Open any British kitchen cupboard and you’re more than likely to find a ‘go-to’ pouch of something tasty bearing the iconic Ben’s logo.
Ben’s is known mostly for its Rice and cooking sauces, but the brand’s recent addition of Plant Powered pouches are a unique blend of spices, world flavours and plant-based protein.
The Plant Powered range bagged a gong at this year’s Product of the Year Awards in London.
We sat down with Gareth Williams, Marketing Manager at Mars Food & Nutrition, to hear how he gleans consumer insights, why convenience is key and what’s next on the menu for Ben’s…
Tell us about your winning product and why it’s resonated so well with the consumer
The Ben’s Plant Powered range is grounded in a number of consumer insights. Interest in plant-based foods has grown exponentially over the years – 5% faster than other food categories.
Within this, it is ‘flexitarians’ and people wanting to reduce meat consumption a couple of times a week for health reasons, who are behind most of this growth. So, it made sense to create a product to meet those needs.
And then digging a little deeper into vegetarian cuisine, our research revealed that people over-index on rice dishes when looking for a vegetarian meal.
This helped provide a framework for our product series. We also found that when people cook a meat-free meal, they don’t want to compromise.
It needs to be tasty, nutritious and easy/quick to make. So, all of these aspects have underpinned the development of this product and we think that is likely to be why it has been so well received by consumers.
Our motto is simple: ‘meat free, made easy’. It is a great meal solution, offering a range of delicious, meat-free dishes that are ready in under two minutes and are a good source of fibre and protein – just add rice!
What impact has winning a Product of the Year award had on the product?
Our innovation is designed and developed to address consumer insights and tensions – winning this award shows that we are providing meaningful solutions to those tensions.
And of course, as a recognised award, shoppers know that they have the reassurance of buying a product that’s been voted for by 10,000 other people just like them. We’re thrilled to have won!
Are there any particular trends you will be tapping into this year in terms of product innovation?
We have an insight and foresight team, who are constantly tracking and projecting consumer and category trends to optimise and evolve our portfolio.
Some are longer term trends, such as the reduction in time spent on meal preparation – that has more than halved in the past decades, with almost a third of meals now prepared in less than 15 minutes!
The shift towards a more flexitarian diet – as I mentioned earlier – is another.
Others are shorter term, disruptions or micro trends – flavours and cuisines that spike in popularity, or the sudden change in meal patterns driven by people working from home.
All of these create evolving consumer needs and tensions. Our innovation funnel is focused on creating solutions to those tensions that consumers really value.
What are the plans and ambitions for the brand/product in 2023 and beyond?
We have a proud history of developing and evolving the category and our focus is on continuing to do that.
Ben’s Plant Powered is just one part of a wider platform of innovation to help consumers serve up convenient, affordable and tasty everyday meals.
What do you think is going to be the biggest development in your category in the next five years?
Health and nutrition! We see this as a long-term trend that drives innovation with food playing a part in a holistic approach to the nation’s wellbeing.
This all needs to be convenient too, so quick meal solutions will continue to be one of our biggest focus areas.
I also couldn’t get to the end of this interview without mentioning tech. We’ve already seen technology blur and evolve routes to market and disrupt the traditional shopper journey.
I think we’ll see a lot more to come throughout the whole process of mealtime decision-making, sourcing and the preparation process.
How important is innovation in your category in terms of keeping up with changing consumer demands?
Very important – and we are proud of our history in establishing and evolving the category with both product and format innovation.
We introduced ‘parboiled’ rice over 80 years ago, bringing huge time and convenience benefits in the prep involved with rice-based meals.
Since then, we’ve continued to evolve this category, with innovation including boil-in-the-bag rice in the 1980s and microwave rice in the 1990s, and now our Plant Powered range!
Do you have any new products that you can tell us about?
Our Ben’s Original One Pan Creations are our next big thing. In tune with the low-fuss/speedy meal-prep trend, this is another product that drastically cuts down on meal prep time.
Each product within the range provides a meal base to which you just add a protein ingredient such as chicken, tofu and/or your favourite veggies and is best served with rice.
You can make dishes including Spanish Paella and Indian Biryani, and more emerging, on-trend meals such as Szechuan Fried Rice and Indonesian Nasi Goreng… all in 15 minutes or less.
Describe your winning product in three words
Meat-free made easy.