Blog: Andy CoyneVegan tourist tales

Andy Coyne | 15 January 2018

Trying to be a bit healthier in the New Year, I found myself visiting a branch of one of the UK's larger supermarkets eyeing some of the new products I have been writing about.

Given my aim of cutting down on my meat intake and choosing lower-calorie options, I thought it worth giving some of them a 'road test'.

Soon my basket was full and my wallet significantly lighter.

I decided to sample Halo Top low-calorie ice cream, Quorn Foods' meat-alternative sandwich slices and two of Tesco's new vegan meal range (not all in one sitting, I hasten to add).

Now it's the New Year and an obvious time to launch healthier products into the market but even with that caveat in mind there seem to be an awful lot of new products aimed at flexitarian/vegan tourist consumers in the UK at the moment.

And also a plethora of lower-calorie options.

One of which is the aforementioned Halo Top, an ice cream which, it is fair to say, has taken the US by storm. It has just made its debut in the UK via Tesco.

It comes in 32 flavours in the US but has launched in the UK with seven.

I chose vanilla bean, my thinking being it is best to judge Halo Top on a core ice cream flavour, and had high expectations of a product being praised for its taste but which contains just 280 calories per 473ml tub (in the case of vanilla bean).

The first thing that struck me was the price. GBP5.00 (US$6.89) for a four-serving pot seems a bit fierce to me but, as a colleague later reminded me, healthier options often carry a premium.

Taste-wise I must say I was somewhat disappointed. The product seemed to me to have a distinctive, and off-putting, after-taste and lacked the richness of top quality ice cream.

The product contains only 5.8g of sugar per serving and contains no artificial sweeteners but it does contain the organic sweetener stevia. Is this the after-taste culprit?

Ice cream addicts who need a lower calorie alternative would perhaps see Halo Top as a decent option, whereas those who like ice cream but eat it on rare occasions - like me - would perhaps still plump for a fuller-flavoured product, albeit one that can't compete on the healthy eating stakes.

I suppose it comes down to how important it is for healthy eaters to carry on eating something that can be described as ice cream.

Not for me.

From Tesco's newly-launched vegan ready-meal range Wicked Kitchen I chose the Gunpowder Potato Chana Masala and Nana's Mushroom Bolognese.

Again, at GBP4 each I thought these were pricey products. Surely there is no obvious reason why a mushroom bolognese should be more expensive than a meat one?

But, accepting these are being marketed as premium products, I pressed on with the sampling.

I had the curry while my partner sampled Nana's finest, which she thought was “quite nice”. Damned by faint praise if ever I heard it.

The 'Gunpowder' masala was perfectly nice but ultimately was a vegetable curry with a fancy name.

While I understand the convenience of ready-meals there can be few things simpler than making a vegetable curry but, putting my prejudices aside, I would accept this could satisfy both curry and vegan cravings for those who are extremely time poor.

Would I buy it again? Probably not.

What I would buy again, though, are Quorn vegan slices.

At a good value GBP2.50 per pack, they are an easy way for sandwich-takers to cut down on their meat intake. I chose the peppered 'beef' variety and, by the time I'd added mustard and stuck the slices between two slices of thick bread they made a perfectly acceptable 'sarnie'.

I shall be back for the 'ham' and 'chicken' varieties.

All in all then my dalliance with vegan and healthier prepared foods was less than wholly successful.

There's an element of the king's new clothes about some of these launches, in my opinion, when there are already perfectly good vegan, vegetarian and healthier-for-you options available on the supermarket chilled shelves and in the frozen food areas.

My vegan tourism days aren't over but I may avoid new products in favour of the tried and tested for a while.

Well, until the next new thing comes along anyway.


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