It's been a busy year for Pieminister, developing new vegan pies, setting out nine new sustainability goals for the business as well as relaunching its packaging. But how has it achieved it all?
Pieminister may have only started its journey into making delicious vegan pies a couple of years ago, but it has taken the task to its heart and is making fantastic progress in developing new vegan products. Importantly, it has also just set out nine new sustainability goals for the business. We caught up with Pieminister’s Romany Simon to find out more…
What made you decide to launch your first vegan pie – Kevin?
Kevin was created because as more and more of us at Pieminister HQ seemed to be eating an increasingly plant-based diet ourselves, it figured that our customers were doing the same.
We’d already proved to ourselves that we could make a really good plant-based pastry (we use Identity Preserved Palm Oil, which we source from a single Rainforest Alliance Certified grower because this type of palm oil is significantly more sustainable than butter).
So we just had to set about creating a filling that would have the same richness and depth of flavour that people expect from a Pieminister pie.
Did developing a vegan pie involve many changes to your traditional production process and did you involve a different chef or team, or use your existing one?
The process was exactly the same as with all our other pies, starting with my brother Tristan (co-founder with my husband) who’s been ‘chief pie maker’ here since the very start.
As with any new pie development here, Tristan and his team tested lots of different recipes on us internally as well as enlisting the help of our VIPies (loyal pie fans) who were invited to try new recipes to tell us what they thought.
Not only do the pies have to taste fantastic, every ingredient is scrutinised in terms of provenance.
You have a few different vegan pies now – what’s your process for developing new flavours?
We’ve tried to use different ingredient types to suit different tastes.
So, for example, Kevin is a rich and tomatoey vegetable pie with nothing added as a meat alternative. Mock-a-doodle is meant to be a plant-based version of a chicken pie and so is made with Tofurky, a deforestation-free chicken-like soy product. The smoked garlic, kale and white wine gives the pie a really full flavour.
Then there’s the Mooless Moo, created to be as similar to a steak and ale pie as possible, using sustainably sourced jackfruit cooked in a rich gravy made with a vegan stout from Cornwall.
We’re really hoping this pie will encourage even the most committed carnivores to give plant-based eating a try as it’s so similar to a steak pie but far more sustainable.
When it came to marketing your first vegan pie, what was your strategy?
It was the same as with all our other pies really; we started by involving our VIPies first, getting their opinion on recipes so that by the time the pie was ready to launch, they were really looking forward to trying it!
We’re also really lucky that we have our own restaurants which we can use as a test bed for new products, to see first-hand what people think of it before we offer it more widely through our wholesale channels.
Kevin did really well right from the start – and won its first award PETA’s Pie of the Year right after launch – so we knew it was going to be a ‘stayer’! And then there’s the name of course – Kevin as in Kevin Keegan, vegan. Our customers loved this, so that helped.
When and why did you decide to apply for the Vegan Society Trademark?
We know how crucial it is that customers are really able to trust the claims that food producers make, so it was absolutely essential that we applied for the most widely known ‘trustmark’ for vegan products.
We asked a couple of stockists of ours which accreditation they and their customers recognised as the best and as we thought, they recommended the Vegan Society Trademark.
How long did the process take and how did you find it?
The process of getting new products approved has been straightforward and was relatively quick, but reassuringly thorough – and educational (while it didn’t apply to us, we had no idea until applying for the Trademark that some coconut oil is not vegan – this sort of insight has been really useful as we’ve focused more and more on the sustainable credentials of our products).
What benefits have you found having the trademark has given you?
As well as being able to display the mark on our plant-based products, it’s been great to take advantage of opportunities to showcase new products in the Vegan Society’s Vegan magazine.
"We're so happy to have had Pieminister's products registered with the Vegan Trademark for the last three years. Watching them grow and include vegan options along the way shows how engaged they are to offer delicious pies to everyone, and we love how organised the team have been over the years. "
Ericka Durgahee, Business Development Marketing Manager at the Vegan Society
You’ve recently changed your packaging to reduce the use of single-use plastic – how challenging has that process been for a smaller business?
It’s been a really interesting process, changing our packaging twice in as many years!
In 2019, we went plastic-free, replacing our pie box windows with a wood-pulp film.
However, it soon became apparent to us that this biodegradable alternative needed very specific conditions to compost properly.
So we went back to the drawing board and removed the pie window altogether. Our new boxes are now 100% recyclable card, printed with vegetable inks. Not only does this make them super-simple to recycle, it also means we’ve eliminated over 3 million pieces of film from the system each year.
Obviously we don’t want to waste any of the old packaging with windows, so we’re rolling our new windowless boxes out as the old ones run out.
It has been difficult as a smaller business, but we know this was the right thing for us to do if we want to be a truly sustainable business.
You’ve set yourself nine pretty impressive business goals to achieve by the end of 2025 – can you tell us a bit more about them and how you plan to achieve them?
We’re definitely punching above our weight in terms of how ambitious our goals are for the size of our business but we’re absolutely determined to be as sustainable as is necessary to tackle climate change.
We hope that other smaller food businesses will see that it is possible to make huge, positive changes for the sake of both planet and people, while still being profitable and not compromising on quality and taste.
For us the key thing is making sure that everyone at Pieminister is excited to play their part in hitting these goals and is excited to be able to be part of positive change in their working lives.
And it’s the same with our customers – we asked them what matters most to them in terms of sustainability when we were drawing up our goals and we know they’re with us; they want to live sustainably so it’s up to us to make that as easy and delicious as possible for them.
Growing our plant-based range is integral to our sustainability goals too – as is only using deforestation-free ingredients – and we’re really looking forward to bringing our customers along with us as more and more of our products become plant-based.
There are so many good reasons to do this, not least because we aim to be 100% carbon neutral by 2023. Our ambitious nine goals are our way to do this.
What plans do you have for future flavours of vegan Pieminister?
We have an amazing pie called Evergreen coming soon – this was originally planned to launch in the Spring of 2020, spearheading a campaign to plant a forest in England through sales of our vegan range.
Covid meant that the pie and campaign launch were put on hold for a year, so we’re really excited to get this started in Spring 2021, not least because the pie won 3 gold stars in the recent Great Taste Awards (the highest accolade in the food world!).
We also have two fantastic vegan patties (small, snack-sized pastries to eat hot or cold) and I think there’ll be more of these coming soon.
There are some other exciting new vegan pies planned for 2021, though the details are shrouded in secrecy, so watch this space!
Do you run a vegan business or know someone who does? Find out more about how to register your products with the Vegan Trademark