Alpro has invested GBP28.5m in its Burton Latimer site near Kettering

Alpro has invested GBP28.5m in its Burton Latimer site near Kettering

Taste will be key to setting Europe-based daily alternative business Alpro apart from the growing number of competitors in the UK, the WhiteWave Foods-owned firm has told just-food.

Commercial director Sue Garfitt said the company's sales were rising over 25% a year in the UK, a performance she said is"no mean feat in a food and drink sector that is at the moment largely deflationary".

Speaking at Alpro's plant in the UK town of Burton Latimer, where the business has spent GBP28.5m on expansion, Garfitt agreed the category was becoming more competitive amid rising interest from consumers concerned about the health and environmental impact of animal protein She insisted Alpro's products stood out because of the company's overriding focus on "taste".

"We wont bring our product to the consumer unless it is rigorously tested - and by that I mean consumer tested. Taste is a fundamental factor. If we don't believe the product tastes good enough we wont bring it to market. It's all very well saying I want to eat something healthy but the reality is consumers won't sustain that eating habit. We all have great intentions to start with but then we fall by the wayside fairly fast. It has to taste as good as eating dairy."

Innovation and investment she added, were of "vital importance" when it comes to withstanding competition. In 2012 the company launched an almond-based drink and a year later rolled out a coconut-based milk. These product extensions have attracted more people to the category, she told just-food.

"Those products aren't associated with being lactose intolerant whereas soy is much more associated with having a functional need for not having dairy. The driver for trying almond and coconut is more on taste and lifestyle than it is about being allergic or not being able to consume dairy."

Alpro brand has also just introduced Almond and Coconut variants of its plain yoghurt in the UK. "That's a really big opportunity for us in the UK," she added.

Looking at the broader UK food sector, Garfitt said the company was "bucking the trend" being seen by much of the food and drink industry.

"To be honest, our business continues to grow, even in an economy that is quite difficult in the food and drink space in  the UK, the business is continuing to grow - it's almost despite that trend."

Diet, and a growing awareness of the benefits of plant-based protein in the UK was leading to that growth she added. "At the moment we have one in five households are buying into the category and as that is continuing to grow. Consumers are more and more concerned about their health, what they are eating and their overall diet. If they can make small changes to their diet, not wholesale changes but small changes like adding some more plant-based to their diet, then it's a relatively easy thing to do and so in a sense the growth is kind of snowballing."

The latest investment at the Burton Latimer site has included a new building and two new filling lines. It has resulted in 35 new jobs at the plant.