Beef stock cubes have become the unlikely target of a vegan makeover with Oxo scheduled to launch a meat-free version of the famous meat extract amid a boom in sales of plant-based foods.
Premier Foods, which is also behind brands such as Mr Kipling and Bisto gravy, said the beef-flavoured stock cubes would start appearing on supermarket shelves soon.
The UK is gripped by plant-based food fever. This year more than 100,000 people have pledged to stick to a plant-based diet during what is billed as Veganuary. The lifestyle overhaul has been made easier by high-profile new vegan products such as Greggs vegan sausage roll and its meat-free steak bake.
This scale of the business opportunity is not lost on food manufacturers and retailers with one in five of all new foods launched last year labelled vegan. Market research firm Mintel predicts sales of meat-free foods will soon pass the £1bn-a-year barrier.
The Premier Foods chief executive, Alex Whitehouse, said: “The whole plant-based eating thing is clearly very important. There was a clear role for a vegan but beef-flavoured cube.”
The meat extract was, according to Oxo, invented by the German chemist Baron Justus von Liebig in 1840. It started being sold as cubes in 1910, with soldiers serving on the western front receiving Oxo in their ration kits. In recent years the store cupboard staple has been given a new lease of life with flavours such as “red wine” and “garden vegetables” (which is also suitable for vegans).
The alchemy involved in a vegan recipe that tastes like beef stock includes extra yeast and an altered mix of herbs and spices, the company said. The distinctive red Oxo packaging will stay the same but the packs will be labelled “meat-free”. They will be the same price at £1.59 for a pack of 12.
A consumer poll published by Mintel this week found the number of people who had eaten meat-free foods had increased from 50% in 2017 to 65% in 2019. Meanwhile, sales of meat-free foods had surged 40% from £582m in 2014 to an estimated £816m in 2019. Such is the popularity of meat-free food that sales are expected to top £1.1bn by 2024.
The growth is actually being fuelled by meat-eaters – who still make up 88% of the population – who are cutting back on meat or becoming flexitarians (where a predominantly plant-based food is supplemented with meat and fish). Those following a strict vegan diet are still thought to equate to around 1% of the UK population.
Kate Vlietstra, Mintel global food and drink analyst, said: “The rising popularity of flexitarian diets has helped to drive demand for meat-free products. Many consumers perceive that plant-based foods are a healthier option, and this notion is the key driver behind the reduction in meat consumption in recent years.”