Quorn CEO Kevin Brennan is using PR to ensure sales are as healthy as his products

The boss of the meat substitute brand tells Alex Benady that his products are sitting astride three lucrative consumer trends.

Kevin Brennan: " I see no reason why it shouldn't be a billion-dollar-a-year global brand."
Kevin Brennan: " I see no reason why it shouldn't be a billion-dollar-a-year global brand."

Kevin Brennan probably would not thank you for saying so, but many chief executives would give their second kidney to be in his position.

Brennan is the top man at Quorn, the meat substitute made from fermented fungus, and his brand is sitting astride three enormous, lucrative consumer trends.

"It’s low fat and protein rich, so it’s slap bang on trend for healthy eating. Its low energy inputs [compared with meat] play to environmental concerns. And being vegetable in origin, there is no chance whatsoever that it contains any horse. That’s a big plus with consumers after the meat contamination scandal last year," he says.

But big consumer trends mean big growth targets, and Brennan has been charged by his bosses at private equity firm Exponent, which bought Quorn from Premier Foods in 2011, with doubling sales to £245m a year by 2018.

"In the longer term I see no reason why it shouldn’t be a billion-dollar-a-year global brand," he says. "Meanwhile we are looking for strong double-digit growth."

In 2013 sales increased by 13 per cent and Brennan points to the key role PR will play in ensuring that growth continues. As a former European marketing director at Kellogg’s, where he helped turn Special K into the UK’s biggest cereal brand, he fully understands the subtleties of the marketing mix.

"We’ve increased our ad budget eightfold since 2010 and advertising is great at generating broadscale awareness. But PR is the tool we use to find additional ways to emphasise what the brand is about. Ads can’t build up layers of association. So increasingly we use PR to build the reputation and positioning of the brand."

The new ad campaign starring Mo Farah reframes Quorn as a healthy protein for non-vegetar­ians. "It’s not easy to get people to make changes in diet. It takes time to get people to make that move," says Brennan. "So PR is filling out that message with recipes for healthy dishes in sporting and health magazines in particular."

In any case, with 45 products on the market, Quorn simply does not have the budget to advertise them all individually. PR is a useful way of giving focus to a wider range of the brand’s products.

And because PR is so much more flexible than advertising, Quorn also uses below-the-line marketing to tell the product’s sustainability story. Quorn, claims Brennan, uses roughly ten per cent of the energy input of red meat kilo for kilo.

But there is another vital role for PR. Brennan denies flatly that he is "fattening the company for sale". But he does concede: "The direction we have from Exponent is to keep growing the business," adding: "The quick-turn private equity has gone. We’re just working on this year’s agenda, which is growth."

Despite the powerful environmental argument, Quorn’s complex manufacturing process means that it also has to deal with perceptions, especially in the US, that it is some sort of Frankenstein food, possibly the product of genetic engineering. "The US First Amendment means that people can say anything they like," shrugs Brennan. And they do. Quorn has been accused of causing allergic reactions and even a death in the US. "In the UK you could sue. In the US we use PR to deal with those reputational issues," says Brennan.

But PR is also central to underpinning the longer-term efforts "to build up the reputation and position of the brand among an audience of future investors". "There’s a virtuous circle here," he explains. "As we have invested in the brand, in new products, new production and advertising, people are starting to see Quorn in a different light. We are becoming more PR-able, and therefore we get a better return on our investments."

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