To Oumph! or not to Oumph! - that is the question. And, so it was down at the UK launch event convened at Whole Food Market’s flagship store in Kensington High Street, London. Already a big success in Scandinavia, award-winning Oumph! is from the plant kingdom and hopes to make a splash on the British market.
A product that looks like meat, tastes like meat but is made of plant extract, which has gained significant traction in the Scandinavian and Nordic markets, was unfurled to an audience of food aficionados and bloggers in west London.
The Swedish company behind it has created a whole range of products. From The Chunk, an unseasoned version to Pulled Oumph!, Kebab and Thyme and Garlic, to be sold across the Whole Foods’ chain. This includes seven stores in the London area plus outlets across the UK including in the Midlands and Scotland.
The move into the UK was touted is as a “logical move” by Anna-Kajsa Lidell, co-founder & Head of Progress Strategy at Food for Progress, which encompasses the Oumph! brands, who was on hand at the launch event.
The Swede told me in terms of the logic of distributing Oumph! through Whole Foods said: “We are starting with Whole Foods because it is a high profile company and actor that we believe in from a sustainable perspective. And, from then we hope to expand out.”
To be honest I didn’t know what to expect, but in tow with my two Icelandic friends and ‘foodies’ from Reykjavik - Alda and Sigrun - we turned up at the well attended gathering.
For many in the UK, Oumph! may not be a food product that they would readily associate with, although the phase ‘giving it a bit of oumph’ is on the lexicon of most Brits. And, surely with Brexit negotiations going on we need it.
The Swedish chef who was part of the team during the branding process had the word tattooed on his hand. And the company decided that it had the uniqueness needed for the product. It fully reflected the sense and ambitions of what the Swedish company in the south west of the country are trying to achieve. They have also come this far without recourse to risk capital.
In essence it’s all part of a wider concept within Food for Progress and a tool for igniting positive change in the way they create, prepare and enjoy good food on a global scale.
Oumph! is a mouth-watering food that has it had it all - coming seasoned or pure. Made from soya beans it is easy to cook and good for the environment. Fact-wise it is also resource efficient, rich in protein and fibre, as well as source of iron and folic acid. In its home market it has led to an increased flow of new consumers to the Swedish plant-based food sector - both in the retail and food service sectors.
On top of that and according to the Oumph! literature “the climate impact is so low that you and everyone else on this planet can eat it every day.” And, clearly to them it’s epic. To me the soy protein felt familiar.
The product, which comes in a number of varieties, has been nothing short of a sensation since it was first launched in Sweden in early 2015. Subsequently it was distributed across Scandinavia and the Nordic region - first in Norway. Today it is sold too in Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Consumers here know a good thing when they see it.
In Sweden the product is “15% more expensive” than quorn but still consumers are buying Oumph! according to Anna-Kajsa Lidell.
The effect on the category growth in the retail space in Sweden has been pretty stellar, witnessing a 24% increase over the past year. And, the totally plant-based alternative Oumph! was voted the ‘Food Product of The Year’ by the Swedish Grocers Federation in 2016. And, the numbers speak for themselves.
But don’t take my word for it. Over in Norway there has been a +22% impact on growth. Vegard Kjuus, CEO of Meny AS Norway, Norway’s largest supermarket, commenting recently said: “Oumph! sold four times as much as Pizza Grandiosa during the first week it was available at MENY Ringnes Park in Oslo. This is one of the most successful launches we have ever made.”
Closer to home for the company based in south-western Sweden, which also produces ice cream, Christoffer Bergfors, Vice President, Max Hamburgers Sweden, the country’s second largest hamburger chain remarked: “The launch of the Green-family is the most successful launch we ever did, both in terms of new guests, increase in sales and the positive effect on our brand.”
Annette Linderoth at Sweden’s largest fast casual and sportsbar, O’Learys Trademark Sweden, echoed those sentiments. She said: “We have had a fantastic response from both vegetarians and those who eat meat. , we have never had this much positive feedback on a product launch before.”
Sampling Oumph! on the evening one could delve into the sumptuous pulled Oumph!, the range’s biggest seller in Sweden, served on bread or in a wrap.
The Pure Oumph! is unseasoned and comes in three versions or editions. Of these The Chunk, irregular filets varying in size, is now launched in the UK. There are also thick strips simply called ‘The Strip’ and 40g filets called, well what else, ‘The Filet’.
Specifically, four Oumph! products, which are designed to create cravings for a wide audience, including families, foodies, chefs and fast food loving vegans, are part of the initial UK launch. These are Pulled Oumph!, Thyme & Garlic, Kebab Spiced together with The Chunk. One could say it is epic veggie eating for free-range humans.
Coming in 280g packets, they are easy to cook - whether you boil, sauté, grill, deep fry or heat them over an open fire. In fact the innovators behind the concept encourage you to do whatever you want and to feel free in experimenting with Oumph! That seems like a very Swedish approach I’d say.
Lidell explained to me that the company is striving to make an impact and a drive a change in the way people consume food. Clearly this is not only good for your health but the planet too, and especially in the wake of the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris with the push to cut carbon emissions globally.
In terms of whether the product was competing with other products, the Swede who harks from near Gothenburg explained: “We are not competing…we are driving a category. It’s all about non-polarizing. So when we benchmark we benchmark towards the planetary boundaries where we have to take climate change, bio-diversity, water and land use etc. into account. So we don’t benchmark towards meat when we talk about our lifecycle.”
My Icelandic friend Alda, a singer-turned chef who is set to run her ‘Viking Kitchen’ food stall in London’s Brick Lane, was certainly impressed after tasting the samples and is among those in discussions to take Oumph! More power to your elbow!
About the author: Roger Aitken is a freelance writer who contributes to Forbes Europe (www.forbes.com/sites/rogeraitken) amongst other titles and was a former FT staff writer.