For regular vegconomist readers, Wicked Kitchen will need no introduction. Born in the UK to immediate success back in 2018, the plant-forward brand created by chef brothers Derek and Chad Sarno last year expanded into the US in the biggest plant-based brand launch in US grocery history, following a huge £14M raise.
Wicked has now launched into Northern Europe, landing firstly in Finland, and announced its entrance into Asia and several other markets as it continues its incredible growth trajectory.
It was time to sit down with CEO Pete Speranza and find out the secret ingredients in Wicked Kitchen’s vegan recipe to success.
Wicked Kitchen is one of the fastest-growing plant-based brands in the world. Why are your products so attractive to consumers and retailers? What are your bestsellers?
The fact that Wicked Kitchen foods are created by chefs and have bold flavors are qualities the marketplace has been waiting for with plant-based foods. With such a large variety of products, retailers and consumers can now have lots of options to finally make it easy to eat plant-based and that’s a huge attraction.
The convenient noodle cups are popular as they are a great pantry item for convenient and fast lunches. Consumers are really liking the frozen meals as they have restaurant-quality flavors, and our pestos are a quick and easy helper for full flavor, plant-based pastas, pizzas, appetizers and more. We know our new ice creams and frozen pizzas will be big hits when they launch in the US as they are really taking off in Europe.
“We know our new ice creams and frozen pizzas will be big hits when they launch in the US”
The brand has just announced plans to expand into Northern Europe and Asia. What do these markets signify for the brand? Will you modify your products for the Asian market?
The expansion to Northern Europe and soon into Asia signifies the burgeoning demand for plant-based products that satisfy vegans and flexitarians alike. We embrace the challenge of showing up across multiple categories at the supermarket to offer products that are flavor forward, developed by actual chefs.
For the Asian market, we will be testing and learning to see which products resonate and then add more over time. There’s a blue ocean of opportunity and we are uniquely positioned.
Wicked Kitchen continues to grow in the US, what have been the biggest landmarks in this expansion?
The strategy of going deep with top US national retailers such as Kroger and Sprouts is a landmark unto itself. We launched the largest variety of plant-based foods at one time last summer with these key partners. We’re seeing strong successes with that strategy and are able to meet the pent-up demand for more variety and really tasty plant-based options.
“we expect to see meat producers convert their farms into mushroom-growing operations”
You champion mushrooms as an ingredient in your products – how do you see fungi playing a part in the plant-based industry moving forward?
I really think mushrooms will push plant-based options to the center of the plate as they provide great texture and absorb flavors well. The varieties and meat-like texture of mushrooms are gaining lots of favor making it easier to substitute meats for plant-based options. Over time, we expect to see meat producers convert their farms into mushroom-growing operations and more chefs and restaurants focusing on mushrooms for the center of the plate.
Wicked Kitchen recently added a vegan lamb to the range. Can you reveal any more innovations in the product pipeline for 2022?
Our plant-based ice creams are true disruptors to the category. We’re using a base made from the lupin bean, a legume prominent Mediterranean cuisines that provides an astonishing richness to plant-based dairy products. Lupin beans are a nutritional powerhouse with nearly double the protein of chickpeas and soy, are high in fiber, and have zero aftertaste. This is a game-changer and Wicked will launch our first-to-market ice creams in the US this spring. They are so dreamy and creamy, no one who tries them will ever miss dairy ice creams again.
What is the holy grail for Wicked Kitchen – what would you most like to achieve?
We want to change the world for the better using plants as a food source as the catalyst. We will provide great-tasting, chef-created foods that appeal to the masses while improving the lives of animals and humans and helping improve the environment. That is what we are doing and will continue to do at a bigger and bigger scale year over year.
“We want to change the world for the better using plants as a food source as the catalyst.”
We see the environmental piece becoming bigger and bigger. Health and wellness are top reasons for eating plant-based but caring for the environment will become a key motivator. Plant-based eating can save the world from an environmental impact standpoint so we will see more ways to measure this going forward.
Wicked products are now in the top key retailers in US, UK and Finland. Will you maintain the same top-level strategy for all new countries that Wicked products will go into?
With our breadth of products and thought leadership, we are looking for key like-minded retailer partners in countries that see the same potential of the plant-based space and want to be market leaders.
What are your expansion plans for the UK outside of Tesco?
We are looking to add complementary channel partners to give our UK consumers more access to Wicked and meet them where they need us to be.
What is the key differentiator that sets Wicked Kitchen apart in the marketplace?
Chef-driven culinary variety that focuses on amazing tasting food that happens to be made only from plants. We don’t want anyone overthinking their choice to get more plants into their diet.
How do you appeal to vegans, flexitarians and meat-eaters alike?
We are not considered just as an alternative product but also simply great tasting food. Since we are a category agnostic culinary brand, we can win the hearts and minds of a wide range of consumers.
What products are you excited to add to your variety of offerings this year?
Ice creams, pizzas, desserts, savory snacking, and fun seasonal items like our heart-shaped cupcakes for Valentine’s Day.
As a mission-driven company, what is Wicked doing this year to help spread the word about the benefits of a plant-based diet?
We are eagerly educating a global audience on all the major benefits of turning to a plant-based diet. We are also leveraging our popular social channels and other like-minded organizations to continue to magnify the mission. We have leading global partnerships with Veganuary, International Vegan Film Festival and Support +Feed. These are some of the influential platforms for Wicked and others to tell the amazing story.
What are your thoughts on the plant-based category as a whole and what are the biggest opportunities? Hurdles?
Still, the number one opportunity is to continue to bring great-tasting variety that allows the mainstream audience to get over the old ways on taste/flavor. And it’s also about providing easy options for every day meals and making sure there are automatic options or swaps to go to.
You are planning to grow at a rate of 300% YoY. What will fuel that growth?
We have a bullish global growth strategy that includes new customers and channels in the US, Europe and Asia. We also have seen strong interest in Wicked’s culinary variety and have global tailwinds as the world transitions to a plant-based diet. We are early days in the US but have only scratched the surface.