Nestlé launches vegan tuna alternative after record plant-based 'meat' sales

Nestle has launched its first plant-based seafood alternative, a tuna substitute called Vuna, after its sales of plant-based meat alternatives surpassed £166m last year.

Vuna will launch in Switzerland this month before Nestle plots roll-outs in other national markets. Image: Nestle

Vuna will launch in Switzerland this month before Nestle plots roll-outs in other national markets. Image: Nestle

The main ingredient for Vuna is pea protein, commonly used to make low-calorie sweets and vegan protein shakes. Nestle claims that it has the same flaky texture and flavour profile as tuna, as well as a similar nutritional profile to tinned tuna in brine.

From a nutritional standpoint, pea protein is known for being low-calorie, suitable for vegans and rich in amino acids. It is also touted as one of the most sustainable plant proteins, as farming peas require comparatively little land and water and, unlike soy, can be grown in colder climates. For both of these reasons, pea protein has become increasingly popular, with 11% of plant-based alternative products launched onto the UK market since 2019 containing the ingredient.

Nestle said in a statement that the development of Vuna took more than nine months, involving research teams across Switzerland, Germany and the US. The company’s predominant motivations for creating the product were the ongoing shift towards vegan, vegetarian and other plant-based diets, and the need to tackle overfishing and support ocean biodiversity. On the former, a record 500,000 people signed up for Veganuary this year and, on the latter, WWF estimates that 13% of the world’s tuna stocks are overfished.

As of next week, Vuna will be rolled out across Nestle’s Garden Gourmet brand in Switzerland. The firm will offer a chilled product in a glass jar and ready-made sandwiches. Should the launch prove successful, Vuna will be launched in other global markets later this year.

Nestle launched its most famous plant-based meat alternative, the Garden Gourmet Burger, made using soy and wheat, in Europe in early 2019. A US roll-out then followed under its Sweet Earth brand. During 2019, Nestle clocked £166m of sales of plant-based meat alternatives.

A watershed moment

Nestle was recently recognised by investor coalition FAIRR as one of the food and drink giants leading the transition to plant-based diets, with the organisation’s new online benchmark ranking it highly in terms of R&D spend and existing offerings.

FAIRR also identified Nestle as one of a select few corporates to have instated a dedicated plant-based food team, alongside the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer, Kroger, Coles and Unilever. Unilever is notably working with WWF to encourage the uptake of what it calls the ‘Future 50 Foods’ – plant-based foods which purport to have a low environmental impact – and is transitioning to increase the use of these foods in its own products.

Despite the fact that some major firms (including Costco and Kraft Heinz) are lagging in their efforts to harness and further the plant-based food transition, FAIRR, led by Coller Capital, is ultimately predicting a global boom for the alternative proteins market. Aside from ongoing concerns around animal welfare, climate impact and nutrition, the coalition sees the Covid-19 pandemic as a key motivator for many consumers. Previous analysis from FAIRR concluded that 44 of the world’s largest meat, fish and dairy companies are considered “high-risk” in regards to pandemic vulnerabilities.

Sarah George



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