In just five years, UK supermarket aisles have changed beyond recognition. Now, the shelves are teaming up with vegan meat, cheese and milk options Morrisons has its own Plant Revolution range, Marks & Spencer has its Plant Kitchen and at Sainsbury’s, the Plant Pioneer selection continues to expand. In fact, at the moment, there is no such large supermarket in the UK no It has its own range of plant-based products. But in 2017, the story was completely different. Back then, most retailers only had a handful of vegan options. But in the same year, with the help of American chef Derek Sarno, Tesco helped change the game completely and set the tone for a truly plant-centric future of food in the UK.
Derek Sarno and Tesco: The Plant-Based Dream Team
In early 2023, Tesco announced that Sarno—a vegan chef and co-founder of plant-based food brands Wicked Kitchen and Good Catch—was set to leave his position at the chain as director of plant-based innovation. In a statement announcing his departure, Sarno said he was “incredibly proud” of all his achievements with Tesco. And, the truth is, without his involvement with supermarkets, the UK grocery scene would look very different.
Chef, who is also its author wicked healthy cookbook, Tesco joined the team in mid-2017 with a mission: to promote the UK’s plant-based food scene, and show Brits how versatile and delicious, but also meaty, vegetarian products really can be. “Vegetarians have been overlooked for too long, with many offerings that seem designed to appease rather than genuinely delight,” he said. guardian In January 2018, just after its first Wicked Kitchen Veganuary range—which featured 18 vegan ready-meals—hit Tesco shelves.
The launch was a resounding success, and sales of chilled vegan food in supermarkets increased by 25 percent. As a result, Tesco doubled the range, and in October, began treating customers to plant-based versions of much-loved grocery staples such as pizza, sausage rolls and pies. And it all features Sarno’s favorite mushrooms, which, he believes, can be manipulated and seasoned to mimic the taste and texture of real meat.
“I’ve never met a mushroom I didn’t like,” he said Vegan Food and Living In 2018. “The ones we’re talking about are nothing like the white button mushrooms that people are used to. There’s a whole world of other fantastic mushrooms to cook with, and we’re just getting started.”
In 2019, Wicked Kitchen joined Plant Chef, a family-focused, affordable vegetarian meat range and products such as fish-free fillets and breaded goujans hit the shelves. In addition, Sarno has announced a “dedicated plant-based and vegetarian zone” will open in the Tesco aisle. No doubt, flexibility and veganism were gaining momentum and Tesco was leading the way. In the months and years that followed, other major UK supermarket chains struggled to keep up.
In the same year that Plant Chef launched, Sainsbury’s announced Plant Pioneers was to become available nationwide, Marks & Spencer released the Plant Kitchen for the first time, and the Plant Menu (formerly known as I’m Vegan) also hit the shelves at Aldi. In 2020, along with Asda’s plant based range, in 2021, Vemondo landed at Lidl and in 2022, Plant Revolution came to Morrisons.
Now, a search for the term “vegan” in Tesco’s online grocer returns more than 330 items, including 40 from Plant Chef, and 36 from the Wicked Kitchen brand. “Derek has been a central part of our drive to bring plant-based mainstream,” said Sarah Bradbury, the supermarket’s director of quality, about Sarno’s legacy with the brand. “It’s no surprise that Tesco’s division has gone from strength to strength under his leadership.”
What’s next for Tesco?
Whichever supermarket you choose to shop at in the UK, you’ll find a breadth of plant-based meat options. And customers are loving the range of choices. According to a report by Proveg International, more than 30 percent of UK consumers prefer to buy vegan chicken breast from supermarkets, while 29 percent prefer to buy vegetarian sausages and 28 percent prefer to buy vegan mince. But there’s room to grow: More than 20 percent want more fish options, for example.
“The UK has the highest sales value for plant-based meat and the highest share among vegetarians and vegans,” said Proveg UK’s Jimmy Pearson. “This report provides detailed insight into UK consumer attitudes towards plant-based food and highlights the most lucrative opportunities for businesses in the UK.”
But despite this, Tesco has revealed that following Sarno’s departure, it will go against the norm and move forward with a new “veg-led” approach. The idea is to “launch the next phase” of the supermarket’s plant-based strategy and take center stage with more plant-centric dishes, such as edamame burgers and vegetable tray bakes. But the goal remains the same: By 2025, it aims to increase plant-based sales by 300 percent.
“We’re incredibly excited about what the next step in our plant-based journey will bring,” said Braise Donaghy, product and innovation director at Tesco, who will take on Sarno’s role.
“We know making healthy eating easy and accessible is key to delivering for our customers,” he continued. “As we evolve our offering this year, we’ll be expanding our range of ‘veg-led’ options, introducing some delicious new products that will help customers incorporate more vegetables into their diets whether they’re vegetarian, vegan, or simply looking to cut back. Meat they eat.”
And as for Sarno? He must remain committed to advancing the plant-based movement. He’ll continue to create content for Wicked Kitchen on YouTube, but first, he’s making good money, he said the grocery “I have a lot of ideas that I want to bring to life,” he continued. “I’m also open to opportunities.”