The business reported a global year-on-year sales growth of 16% in 2017, with the UK alone seeing sales growth of 12.5%. Globally, Quorn saw the biggest sales increases in the US (+35%) and Australia (+35%).
Speaking to Food Manufacture, Quorn ceo Kevin Brennan said the business was “pleased but not surprised” with the level of growth seen. He added that there were markets such as Germany that “still have a long way to go” in terms of sales, but were “growing aggressively”.
Brennan attributed the overall growth to consumers aspiring to the vegan lifestyle. “There is growth in the number of vegans in the UK and around the world,” he explained. “Our sales have been quite exceptional and beyond [the level they would be] if they were just bought by vegetarians.
“I think Veganuary is part of this and consumers are aspiring to veganism – like gluten-free, vegan is shorthand for a good product and is embraced by more consumers, not just vegans.”
Brennan said recent hygiene breaches in the meat industry just reinforced consumer concerns about meat production. “It’s evident that the time-gap between one meat production issue to the next seems to be getting shorter, from Horsegate to 2 Sisters to Russell Hume. All this does is reinforce concerns that consumers should be cautious about the meat they buy. Certainly these scares help the category.”
Investment in new product development
Much of the company’s growth was attributed to its stream of new products. Brennan said it had invested heavily in its research and development (R&D) department as a priority to further its ambitions to be a billion-dollar business by 2027.
“We’ve been significantly growing our investment in R&D and it’s an area we’ll continue to grow,” he said. “There’s still a lot of opportunity to grow and innovate in our category.”
Last year, Quorn launched a multi-year expansion plan, which Brennan said was on track in 2018. In September the business plans to open a new facility in Billingham, with another site in the same area earmarked for August 2020.
As well as the new sites, Brennan said the business was likely to hire up to 100 new people this year, adding to the 600 it currently employs, with further employment growth planned for following years. “We’re having a continual pipeline of growth at Quorn and expect to take on 50 to 100 people each year as we grow the business,” he said. “It’s this level of growth that’s needed as we aim to become a billion-dollar business.”
He said the roles would be spread across the entire business.
Own-label and lab-grown
With own-label offerings in the category on the rise, Brennan said branded ranges such as Quorn would still drive the market. “Any category in the UK will have competition from own-label, but it’s still at a lower level in ours. The 15–20% growth in the meat-free category is largely driven by the investment in innovation by brands like ours. Own-label has a role to play, but I think the retailers recognise that Quorn plays an important role in driving category growth.”
Although investments in lab-grown and clean meat businesses were on the rise around the world, he said Quorn was not under threat. “It’s a generalisation that a lot of the lab-grown meat companies talk as though there are no solutions available when we have continued to solve this issue for many years now,” he said. “They have an ability to act as if there is no solution out there.”
Brennan said he believed a lot of the talk around lab-grown meat stemmed from the businesses themselves.
“The nature of their business is that they have some major backers and they have to keep up the PR machine. The sales don’t currently justify the investment, so they tend to be fairly relentless about what they’re going to do in the future.
“Our view is that there are multiple solutions out there to feed a growing population, and clean or lab-grown meat solutions are needed. It’s not an area we’re focused on and we wouldn’t see it as competition as multiple solutions are going to be needed. There’s enough demand globally for more than one product.”