The company was the first in Europe to commercially market soya milk and dairy-free chocolate, and today is a multi-million pound operation.
According to Adrian Ling, MD of Plamil Foods, the explosion of interest in free-from stemmed from the Millennials and was driven by social media that piqued interest in diets beyond devouring meat and dairy.,
He likens the evolution of the space – once considered niche, but quickly moving mainstream – with his company, which started life as the Plant Milk Society in the 1950s to research leaf proteins.
The name changed in the 1960s to Plant Milk Limited as the company moved into producing soya milk, and then again to Plamil Foods (short for ‘plant milk’) in 1972, when it’s remit extended beyond just dairy-free milk.
Leaving to go forward
“The growth of free-from is absolutely enormous at the moment,” he told BakeryandSnacks at ProSweets, held in Cologne, Germany, earlier this week.
“In the free-from space, the biggest opportunity, I believe, is actually leaving the free from space,” said Ling, explaining that we will soon see so free products being moved from currently dedicated sections onto shelves next to mainstream products.
“So you’re not seen as a free -rom product … but a go-to product,” he added.
“I think this change will happen in the next five years. We will see the market develop out of free-from into many other factors that are associated with the lifestyle choices that people are taking,” he said.
Emphasis on ethical
The Folkstone, Kent-based company – the longest-running plant-based business in the UK – produces its non-GMO, organic and no-added sugar products in a dedicated vegan factory that is free from nuts, gluten, dairy, egg, fish and other allergens, and is powered by 100% renewable electricity.
The company only uses recycled or recyclable materials for its packaging and cocoa certified by UTZ.
“What we have noticed in the past 30 years is the lifestyle choices people are making – not only more adopting free-from, vegan and plant-based diets – but the general trend towards ethical purchasing and wanting to go in the sustainability direction, too,” said Ling.
“We have brought all those values together into our brand – it is no longer niche, nor just for children, nor cardboard tasting – it is something that is really desirable. That is the most important factor that will get the second and third purchase.”
A target realized
Going forward, Ling said he is very excited about the future of So Free Chocolate, which is looking to double its production this year.
“It is the most exciting period we have seen since I started 30 years ago, when we were manufacturing chocolate on a very small scale and all done by hand. Now, we will be on shelf with the big brands,” he said.
“I personally will find that very satisfying, seeing that everything that I have been striving for my whole working life coming to fruition.”