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An Insider View for November

One Man’s Meat … is increasingly another man’s Meat Free. In fact, freedom is the new mantra in food. Free from sugar, dairy, lactose, salt, Palm Oil, not to mention gluten. And consumer demand for these foods is rising strongly prompting a stream of innovations across the trade from start-ups to traditional retailers and suppliers.

The meat free market alone is now worth an estimated £474.5 million* but it’s not just Vegans and Vegetarians who are pushing demand, but more mainstream consumers - flexitarians – open to a widening range of foods in their diet. M&S has seen an increase in sales of meat-free products of 77% this year, as aware mid-market shoppers’ sample the options. Environmental concerns may also help revive the fortunes of the organic sector where more basic agricultural issues have been overtaken by wider worries over plastic and recycling as consumers look to reduce their carbon footprint.

In the midst of the burgeoning of ranges and niche lines, M&S also announced this month that they will be the first major British supermarket to sell own-label ready meals containing Halal meat. M&S, like Waitrose, never seem to have had a product ranging policy that is immediately apparent to the consumer, but clearly believe they need clarity in preparation for selling their products through Ocado next year. This is something rival Waitrose has on their agenda. The new Waitrose1 premium brand aims to offer a clear distinction between their standard and Essentials range. They have also re-branded 25-year-old Duchy Originals as Waitrose Duchy Organic and the top tier Heston Blumenthal range.

We’re intrigued by M&S’s ‘Best Ever’ lines. Given many of their best-selling standard products are already viewed as ‘best ever’ it will be interesting to see how they push their product development even further to make the ‘best ever’ claim. They now have a Best Ever Lasagne alongside their GastroPub, Lasagne al Forno, Beef Lasagne and Count on Us variants. Watch out for next month’s Fast Foodfax Insider when we’ll share the results of our head-to-head comparisons of some Best Ever products versus standard lines including Lasagne. Is there a danger they just become over-elaborate, or is ‘more’ always better in consumers’ eyes?

*The Grocer 01-11-09

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