What is vegan charcuterie and should you sell it?

09 February 2024, 07:00 AM
  • You might have vegan cheese sussed, but could plant-based charcuterie and deli products be a winner in your shop?
What is vegan charcuterie and should you sell it?

For a majority of fine food shops, the deli counter is a place of oozy cheeses and handmade, meat-filled pies, rolls and parcels.

With evolving expectations around plant-based products, your vegan or flexitarian customers may be on the hunt for cheese and meat-like products that taste fantastic without the use of animal products. Could now be the time to stock up your deli with a few plant-based options?

Emma Bowe, who is behind Shocken Foods, a plant-based meat brand with a range of award-winning products that include charcuterie meats, insists it is. “It’s crucial for fine food retailers to embrace a diverse range of vegan deli products to meet shifting consumer preferences,” she says. 

But what about the well-documented dip in the plant-based boom? “In 2023, we saw a temporary slowdown in the plant-based category as a result of inflation and the cost-of-living crisis,” Emma says. However, she adds, demand for plant-based products is still poised for growth.

“There has been a huge drop in dairy and meat consumption, but this drop in volumes is masked by the rising prices; the revenue stats alone can be deceiving.”

Indeed, providing vegan deli options aligns with the many threads of conscious-consumer personas: health-conscious, ethically minded and environmentally aware. “This inclusivity not only expands the retailer’s customer base but also demonstrates a commitment to culinary innovation and market trends, ensuring the retailer stays competitive in an evolving food industry,” Emma says.

The vegan charcuterie opportunity

Vegan cheeses have gained momentum, even in the fine food space, but one area still going under the radar in plant-based products is vegan charcuterie. 

Despite some recent consolidation in the industry, there is still an array of vegan meat products on the market, which are constantly evolving in texture and taste. With so many options to choose from, where’s a retailer to start?

As with any product on a fine food retailer’s shelf, quality matters. For Shocken Foods, maintaining quality is a priority. “It is difficult to get vegan charcuterie right, but the retailers seeking out top-quality vegan brands, will be rewarded with loyal shoppers who fall in love with plant-based products long term,” Emma says.

As well as tasting great, products need to look good on the shelf to grab customers’ attention. “Prioritise stocking quality producers that also have stylish packaging and transparent labelling,” Emma advises. 

“Charcuterie is an experience. Taste and texture matter, but packaging is important too. If the brand is gourmet, the packaging should mirror that, and have clear messaging. This makes it an easy purchasing decision for your customer,” she continues.

What’s on the ingredients label matters too. Fake meat products aren’t favoured by all vegans, with many experts citing a growing interest in plant-based products that go back to basics and a wariness of highly processed food. Third Culture, a plant-based deli in East London, aims to create and sell plant-based products that are healthy and exciting. As well as selling products like Zalmon, a vegan smoked salmon alternative made of marinated carrots, the team create their own plant-based cold cuts, like pastrami and bacon, made from simple ingredients. “People are usually really impressed by the look of it and by the flavour, so there’s definitely a big demand for these products,” says Nivi Jasa, founder of Third Culture Deli and I Am Nut Ok plant-based cheese.

How to stock a vegan deli and sell vegan charcuterie

As with many vegan products, the key to selling is showing curious customers the quality of the product through tastings, as well as catching their eye through visually appealing displays. If you’re selling products at or by the counter, ensure staff are trained to have a good knowledge of the product – you might get questions on the product’s environmental credentials, its ingredients and whether it is free from allergens like gluten and nuts.

This, Emma says, “is an incredibly powerful way to get people hooked”.

You may be tempted to shelve all your vegan products in a plant-based section, and while that can simplify the experience for vegan shoppers, Emma says, “a strong case has been made for mixing vegan products within the regular meat offering. Increasingly, retailers find it more effective in getting meat eaters to try something new,” she says.

At the end of the day, it comes down to have great-tasting products. Third Culture brings back its hit foie gras every Christmas. Made from porcini and shitake mushrooms as well as cashews, it was one of the three original products launched by I Am Nut Ok. Having caught the eye of Fortnum & Mason just six months after Nivi and co-founder Angela Chou began trading from home, it is no surprise that it remains popular in the shop. “It’s one of the products that’s always performing really well,” Nivi says, adding that it regularly sells out. 

How to create a vegan charcuterie board

Just as charcuterie boards can tempt customers with a beautiful display of artisan meats, a vegan charcuterie board can do the same for plant-based products.

“They say variety is the spice of life, and it’s no different on your charcuterie board,” Emma says. Choose a variety of products and condiments to make the board an exciting dining experience. Emma’s perfect plant-based charcuterie board consists of vegan Beef Bresaola, Herbed Porquetta and Smokey Choreezo products from Shocken, as well as fruit, nuts, chutney and some greens for balance. “Think dried figs, fresh grapes, walnuts, some rocket leaves and a seasonal chutney, like tomato and chilli or the classic red onion jam.

“You’re creating a gourmet feast of nibbles,” she adds, “so go as wild as you want. It’s no different to creating a meat-based charcuterie board

“Here’s a pro tip,” she adds, “some castelfranco lettuce will really wow your guests – it’s a bright yellow leaf lettuce with pink polka dots. Don’t forget crackers and crusty sourdough bread to make a meal of it!”

Is vegan charcuterie right for your shop? If your customers are up for trying something new and favour products with a sustainable edge, it could be just the opportunity for you.

Images courtesy of Shocken Foods

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