Experiencing strong success in the UK where the brand originally launched in 2018, Wicked Foods recently announced a five-year commitment to add to its existing product line of more than 100 SKUs and to increase sales of meat alternatives by 300%.
Founded by chefs and brothers, Derek and Chad Sarno, Wicked Foods focuses on grab-and-go and ready-in-minutes foods that are as “nutritionally satisfying” as they are “visually stunning,” say the Sarno brothers, who are the authors of two cookbooks and produce a series of cooking videos on their ‘Wicked Healthy’ YouTube channel.
The Sarno brothers have pioneered several techniques in their products utilizing mushrooms as a meaty alternative to animal protein to create their most popular dishes, including BBQ mushroom steaks, mushroom steak & gravy, and mushroom steak & cheese sandwiches.
As part of the brand launch, Wicked Foods is asking its followers and others to help guide product availability in the US and globally asking consumers to ‘plant your flag’ to share where they’d like to find the plant-based products. Those who input their city at eatwickedfoods.com will receive a free copy of the Wicked Mushroom Manifesto, a digital collection of the brothers’ most popular recipes that highlight the techniques to transform mushrooms into ‘meat.’
Wicked Foods’ expansion is being led by new CEO Pete Speranza, a CPG industry veteran and partner at global investment firm Unovis, who will run the brand’s day-to-day operations.
“In my nearly 25 years in CPG, I haven’t seen anything quite like what Chad and Derek have been able to create with Wicked Foods,” said Speranza. “Their commitment to producing the most crave-able, sought after, chef-crafted plant-based foods is driving huge demand in the UK, and we know Americans are ready for this genuine and unapologetic approach to plant-based eating."
‘Our intention is to disrupt the plant-based category with culinary innovation’
Wicked Foods will be entering a competitive landscape in the US where plant-based foods brands abound and consumer interest in products designed to be indistinguishable from animal protein is high.
Collectively, nearly one in four (23%) US consumers say they have cut back on meat consumption in the last year citing health and environmental concerns, according to a January 2020 Gallup poll. And according to a 28,000-person survey conducted in 30 countries by OnePoll on behalf of Herbalife Nutrition, 47% of Americans have started eating more plant-based food amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Derek Sarno sees a clear market white space for a chef-driven plant-based food brand such as Wicked Foods, which abides by the mantra ‘80% healthy and 20% Wicked’. The founders have found success in the UK where they’ve applied high-level chef expertise to create innovative plant-based products with bold flavors.
It will also not be the Sarno brothers’ first foray into the US plant-based foods market; they are also co-founders of Gathered Foods, the parent company to plant-based seafood brand Good Catch. Derek Sarno also served as the senior global executive chef for Whole Foods Market, where he oversaw global research and development for the company’s Prepared Foods department, worked with suppliers and leadership to develop and promote plant-based foods across the organization.
“We differ from other plant-based companies because we are a lifestyle brand that encourages people to eat more plants,” Derek Sarno told FoodNavigator-USA.
“It is a simple message and it helps solve complex world problems within the food system, like feeding a growing population, lessening consumption and killing of animals, and reducing the carbon footprint. Our intention is to disrupt the plant-based category with culinary innovation while empowering consumers with accessible delicious foods.”
Side-by-side merchandising with non-plant-based items
The brand is still developing its go-to-market strategy for its US debut but expects to lead with a direct-to-consumer approach to begin and then target a few lead retailers by channel, said Sarno.
“However,” he added, “We expect to be in the mainstream categories shelved side-by-side with non-plant-based items [a merchandising strategy that has worked well for Beyond Meat]. We think it is important to educate the consumer that plant-based eating is just another variety in your daily food routine and doesn’t have to be relegated to ‘special diet’ placement. Plant-based eating is truly mainstream now.”
Sarno added that he believes that a part of the next wave of plant-based food innovation will be a focus on chef-inspired foods with a healthier focus, an intersection where Wicked Foots fits perfectly, he said.
“The culinary world has always been ahead of the game, and we want to end up with great tasting food that happens to be vegan. If we do that then the product is an everyday pantry item not just for Meatless Mondays.”