Tesco’s plant-based pioneer celebrated as next phase of strategy begins

After six years at the helm, Derek Sarno, Tesco’s Director of Plant-Based Innovation is set to leave Tesco this month, ushering in the next stage of Tesco’s plant-based strategy, with new ‘veg-led’ products which incorporate more vegetables in their recipes set to feature prominently across the category in the future.

Derek (pictured) was instrumental in bringing plant-based food to the UK, setting the benchmark across the industry with the development of two pioneering plant-based brands - Wicked Kitchen, which led the way for plant-based retail brands when it launched in 2018, and the affordable and accessible Tesco Plant Chef brand, launched in 2019.

The chef and food campaigner played a leading role in bringing together Tesco’s in-house team with supplier partners, Bakkavor and Samworth Brothers on a shared mission to create and launch the UK’s first plant-based ranges at scale and introduce new manufacturing techniques.

The Tesco Plant Chef brand now includes more than 180 products, while Wicked Kitchen offers products including freshly prepared ready meals, salads, sandwiches and pizzas.

Under Derek, Tesco was the first retailer to introduce plant-based meat alternatives in the meat aisle, as well as establish a commitment to increase plant-based sales by 300% by 2025, which has helped to drive innovation in Tesco’s supply base.

Tesco’s development & innovation of plant-based food will now be led by Product Director, Breige Donaghy, who joined the business last February. She will lead a renewed focus on health and ‘veg-led’ propositions which inspire and makes it easy for customers to incorporate more veg into their diets.

Among the new products set to feature this year are a number of ‘veg-led’ options including miso edamame burgers, and ready-to-cook tray bakes which incorporate more vegetables, perfect for families looking for affordable and delicious meal-time options. The retailer will also introduce a new range of vegetarian dishes which can be used as mains or side dishes.

The team will also continue to focus on key seasonal events across the year with exciting plans for Summer and Christmas 2023. Tesco is also trialling the use of fava beans in a number of product categories as a home-grown alternative to popular plant-based proteins such as soya and pea protein.

Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s Quality Director, noted, “Offering delicious, affordable plant-based food is incredibly important to us as we continue to inspire customers to eat more veg, and try alternatives to meat and other proteins.

'Derek has been a central part of our drive to bring plant-based into the mainstream, and it’s no surprise the category at Tesco has gone from strength to strength under his leadership. He’s done a fantastic job and I’d like to thank him for all his hard work. We all wish him well for the future.”

Derek said, “I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve achieved as a team during my time at Tesco. Central to our success has been the partnership between Tesco and our supplier partners – their commitment and innovation has really brought plant-based food to a mass audience.

'Whether you’re a devotee of plant-based food, or trying it for the very first time, it’s great to see so many customers enjoying Wicked Kitchen and Plant Chef products.”

Breige said, Derek has helped us build a compelling customer proposition across our ranges, and we’re incredibly excited about what the next phase of our plant-based journey will bring. We know making healthy eating easy and accessible is key to delivering for our customers.

'As we evolve our offer this year we will expand our ranges of ‘veg-led’ options, introducing some delicious new products which will help customers incorporate more veg into their diets whether they are vegan, vegetarian or simply wanting to reduce the amount of meat they eat.

' We’re looking forward to sharing the new ranges throughout the year and giving customers even more options that meet their evolving needs.”

(image: https://www.amylevin.co.uk/)