It never stops here at Wicked HQ! With launch after launch and the cogs always turning, we managed to catch co-founder Derek for a chat about everything that’s going on behind the scenes – we’re talking the Wicked mission, Tesco sale figures, cooking for non-vegans and what’s coming next!
“We make vegan food for meat-eaters,” has been one of your mottos from the beginning. Have you found that the Wicked Kitchen range been more popular with vegans, or non-vegans?
This is something I’ve said to myself for years, especially when I went vegan. I refused to eat leaves and berries and refused to compromise on indulging in things I enjoyed making and eating. Whether it’s more popular among one group, or not, doesn’t concern me. It’s the fact that we can make amazing food without the use of animals, that is better for the planet and our own health and that’s the priority for us. If we entice just one person to see the possibilities, that person might just be the one that changes their view and the world.
How do you go about creating food you know meat-eaters will love?
I’ve been cooking all my life and most of that time was spent cooking meat – lots of meat of all kinds- in other people’s businesses, or in my own restaurants and at home. When I made the decision to NOT to cook or use animal products anymore, there was an adjustment period I went through. I had to accept and give up some of what I had learned, what I knew and what was ‘normal’ for me. In that discomfort, I never quit learning and that forced something inside me to find a way. What we do is apply innovative thinking to the food we loved as meat-eaters and let the ingredients speak for themselves.
``What we do is apply innovative thinking to the food we loved as meat-eaters and let the ingredients speak for themselves.``
What’s the creative process of producing one of your products?
Developing dishes and products can stem from the simplest of ideas; seeing something that takes you outside of what has been done before. It could be an image, what someone says, or just walking through a grocery store. I’ll usually jot something down as a reminder and then when back at home will play with some thoughts and see how they come out. More often than not, the original idea transforms into what can work and to make something of that idea into a product line requires lots of points that need to be addressed. My personal process is starting from the end result dish, and working backwards from there to see how feasible it is for scaling up, cost effectiveness and how many challenges and obstacles will prevent it from coming to life on a shelf. Currently it can take from 6 months to a year from initial concept, to being on the shelf. This is dependent on many things and it always has to go through approval steps of peers.
What are the sales figures of the Wicked Kitchen range so far?
To date, we’ve sold more than 10 million Wicked Kitchen products, that is 10 million meals without the use of animals, or animal-by products. As great as that is, billions of animals are killed each year. We are proud of the impact we are having so far, but we are nowhere near stopping. The mission is always at the forefront of what we do!
``To date, we’ve sold more than 10 million Wicked Kitchen products, that is 10 million meals without the use of animals, or animal-by products.``
It’s clear that people have been loving the food then! How do you achieve the result of so many people buying and enjoying your food, especially when a high volume aren’t strictly vegan?
We lead with delicious, chef-crafted, innovative food that appeals to more than just taste buds. It’s in our nature to attract chefs and want to impress and feed our peers. That is our mindset. People want to do the right thing, but more often than not are bound to their habits and what they’re used to. If we can disrupt the norm by creating amazing new dishes that satisfy and delight, we’re hopeful to be a part of the change we all need to make.
Let’s talk food trends. Have there been any emerge since your range first launched and how did you handle rolling with the changes?
Since launching Wicked Kitchen we’ve seen the market explode not long after. Being first to market in an industry constantly changing was a feat. The thing we have on our side is we know this isn’t a trend – the pent-up demand for amazing vegan food was there all along. We were listening and we’ll continue to listen and drive the mission forward in hopes that more and more people will see the clear opportunity and responsibility. We have to make changes where we can.
``The thing we have on our side is we know this isn’t a trend - the pent-up demand for amazing vegan food was there all along.``
The range of products under the Wicked Kitchen line is really impressive, but what’s your favourite? You must have one!
Probably the hardest question of all to answer! I’m a huge fan of the instant pot meals we’ve launched in grocery and am very happy to be able to showcase some of the mushroom innovation we’ve spent years developing. We’re proud to have helped influence the launch into the meat aisle of Tesco and stand by that it’s the right thing to do, to get in front of people that want to cut down and give eating meat and are looking for easy solutions. There’s more coming in the next few weeks and months. It is easier than ever to eat plant-based now and we’re still chewing on how awesome that is and will be for a long, long time!
Earlier this year, you predicted a rise in quality of plant-based meat alternatives. This certainly happened and there are some fantastic products in the market! Where do you see your Wicked Kitchen amongst your competitors?
In terms of quality, innovation, and breadth of offer, I see us as the best on the market. Building a curated and credible range that offers choice, great value (Plant Chef, the more affordable plant-based range that I created for Tesco) and using Wicked innovation have all been at the core. The range has been carefully thought out, with great attention to detail, from a chef-perspective, and I believe it is the best in the marketplace.
You plan to launch a whopping 80 new Wicked Kitchen products in Tesco before 2020. What challenges have you overcome along the way?
That’s right, we’re playing big! Like with everything, when you are trying to smash through boundaries there are inevitable challenges. We have overcome a number of hurdles already, with the end to end supply chain not being as established. For example, we have had to work through encouraging people to flip their perspective on how you can cook with ‘shrooms, using new ingredients and methods/processes to create meaty textures. The packaging is another challenge – we’ve managed to only use recycled packaging (which is also recyclable). The top film is the only thing we are yet to work out – but this is an industry-standard for food safety. We’re on it and will come up with a solution!
Wicked Kitchen has been the most successful Tesco launch to date. What do you think made this the case?
A lot of hard work, dedication and passion about helping people to eat more plants! We always say we want to make it easier for people to do the right thing and luckily many people are on the same page and want to change their habits. Things really are changing. We really believe that anything can be made plant-based, with no compromise on taste, or texture and the reaction to our products has shown that people agree with us! We’re challenging those around us to think differently. It’s a movement that’s gathering speed at such an exponential rate, it’s impossible to ignore now.
``We're challenging those around us to think differently. It's a movement that's gathering speed at such an exponential rate, it's impossible to ignore now.``
What’s still to come from Wicked Kitchen and what do you feel most excited about?
Oh boy, where do I begin? So far the most exciting thing has been finally getting Brown Oyster Mushrooms in Tesco! People can finally make ‘shroom steak in their own kitchen, which is Wicked for us! You can expect more awesome stuff in different areas of the store. So not only offering our amazing snack pots but growing outside of the meals area. We’ve been busy crafting even more delicious treats that further prove you really don’t miss out when you’re vegan! I feel excited that we have taken such a big step in the right direction, to help people eat more plants and for animals to be saved. That’s what this is all about!