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Business of Food

Derek Sarno to leave Tesco after six years of building plant-based category

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
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Director of Plant-Based Innovation at Tesco, Derek Sarno, is leaving the supermarket giant this month after six years at the company, prompting the next phase of the retailer’s plant-based strategy.

Sarno helped to launch two plant-based brands during his time at the supermarket – Wicked Kitchen in 2017, which he co-founded, and the affordable Tesco Plant Chef brand in 2019.

Wicked Kitchen has seen huge success, introducing its products to more than 6,500 stores in the US since 2021 and securing $20 million in bridge funding last year. It also launched 23 products in the Finnish grocery store s-Market and brought 17 products into Thailand’s largest retailers Tops Market and Central Food Halls.

The Tesco Plant Chef brand has also done well, helping to bring more than 180 meat-free products to the market in the UK.

Sarno also helped Tesco’s in-house team work closely with its supplier partners, Bakkavor and Samworth Brothers, to launch the supermarket’s first plant-based range at scale, as well as work with new manufacturing techniques.

With Sarno as Director, the supermarket says it became the first retailer in the country to introduce plant-based meat alternatives into the meat aisles. It also became the first to commit to increasing sales of plant-based products by 300% by 2025.

Derek Sarno, Tesco’s outgoing Director of Plant-based Innovation said in a statement: “I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve achieved as a team during my time at Tesco. Central to our success has been the partnership between Tesco and our supplier partners – their commitment and innovation has really brought plant-based food to a mass audience – whether you’re a devotee of plant-based food, or trying it for the very first time, it’s great to see so many customers enjoying Wicked Kitchen and Plant Chef products.”

Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s Quality Director added: “Offering delicious, affordable plant-based food is incredibly important to us as we continue to inspire customers to eat more veg, and try alternatives to meat and other proteins.

“Derek has been a central part of our drive to bring plant-based into the mainstream, and it’s no surprise the category at Tesco has gone from strength to strength under his leadership. He’s done a fantastic job and I’d like to thank him for all his hard work. We all wish him well for the future.”

The development and innovation of plant-based food at Tesco will now be in the hands of Product Director Breige Donaghy, who will push for a focus on health and ‘veg-led’ products that make it easier for customers to include more vegetables in their diets.

Some of the vegetable-based products expected to launch this year include ready-to-cook tray bakes and miso edamame burgers, as well as a range of new vegetarian mains and side dishes. The retailer is also trialling the use of fava beans in several product categories as a suitable alternative to other commonly used plant-based proteins like soya and pea protein.

Breige Donaghy said: “Derek has helped us build a compelling customer proposition across our ranges, and we’re incredibly excited about what the next phase of our plant-based journey will bring.

“We know making healthy eating easy and accessible is key to delivering for our customers. As we evolve our offer this year we will expand our ranges of ‘veg-led’ options, introducing some delicious new products which will help customers incorporate more veg into their diets whether they are vegan, vegetarian or simply wanting to reduce the amount of meat they eat.”

Find out more about Derek Sarno and the brand Wicked in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode:

200th Edition – Derek Sarno, co-founder of Wicked Healthy

Browse the Food Matters Live events calendar

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