Founded in 2016, allplants manufactures a vast range of frozen plant-based ready meals and desserts, which are currently available through its website, at retailers like Ocado, and via foodservice.
One of the first 100 certified B Corps in the UK, allplants wants to make healthy and tasty plant-based meals more accessible and affordable, appealing to meat eaters and vegans alike. Set to move into its recently expanded kitchen at the end of the year, founder Jonathan Petrides sheds some light on what the firm has achieved to date.
Pursuing an ‘obsession’
I first started building ventures from scratch about 15 years ago after deciding to leave the corporate world behind. Between the start of the last decade and founding allplants in 2016, I was involved in the development of a number of projects in Kenya, including a mobile bank and a healthcare company, both of which still operate today.
The thread between those ventures and where I am today has been my drive to find solutions to problems, as this allows you to bring special talent together with the goal of creating something new and special. When I moved back to the UK and looked at entering the food industry, I had no prior experience which is quite unusual. However, I was a real foodie and had developed an obsession with how unsustainable some parts of the sector were, particularly the production of meat. Up until that point I wasn’t a vegan, but I was taken aback by how much the meat I consumed was contributing to my personal carbon footprint.
Cutting out parts of my diet was not easy though, as the on-the-go options available were incredibly limited, and I often had to fall back on a bag of carrots and a pot of hummus when visiting my local supermarket in search of a ready meal. This experience only fuelled my obsession further and I began envisioning how I could alter all of my favourite dishes so that they no longer contained meat, fish and dairy. Another realisation that had dawned on me was the fruitlessness of preaching about eating a meat-free diet – the only thing that persuades most people is to offer them a delicious plant-based meal and ask them to try it.
With all this in mind, I decided to find a way to reach more people with delicious, exciting plant-based food that was both accessible and unpretentious. I felt that the term vegan could be seen as exclusive and radical in some quarters, and that’s why I settled on allplants, a name that welcomes everyone to give it a try. Before settling on our business model I thought about opening a restaurant or launching a food truck, but decided that providing an option for busy people to eat at home for an affordable price would allow us to have the biggest impact.
My previous experience in direct to consumer businesses helped with the initial stages, even though we were looking to do things slightly differently from many food start-ups by making all our ready meals in-house. I was set on creating the highest quality product that would appeal to vegans and meat-eaters alike, and this could only be achieved by investing in a skilled team and providing them with hand-picked ingredients and recipes.
Developing a presence
As of October 2023, we have served more than 7,000,000 meals through our direct-to-consumer model, which continues to grow in popularity. With the early success of this part of the business providing a platform for other ventures, our range has since been made available through online retailer Ocado, while we also have partnerships with Deliveroo Hop and several specialist retailers such as Planet Organic.
The success enjoyed through these avenues helped provide us with a real proof of concept and we have seen just how much demand there is for delicious, healthy, plant-based food.
Around 60% of people in the UK are looking to eat more plant-based food by either cutting down on the amount of meat, fish or dairy products they consume. This offers a real opportunity for us to service a demand that there was previously no one to provide for. However, the mere fact that demand exists is not enough to keep us in business – it is our focus on quality that has allowed us to grow. If people looking for plant-based options are met with a below par offering, they will not keep returning for that alternative.
Since our launch in 2016, we have been experimenting with a vast array of ingredients and recipes that deliver on what we promise. Our kitchen team now spans almost 60 people, and we are due to move into our newly upgraded and expanded 43,000 square foot facility on Blackhorse Road in Walthamstow, London. This build has taken about 14 months to complete and once fully operational, will be the largest plant-based only kitchen in Europe. Previously, we operated out of a smaller 7,000 square foot kitchen on the same site, which we moved to in 2018 after outgrowing our first kitchen in Seven Sisters, London.
I believe that the chef’s touch we supply to every meal is another factor that sets our ready meals apart. As a London living wage employer, we are able to attract better talent and lure people away from roles in restaurants where they cannot always earn the same salary. As a result, our team brings an exceptional level of energy and enthusiasm to work every day and that translates to the quality of the product. We are also a B Corp, which means we operate a ‘triple bottom line’, balancing people, planet, and profit. One way we demonstrate that is that all of our employees are shareholders in the business and therefore feel a sense of ownership over everything that we produce. This atmosphere then has a trickle-down effect in attracting more high quality people to join the team.
Another reason for our success has been our intention to not just appeal to vegans and vegetarians, but instead to create meals that everyone wants to try – our chefs are always looking at ways to emulate a meaty texture or creamy taste. A culture of innovation is encouraged in the kitchen, and this empowers our chefs to try new ideas and experiment with recipes that you will not find elsewhere. With the addition of our new chef-in-residence programme featuring guest chef Rachel Ama, we continue to showcase the culinary craftsmanship behind all of our meals, ensuring that every dish embodies both creativity and the highest standards of taste and quality.
Additionally, through the operation of our direct-to-consumer model, we are able to receive feedback from our customers on a daily basis which is then taken into account during recipe development and reformulation. Having full control over our kitchen means that we can adapt quickly and react when customers tell us that something is or isn’t working. Our team can take an idea from the concept stage to production within 12 weeks. This process can take a year elsewhere in the industry.
Growing the business
Since I founded the business, it was always the intention to have a sense of purpose enshrined in the company’s DNA. As a result, we became a B Corp in 2018, making us one of the first 100 firms in the UK to achieve that certification. The B Corp programme is a wonderful movement that requires certified companies to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Being part of this programme helps align everyone within the business and re-orients our focus away from pure profit and towards creating a model that works for our employees and the planet.
With that in mind, we have looked to expand our operations sustainably so that we can continue to meet the growing demand for our products. Previously, we did not have the capacity to respond to incoming requests from grocers, airline companies, pubs, restaurants – all sorts of businesses that want to work with us and stock our range. However, by launching this new kitchen we are in a better position to pursue our goal, which is to have plant-based meals made more readily available to more people.
Another point that we want to emphasise in the future is how our products can play into a growing wellness trend among consumers, centred around healthy eating and an active lifestyle. Our meals are nutritionally balance and easy to schedule for meal times, while they are made with all plant-based ingredients. Leveraging the healthy nature of our products can only help us get the message out there about eating more plant-based options. This is a trend that is taking hold around the world and not just in the UK, and we have been in discussions with potential international partners. There is real demand across Europe, the Middle East, the US, Australia, and we are already ahead of the curve thanks to the journey we have been on in the UK since 2016.
Foodservice businesses too are becoming an area for potential expansion as there are very few manufacturers producing private label plant-based options. Many pubs are struggling to find the chefs to run their kitchens, but still need premium food options to satisfy their customers, and this is where we have been able to step in.
We will also continue to look at new and innovative ways to make our own operations more sustainable. In August 2023, we began phasing in a new lining on our delivering packaging so that it could be recycled curbside, meaning that customers no longer need to return it to us. Our prior system worked for some people, but we understood that not everyone was returning the packaging.
With all that in mind, our two primary objectives over the coming years are to continue to help grow the plant-based category and to allow the business to reach profitability so that it can stand on its own two feet. If we can achieve these goals, this will aid our further expansion and greater levels of investment back into our facilities, our people and our products.