Tesco Takes the Whole-Food Route with New Plant-Forward Private-Label Range

6 Mins Read

First announced in November, Tesco has rolled out its newest private-label ready meal range – it’s all about the vegetables.

The meat-free category in the UK fell hard last year, as consumer concerns about ultra-processed foods (even if they’re ill-perceived), cost of living, fibre intake, and overall nutrition amped up. But that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the vegan category, as was evidenced by a recent hike in sales of plant-based products at the country’s biggest retailer.

Tesco, which witnessed a minor dip in vegan purchases in 2023, saw sales accelerate at the beginning of the year, propelled by whole cuts and whole foods, dubbing this period as phase two of the “biggest food trend this century”.

“We are seeing flexitarians now wanting to take more control over what they eat, whilst continuing to reduce their meat intake,” Tesco’s plant-based food buyer, Cate May, said in March. “Awareness is also starting to increase around the health benefits of making some simple swaps in their diet, for example, to reduce saturated fat whilst maintaining strong levels of protein by increasing the amount of plants and plant-based foods in their diets and then supplementing with more fresh veg.”

And that’s exactly what Tesco is capitalising on with its newest private label, Root & Soul. An extension of its plant-forward strategy, the brand is all about championing whole foods. Starting with a 12-strong line of ready meals, the retailer is keeping things interesting with innovative ways to spotlight vegetables, whether it’s an Indian stir-fry, a winey stew, a fresh salad, or even a galette.

The clue is in the name

tesco ready meals
Courtesy: Tesco | Composite by Green Queen

The Root & Soul brand has been anticipated ever since news of Tesco filing a trademark application for the range broke in November. The application covered a bunch of different plant-based products, including milk alternatives, seitan, tempeh, and fresh produce.

While that may be an indicator of what’s to come next, its first step is through the ready meal world, which dials up the focus on whole foods (the root) and nutrition (the soul). “We know that customers want an easier way to incorporate vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains into their diets, and our new range does just that,” Alex O’Halloran, senior brand manager for plant-based and vegetarian at Tesco, wrote on social media.

The packaging for the range highlights the ingredients through the names – the brand is (for the most part) forgoing traditional dish names on the labels, and simply listing the vegetables, grains and pulses as the dishes themselves. Think courgette and cavolo nero with white-wine-braised lentils, flame-seared peppers with smoked paprika potatoes and chickpeas, Tenderstem broccoli and mangetout with an aromatic black bean dressing (plus rice), roasted butternut squash with a cannellini bean and white wine stew. The names may be a mouthful, but it’s all very intentional.

There’s a strong emphasis on salads too, which make up around half the Root & Soul lineup. These include a roasted harissa beetroot and chickpea layered salad (with a red pepper dip), roasted broccoli and whole-grain rice salad (with a gochujang sauce), chilli-roasted sweet potato and quinoa salad (with a lemon za’atar dressing), chargrilled courgette and bulgur wheat salad (with harissa hummus), and roasted butternut squash salad (with chermoula yoghurt).

Showcasing its focus on flavour diversity, Tesco has also introduced a butternut squash, ricotta and spinach galette with hot honey (another booming trend), a tomato, courgette and goat’s cheese galette, and a roasted cauliflower and saag chana masala ready meal.

All dishes are vegetarian, with some – like the broccoli-mangetout rice dish and several of the salads – also being vegan-friendly.

“After tirelessly crafting each dish, we’re eager for shoppers to experience the delicious flavours, quality and convenience Root & Soul provides,” Tesco head of product direction Cassie Edwards told Grocery Gazette, noting that it’s a testament to consumers’ ever-changing tastes and preferences.

“Our diverse selection of plant-led dishes, designed with flexitarians in mind, expands our plant-forward offering, and we can’t wait for consumers to enjoy this great tasting collection as much as we have loved creating it.”

Will the health focus offset the premium prices for customers?

tesco vegan
Courtesy: Philip Lawler/LinkedIn

The Root & Soul meals are available in select large Tesco stores now, and can be bought online starting Thursday. O’Halloran noted that these were “designed for all the family to enjoy, whether that’s a healthy on-the-go lunch, easy midweek meal, or tasty side to a weekend dinner”.

By focusing on vegetables and whole foods, the retailer is listening to what its customers want. In December, it commissioned a survey of 2,000 Brits to find that 46% are eating more vegetables than they were five years ago. For 47%, introducing more vegetables to their plates was a deliberate decision, with the main reasons being health (82%), environmental impact (25%), and cost savings (22%).

Even Sunday roasts – or equivalent family meals – have seen an uptick, with 48% of respondents saying their roast dinners involve more vegetables now. For 60%, this meant three or more different types of vegetables.

A separate 1,000-person survey in October revealed that 62% of Brits feel plant-based meats cost much more than their conventional counterparts, with a fifth citing price as the biggest reason for reducing their intake of these products. Whole foods like vegetables will always be cheaper than meat analogues, so a focus on produce would appeal to budget-conscious consumers.

It must be noted, though, that Tesco’s Root & Soul range is priced at the premium end, costing between £4.25 for single servings and £7.50 for the galettes. In contrast, its eponymous own-label ready meals max out at £3.25, and go as low as £1.30. So it’ll be interesting to see whether shoppers are ready to shell out more for these health- and veg-forward options.

That said, it is the same price as the Finest Signature Vegetables ready meal range it launched a year ago, which seems to now have been discontinued. Root & Soul appears to have replaced this lineup – for example, the Tenderstem-mangetout and flame-seared pepper dishes are rehashed versions of the Chilli & Black Bean Vegetable Trio and Flame-Seared Peppers with Garlic & Paprika SKUs from the former range.

Either way, health is very much a big deal for Tesco, which plans to increase sales of healthy products to 65% of its total by 2025 (by the end of 2023, it got to 60%). “Everyone knows they need to eat more vegetables, and, while there’s a place for ‘meat mimics’, Root & Soul is all about delicious vegetable centrepieces,” Tesco executive chef Jamie Robinson told the Guardian last month.

“They’re all great on their own as a meal or, if you’re cooking for more people, as a side. There’s a butternut squash, caramelised onion and pecorino one that is delicious with a Sunday lunch. We absolutely want to drive the agenda on making veg super tasty.”

And it’s not the only British company doing so – this Veganuary, most new items at UK restaurant chains were whole-food-based, instead of relying on meat analogues. Meanwhile, discount supermarket Aldi is soon introducing Veggie Menu, a spinoff of its private-label Plant Menu brand.


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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