Spotlight on Product of the Year winner THIS

Andy Shovel, co-Founder of plant-based food brand, THIS, took some time out of his busy day to talk to us about the rise of him and his friend’s meat-alternative brand and how it is disrupting the category – for all the right reasons. 

A 2022 Product of the Year winner, THIS is a confident, ambitious brand with innovation  central to its success.

As we all start moving towards more meat-free options, we wanted to know all about THIS…

Andy Shovel, co-Founder, THIS.

Why did you set up the business and what makes you different?

My co-founder Pete and I had an unusual journey to setting up the business. 

We were running a meat-based business back in 2012 which we sold in 2016. 

With consciousness around meat consumption rising and having personally given up eating meat – we were interested to see how we could get into the meat-free space. 

So we did our research, tried everything on the market in the UK and were, to be honest, disappointed. 

We felt that the well-known ‘legacy’ brands were pretty much geared to an existing vegetarian audience – but there was nothing on the market that was relatable to inquisitive meat eaters. 

So we went to the States to see what they had to offer and were impressed with products such as Pure Meat and returned invigorated, excited by the possibilities and with a very real feeling that we could do an even better job at creating a broad portfolio of meat alternatives. 

We also felt that from a brand perspective we could make a real dent in the UK market with a plant-based brand that spoke to meat lovers. 

And the timing was great (before the category became too over-crowded) which meant we could acquire a good share of shelf space before the over-proliferation kicked in.

THIS is an unusual name – spill the beans…

We wanted something different, emphatic. A name with impact that would help us land the brand with some noise. 

We were brainstorming thousands of names and when ‘This’ was mentioned I knew instantly it was the one. 

I wanted something abstract and ‘weird’ and it makes me happy that people get confused – a positive confusion! It can also be a conversation starter ‘We’re having THIS for dinner’ ‘What?’ ‘THIS!’ etc etc.

I love to think of our customers having surreal conversations in their kitchens!

Who is buying your products?

More than 50% of our customers are meat eaters and our products and marketing is geared to driving penetration and new customer acquisition from the meat-eating community. 

This is where our current and future growth sits. And while we hugely appreciate our vegetarian and vegan customers – who were our early adopters – it is gratifying to know that we are helping the UK consumer to reduce their meat intake. 

A bona fide meat-alternative with the taste, texture and smell of meat that people love.

Meat free: THIS is serving the growth market for meat alternatives.

Are there any existing or emerging trends that you will be tapping into?

There are some great plant-based products on the market but very few, good ‘ready to go’ meals for the time-poor. 

It’s why we’ve just launched ready meals into Tesco – and why we’re interested to expand further into that area.

Tell us about your ambitions for THIS in 2023 and beyond

We are looking at internationalising the business and we’re eyeing up one, possibly two European territories to go to first – which is really exciting. 

And we’ve got a lot of new product development under way. We will be leaning quite hard into frozen – there’s so much potential but it feels almost ‘forgotten’. 

New ideas: THIS is bringing new alternatives to market.

You’ve got Linda McCartney, Quorn etc but little else. Change has been slow in plant-based frozen and there is a real opportunity for us to be the leading challenger brand. 

To give people more choice – as they have with chilled which is particularly dynamic. We’ve also got plans to build an innovation centre where our 26 scientists will be based. 

A purpose-built ‘forever home’ in West London. Exciting, positive times ahead.

What is going to be the biggest development in your category in the next 5 years?

We see a huge opportunity in whole cuts. Steaks, chicken breasts etc. There’ll be more of these kind of meatalternatives hitting the shelves.

What are the benefits of being a Product of the Year winner?

The big challenge we have is that meat eaters often have pre-conceptions and scepticism around plant-based meat alternatives. 

Being a Product of the Year winner gives us credibility and it helps to allay concerns for certain consumers. 

Product of the Year is a well-known highly credible award – and it really helps us build trust and show that our product is mainstream and has been endorsed by consumers. 

It’s great for our products to be recognised and celebrated – an all-round positive endorsement.