Quorn USA president: ‘We want to be the kings of [meat-free] chicken’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Quorn US president Judd Zusel: 'In the next 12 months you'll see our marketing investment increase almost threefold...' Image credit: Quorn USA
Quorn US president Judd Zusel: 'In the next 12 months you'll see our marketing investment increase almost threefold...' Image credit: Quorn USA

Related tags Quorn meatless meat-free fungi

While investors and journalists are pretty excited about a new wave of startups growing food in fermentation tanks, it’s easy to forget that we’ve been eating a filamentous fungus grown in big metal vats (a.k.a. ‘mycoprotein’) since the 1980s, says the US president of Quorn, Judd Zusel, who says we’re going to be hearing a lot more from the original ‘alt protein’ brand later this year.

Made from an edible fungus called Fusarium Venenatum​ first discovered growing in soil in Buckinghamshire in the UK in the late 1960s and grown using a controlled fermentation process, Quorn​was launched in the UK in 1985 and introduced to the US in 2002.

Acquired by Monde Nissin - one of the leading consumer packaged foods companies in the Philippines – in late 2015, Quorn is looking to step on the gas in the US market in the coming months fueled by some of the proceeds of Monde Nissin’s recent IPO, Zusel told FoodNavigator-USA.

There’s going to be a significant amount of money coming to the US organization, which will allow us to increase innovation, expand our marketing budgets, hire more people, and fund our new culinary center in Dallas, so we’re really excited about where we're headed. The US meat alternative space is worth $5bn and we're positioned very well to take advantage of that.”

‘Retailers are asking for more chicken products’

High in protein and fiber and low in saturated fat and calories, Quorn is non-GMO, free of the major allergens, and serves particularly well as a poultry substitute, said Zusel, a high-flying CPG veteran who took the helm at Quorn USA earlier this year after stints in general management and marketing roles at Bacardi, Remy Cointreau, and Diageo.

“We want to be the king of​ [meat-free] chicken. We have the best nuggets in the market and really mycoprotein is our secret sauce because it mimics chicken perfectly. When you look at the cells of a mycoprotein product next to a chicken product, they’re almost exactly the same, and that really sets us apart from the competition, which is still mostly soy based.

“There are a lot of burger and meat products out there now, but retailers are asking for more chicken products, especially as we head into football season, basketball season, and people are looking for more finger foods and appetizers, those kinds of products.”

Chef-Stephen-Kalil_Quorn Foods USA
Executive chef Stephen A. Kalil at Quorn’s new culinary development center in Dallas, which can test culinary equipment and coatings on mycoprotein in real time and real conditions, and is modeled to replicate operations in a variety of restaurant environments, from quick service restaurant to fine dining. The space also features a state-of-the-art new product development lab. Image credit: Quorn USA

‘In the next 12 months you'll see our marketing investment increase almost threefold’

While Quorn is performing well in the US, with broad distribution in the grocery channel, a growing presence in foodservice, and a broad portfolio of products from meat-free nuggets to grounds, meatballs, filets and frozen entrees, said Zusel, “In the US I think we still have a big job to do to drive brand awareness, and that’s something I was brought here to do, so in the next 12 months you'll see our marketing investment increase almost threefold.

“We're going to spend a lot more money on the awareness side of the business, both through more traditional awareness programs, but also through influencer programs.

“And then separately innovation also tends to generate a lot of buzz, and new products will help us drive that awareness, so we’re launching Quorn Meatless ChiQin Wings and Quorn Meatless ChiQin Cutlets in the fall; plus as we build up the foodservice side of the business and people start to see the Quorn brand on menus, obviously that should drive awareness too.

“So for example, we’ve got a deal with the Boston Red Sox and our wings are now sold in the main concourse at Fenway Park. And we are also sold in the clubs in all the suites.”

‘We're a little bit of an outlaw in the space, we do our own thing’

He added: “We are going to start talking more about mycoprotein. Some of the retailers we work with have said it's a real competitive advantage, but we will talk about it in a very simple way. We're taking a natural fungus from the ground, going through a natural fermentation process to deliver mycoprotein, which delivers amazing levels of fiber and protein, and is an exact mimic of chicken.

“You will see this fall, a new marketing campaign, be launched and released, but the way I think about our brand personality is that we're a little bit of an outlaw in the space, we do our own thing. We're unapologetic, but we have fun and we're a little bit quirky as well.”

‘Retailers are very bullish on the category’

Right now, Quorn’s business is primarily in the retail channel, with major accounts such as Kroger, Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop, said Zusel. “We’ve got really great repeat rates. So at Kroger, when you look at the meat alternative category, we are number one in units purchased per household, which is pretty unbelievable, and then we're a close second in repeat purchase rates per consumer.”

He added: “Retailers are very bullish on the category; we're going through category reviews right now with our large retailers, and they're looking for new innovations and innovative shopper marketing programs. They want to know what you’re doing to drive awareness for the category and tp drive people to their stores.”

This is an area of particular focus on the e-commerce side of the business, he added: “We have spent a lot of money in paid search on Amazon Fresh, Instacart, and Walmart. At Kroger, we have made a really big investment in paid search, and we have the highest percentage of sales from e-commerce out of all of their plant based and meat alternative products.”

Foodservice opportunities

On the (far smaller) foodservice side of Quorn's business, he said, “We're getting very aggressive there and adding sales people to help us penetrate that space. We’ve also developed a program called Quornucopia kitchen, where we partner with vegetarian and vegan restaurants in different cities and give them our products for a 30-day period, and then their chefs create amazing vegetarian and vegan meals with those, and then we drive consumers through our social media to those restaurants to get free meals.”

Nutrition and meat alternatives

Taste and texture are king in the meat alternative space, especially for meat eaters, who are not willing to compromise at all in this department, said Zusel. However, consumers will over time pay more attention to nutrition and clean labels, and Quorn has some key advantages over many rivals in this regard, he claimed.

Consumers expect a healthier product, that's part of the reason they're eating plant-based food to begin with, and Quorn is high in fiber and protein, low in saturated fat and calories, it has no cholesterol, it’s not highly processed, and it’s Non GMO. We take a fungus out of the ground, ferment it, freeze it, form it."

As for Quorn's target consumer, he said“I would say our bull's eye target right now is who we call Quinn. She's a 35-year-old mom, she has one to two kids, she lives in the suburbs and she wants to feed her children better plant based meat alternative foods, and cook easy nutritious meals for the family.”

NewLeadership_Quorn Foods USA
Quorn USA president Judd Zusel (left) and executive chef Stephen A. Kalil (right). Image credit: Quorn USA

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