Nestlé is pulling the Garden Gourmet meat-free and Wunda alt-dairy brands from retail in the UK and Ireland to focus on its “core” portfolio.

Mezeast, a Middle Eastern brand of seasoning mixes, sauces, spreads and pastes, is another line being discontinued by the Swiss food giant in those countries.

All three brands were launched in 2021, with Garden Gourmet made up of animal-free burgers, mince and sausage, while Wunda is a pea-based milk alternative.

“As part of our strategy to address the growing demand for emerging cuisines and plant-based diets, we launched Mezeast, Wunda and Garden Gourmet,” Nestlé said in a statement provided to Just Food. “However, the learnings over the last 20 months confirmed that the scaling of new brands in retail requires significant and sustained investment.”

“We have therefore taken the decision to remove Wunda, Garden Gourmet and Mezeast from retail as we believe it is right at this time to focus our investment and resources on our strong core portfolio, rather than the significant investment required in new brands.”

Last February, CEO Mark Schneider described plant-based as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalise and re-energise our food business” as he confirmed category sales in the 2021 financial year amounted to CHF800m (US$861.9m today), representing organic growth of 16.8%.

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Potential M&A?

Despite the withdrawal of the three products, the company suggested it remains committed to the category either through internal innovation or M&A.

“We believe that a more plant-based diet is the future and one of our strategic priorities is to expand our vegetarian and flexitarian choices. We are assessing alternative ways in order to address these strategic priorities, either organically through our established portfolio of brands or via acquisitions,” Nestlé added.

Pressed on whether Nestlé has any potential targets in its sights, a spokesperson told Just Food the company was “unable to comment on this at this stage”.

Category growth in the US has been slowing of late, although over in Europe, Heura Foods in Spain has seen a surge in revenues, co-founder and CEO Marc Coloma told Just Food in a recent interview.

The US is still growing, however, albeit at a slower pace than industry expectations had previously envisaged. Nevertheless, the category has seen a lot of new entrants globally in recent years, leading to speculation the market is saturated with plant-based alternatives when consumer repeat rates are a challenge.

“Crowded” UK market

Questioned on the rationale behind pulling the Garden Gourmet and Wunda products from the retail market, the Nestlé spokesperson replied: “The UK plant-based market is very crowded and competitive and the last two years have been particularly challenging.

“Launching a new brand is always a complex process, balancing risks with opportunities. Despite the investment we’ve put behind those new brands, we have learnt that establishing and scaling of new brands would require more investment over a longer period of time than originally anticipated.”

The withdrawal of Garden Gourmet only applies to retail in the UK and Ireland, the spokesperson said when asked to clarify the markets in which the brand is available, adding: “Garden Gourmet is a well-established brand in other countries”.

It will still be available in foodservice in the UK and Ireland.

Just Food asked Nestlé to expand on its future plans for the plant-based category, with the company noting other product areas where it has a presence such as alternatives to its KitKat confectionery snack and a vegan alternative to its Carnation milk brand.

“We believe that a more plant-based diet is the future and one of our strategic priorities is to expand our vegetarian and flexitarian choices as more and more people adapt their diet to include plant-based alternatives. In the UK&I retail, we are assessing alternative ways in the plant-based market,” the spokesperson said.

“We also have other brands already offering plant-based products, such as Carnation Vegan, Nescafé Gold Plant-based lattes, KitKat V in the UK and Ireland. Mindful Chef and Simply Cook both offer vegan and plant-based options, and we see opportunities to invest in and leverage these brands and their unique and differentiated offerings over the next few years.”

Nestlé did not confirm where the Wunda and Mezeast brands would still be marketed, reiterating the withdrawal only applies to the UK and Ireland. Nestlé initially launched Wunda in France, the Netherlands and Portugal. Mezeast was also launched in the Netherlands.