Plant-based lunchtime sidekick, Squeaky Bean, has been announced as Plant-Based Food Manufacturer of the Year at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards 2021, under its parent company Winterbotham Darby.
The win charts a huge journey for Squeaky Bean in developing a range of Ready To Eat (RTE) plant-based chicken pieces in just 13 months. The project started as an idea that was developed on-site in a small pilot plant to trial ingredients, processes and flavours.
Consumer research showed a genuine demand for a plant-based chicken alternative with a great taste and realistic texture, and so the business invested in developing what would become Squeaky Bean’s Ready to Eat Chicken Style Pieces – which are now available in flavours including Kick of Tikka, Sweet Smokey BBQ, Hot & Spicy and Garlic & Herb. This allowed the team to upscale production, ultimately creating a bespoke plant-based factory to manufacture the product in the UK – following a multi-million-pound refit at their Bicester based facility.
With initial orders for the chicken style pieces secured with major retailers including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda, production continued while the new site was being built. Despite the UK going into lockdown in the spring of 2020, all project streams continued, including the logistics to ensure operatives could get to the site, as well as commercial sells-in to retailers and the creation of branded marketing to promote the range. The project resulted in a deadline-compliant transfer of operations to a new multi-million state-of-the-art and 100% plant-based factory, with an effort which has spanned NPD, technical, operations, logistics, supply chain, marketing and commercial.
Tom Faulkner, head of Plant-Based at Winterbotham Darby, commented: “This is truly a fantastic team achievement, of which I am incredibly proud. The project team undertook an enormous challenge and were set a tough deadline to deliver. Once again, our passionate, committed, innovative and enthusiastic team achieved all that we set out to do – with positive feedback from customers and consumers alike for the finished product. To win this award further endorses all that hard work and to be recognised independently is a fantastic boost for the team.
“The innovation from the Squeaky Bean team continues and we’re really excited for our upcoming launches this Spring and Summer that will again deliver craveable food for consumers looking to escape plant-based norms.”
The Food Manufacture Excellence Awards highlight category leaders and trendsetters for their benefit and the benefit of their customers. Across 13 categories, entries must demonstrate significant achievement in their category in at least three of the following areas: customer relationship building, quality assurance, environment and efficiency, skills development, and training and business development.
Judges who selected Winterbotham Darby as the category winner commented that Squeaky Bean’s achievements are a great example of a company switching to a new product category in response to consumer demands. They said the company has demonstrated a clear commitment to innovation, building customer relationships and producing a quality product, with an impressive pace of roll-out from a standing start and a good example of NPD bringing vegan chicken alternatives to mainstream markets.