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From pork to plants

Article appeared in issue 3, 2020

Loughnane’s has pivoted from pork to plants with the launch of Veef meat-free products. Managing director, Daire Loughnane tells  about how the range is opening new export markets for the company

Loughnane’s was founded when Sean Loughnane opened a butcher shop in Galway in 1975. The focus moved in 2001 to manufacturing for the foodservice and retail markets, and the company is now one of Ireland’s largest sausage and pudding producers, selling to Irish and international markets. The company has continued to evolve and in February of this year, it launched a meat-free range, Veef.

“Veef is a new range of plant-based meat alternatives produced in Ireland in small batches. It consists of soy-based and pea protein-based products and comes in formats such as burgers, mince, meatless balls and sausages,” Daire explains.

Insights from Bord Bia’s (the Irish Food Board) Thinking House helped to identify the plant-based category as a potential opportunity for the company. “In the last couple of years, we have focused more on consumer trends and what we think might be the next phase of demand. We rely on Bord Bia to steer us through the insights from the Thinking House, we find that invaluable. That definitely informed part of our decision-making process to diversify into the plant-based side.”

The range has also helped the company to tap into new export markets. “Plant-based is very much a global trend and if you take our traditional core range of Irish breakfast sausages and black and white pudding, while they travel and we do export them, the volume is limited, as an Irish sausage and a European sausage are two very different things.”

Whereas in the plant-based world, he says, a vegan beef burger or a sweet potato burger is comparable across European markets. As a result, they have seen interest from Europe and further afield. “We’ve already got some traction in Spain, and interest from the UK and even in the Middle East where our traditional pork product would have had limited or no scope, plant-based products would be quite suitable to that market.”

Loughnane’s is a fully verified member of Origin Green (Ireland's food and drink sustainability programme) and Daire says the programme has helped the company to focus on its energy and water usage, and recycling. “We have done huge work in removing non-recyclable packaging items from our company and reducing our incoming requirement on packaging. It’s been very beneficial. You could also argue that the diversification into the plant-based range is part of our Origin Green plan to offer more meat-free products and have less reliance on meat.”

Looking to the future, Daire says that remaining adaptable is vital. “We are looking at healthier products, more functional ingredients. The plant-based side has a long way to run, and we have a phase two and phase three within that category. Agility is a key word: three years ago, plant-based wasn’t on our agenda, it was products with a lower meat content supplemented with vegetables for the flexitarian. Now, it’s come full circle, and we think Veef is going to be very important within the plant-based category. But something could come from left field that turns out to be in demand, and Irish food companies, such as ourselves, have the ability to adapt to those needs.”