While big brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have gained a cult following with plant-based burgers and sausages that emulate the taste of meat; Eaty, which is launching in Coles supermarkets this week, goes a step further with a ready-to-eat meals range and a selection of BBQ Classics.
The convenience range features popular Aussie meal choices such as Smoky Pulled Pork and Italian Beef Meatballs, made from plant-based ingredients that look, taste and sizzle like their real meat counterparts.
For its BBQ Classics range, Eaty “takes the most loved sausages and burgers that people consume in Australia and make the plant based version of it, pre cooked, so all you have to do is heat and eat.”
Since the brand launched in independent stores last month, shoppers have been lapping it up.
“We’ve actually been selling out,” Soulfresh CEO Didi Lo tells Inside FMCG.
“We’re having a big issue in trying to keep up with demand, which is really fantastic and it just shows that there’s such an appetite there. When these new products come into the market, people are really keen to taste them and give them a go.”
“Our range is focused less on the butcher department, where [brands are] putting out a raw burger or raw sausage, and much more into the dairy case where people are used to buying vegetarian food.”
Soulfresh has been selling vegetarian food into Australian market for close to 15 years, and in recent years the team started further investigating what the future of plant based food would look like.
“About three or four years ago we started doing work overseas, in Europe, working with a number of organisations and looking into university studies around the formation of plant-based meat alternatives.”
As any vegetarian or vegan will know, the options up to that point were pretty limited.
“Early vegetarian products had really just taken vegetables and processed formed them into sausage or burger like shapes,” Lo says.
Studies showed that the reason vegetarian products were not that popular with meat eaters, came down to texture.
“In the last five years, there’s been some really great breakthroughs in terms of creating these meat analogues, and giving them textures that are much more realistic and much closer to meat.”
Lo says the Eaty range delivers the “fourth and fifth generation plant based meat analogues”.
The fourth generation includes the ‘bleeding meat’ burgers that have become synonymous with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat; a recreation of the fats, fibres and protein that would occur inside meat.
The fifth generation being the “latest and greatest” in meat analogues, taking traditionally short fibre vegetables and creating a “beautiful stringy fibrous finished product,” which Didi believes makes a “really great replacement for chicken”.
“We played around with peas, legumes, soy and wheat; each of those different base materials give you a different nutritional profile, a different protein profile and ultimately a different texture and flavour profile.”
Lo and the team discovered that the combination of pea protein, bean protein and wheat protein gave the best texture. But he says that they are always exploring new and better ways of making their meals.
“We’re even looking at potentially using used or spent barley grain from the beer brewing process, which can then be reprocessed into incredible plant based protein.”
“We’re really happy with [the range] but by no means at the end. We will continue to develop and improve.”
The plant-based ‘meat’ also delivers on nutritional content, providing an “equivalent or greater protein source” to meat and low levels of fat. The products are also boosted with iron and B12, which can be hard to get when not eating meat.
Lo says that price remains a major barrier with ranges like these.
“It’s all well and good creating a very expensive but healthy or sustainable product, but that really just appeals to a small proportion of the population, it’s much harder to create a product which is a legitimate alternative in terms of flavour and texture and also in price.
“Price premium is still going to preclude some people from consuming it, but as the prices start coming down on raw materials and legumes and all of the base ingredients, the ability becomes greater to get to a price point that is the same or below meat.”
Sustainability has been at the core of the business for a long time, Lo says.
“It’s just not going to be sustainable to feed 9 or 10 billion people on the diet that we have.”
Soulfresh is doing its own life cycle analysis around the products and working on labelling to be clear to consumers about what is recyclable and what is biodegradable.
Soulfresh operates across Australia, New Zealand and the UK. The Eaty range is available through Coles, IGA and independents and through Countdown and New World in New Zealand.