British retailer M&S will be opening an Innovation Hub to house its new “specialist team” focused on developing food solutions, including plant-based proteins and plastic-free packaging materials. It comes amid a wave of announcements from major supermarket chains and CPG giants revealing ambitious plans to pursue the fast-growing alternative protein market in response to surging consumer demand for more sustainable and healthy food choices.
Slated to open in January 2021, the new Innovation Hub will be supporting British grocery major M&S Food’s new strategy to “protect the magic whilst modernising the rest”. The in-house specialist team will be dedicated to consumer insights and research, identifying the key emerging trends and leverage the latest technology to create new products.
Among the first products on the target list that M&S has revealed include developing soya-based alternative proteins for plant-based foods in its next step up after launching its 100% meat and dairy-free range dubbed Plant Kitchen in 2019. To this end, M&S says it will partner with Glasgow-based startup 3F Bio, who will supply its proprietary Abunda mycoprotein ingredient for its existing Plant Kitchen range and future plant-based protein products.
Creating a dedicated team with the sole purpose of driving disruptive innovation will support us in being more relevant to our customers.Stuart Machin, Managing Director, M&S Food
M&S will also invest in the latest material science technologies to bring about new low-waste and plastic-reducing packaging solutions. According to the company, it’s ultimate goal is to achieve a circular system where single-use materials are eliminated in favour of reuse and recycled alternatives, and to divert hard-to-recycle waste from landfills by turning it into new products such as playground equipment.
“Creating a dedicated team with the sole purpose of driving disruptive innovation will support us in being more relevant to our customers,” said Stuart Machin, managing director of M&S Food. “The team will play a key role in helping us to build an even bigger and better food range and show customers that we’re taking action to address the sustainability issues they care about most.”
There will be nine members in the team, spanning different areas of expertise, including packaging, nutrition, product innovation and business development. They will come from both existing M&S team members as well as newly-recruited talent, the company said.
The team will play a key role in helping us to build an even bigger and better food range and show customers that we’re taking action to address the sustainability issues they care about most.Stuart Machin, Managing Director, M&S Food
The latest news from M&S follows similar pledges made by CPG majors, including Nestlé, who has vowed to roll out more plant-based products amid pandemic-driven demand boost, which saw its plant-based category sales grow by 40% while other segments saw a decline due to the economic fallout.
Unilever, on the other hand, has set a new ambitious US$1.19 billion annual sales target for its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, which it says will be achieved by aggressively launching its acquired meatless meat brand The Vegetarian Butcher across more markets, and debuting more vegan versions of its iconic labels including Hellmann’s and Magnum.
It came a month after Tesco set a five-year commitment to increase sales of plant-based meat alternatives by 300%. The British retail giant says it plans to introduce more plant-based products across 20 different categories in all its stores and reduce prices to ensure that affordability is not a barrier to plant-based sales.
A report by collaborative investor network FAIRR found that the trend has put the mainstream food industry under so much pressure that now, as much as 40% of the biggest players have created dedicated teams laser-focused on innovating new sustainable and vegan products.
Lead image courtesy of M&S Plant Kitchen.