An eye-catching brand and colourful packaging were top of the agenda for Aisling Cullen when she set up Thanks Plants in Dublin at the start of the year.
Inspired by her own interest in meat-free cuisine, Cullen has developed a range of three plant-based sausages made from seitan flour, cannellini beans, pearl barley and other vegan ingredients.
“We can’t really do in-store tastings the way we would have done had it not been for Covid-19. We’ve been relying very much on online marketing for the past seven months,” Cullen said.
“Our packaging has worked well for us in that sense. It’s playful and humorous, and we’ve carried it through to our website, thanksplants.co, and social media.”
The Thanks Plants packaging features a cartoon sausage dog who is trying to escape a pair of hot dog buns by various means.
“On one of the packs, he’s driving off in a car; in another, he’s using a balloon to float away. It makes people smile and that means they’re more likely to pick up a pack in the shop and give it a go,” Cullen said.
Thanks Plants has 30 stockists in Dublin, including the Fresh supermarket group, Strand Fare in Sandymount and Lotts & Co at Beggars Bush.
The range is also stocked in 14 SuperValu stores in the capital. Cullen was one of 15 start-up founders to complete the retailer’s Food Academy programme last May.
“I pitched them the idea that I’d love to launch a vegan meat range. I’d been dipping in and out of vegan food for ten years or so, and then went fully vegan about two years ago,” Cullen said.
The 41-year-old, who is from Killiney in Dublin, always had an interest in cooking and began concocting her own vegan recipes at home.
“My partner will generally eat anything, but he hates the processed vegan meats you get in the supermarket,” she said.
“I started making my own homemade vegan meats using seitan flour and he was gobbling them up. He thought they were really tasty, and I loved them too. That was the lightbulb moment where I thought: ‘Maybe I could do something with this’.”
The Thanks Plants sausages are each priced at €3.99 for a pack of four. Cullen makes them in a production unit at Spade Enterprise Centre in Smithfield, and plans to launch more products this year and next.
“I started with sausages, because they’re just so versatile. You can have them for breakfast or as a hotdog, you can put them in a pasta dish or use them as a pizza topping,” she said.
“The next product I hope to launch is a meat-free burger, hopefully in the first quarter of 2021. After that, I’m looking at a range of meat-free deli meats.”
In the meantime, Cullen has developed a meat-free Christmas roast. It will be available to pre-order online from October 26 and in selected stores next month, priced at €19.95.
“It’s a mock turkey crown made with the seitan flour mix and stuffed with mushrooms, cranberry and chestnuts. It will be big enough for four or five people,” she said.
“I want to keep all of the flavours in the range quite gourmet. That’s the plan for the mock-turkey roast and for the new products I have planned for next year.
“I really enjoy elevating the products a bit. I think you have to do that now with meat-free and vegan products. People want more flavour.”