Extending Four N Twenty pies into the burgeoning plant-based food category

Marketing and innovation leader at Patties Foods shares the journey the business has been on to build a portfolio of plant-based food offerings under its iconic Australian brand

Reflecting the quintessential Australian spirit has always been instrumental to the Four N Twenty brand. And it’s this very Australian outlook that’s giving the 75-year-old brand licence to expand out of its traditional meat pie heartland into the burgeoning world of plant-based food.

Patties Foods took its first steps to introduce plant-based products under the Four N Twenty moniker in 2020 with a meat-free pie and sausage roll. For a brand that has built its credentials through a meat-based product, it seemed an ambitious decision. However, as Patties Foods general manager marketing and innovation, Anand Surujpal, pointed out, it’s one that’s paying dividends in the form of both sales and new customers.

In recent years, the Patties team had noted emergence of the plant-based trend and growth of international brands such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. What’s more, Deloitte figures suggest that by 2030, Australians are expected to spend between $1.4 billion and $4.6 billion a year on plant-based ‘meat’.

Amidst global and domestic upheavals, FY20 also saw the Australian plant-based meat sector increase grocery sales 46 per cent year-on-year as well as double domestic manufacturing revenue and jobs, according to Food Frontier’s 2020 State of the Industry report.

“We have a rigorous process of data-driven insights – we go global and wide, then take those megatrends and see how they apply to the Australian market. In our data, we found 53 per cent of Australians interested either as flexitarian, vegetarian or as plant-based lovers to try meat-free alternatives,” Surujpal told CMO.

Patties split the market into two key consumer types. The first are more traditional ‘vegetarian’ consumers who enjoy pies and rolls but don’t like the taste of meat. These consumers have been served for many years under Patties Foods’ brands such as Herbert Adams.

The second group are ‘flexitarian’ consumers increasingly looking to evolve their diets by introducing non-meat products into their repertoire. These consumers are the sort that embrace meat-free Mondays and see meat-free products as healthier alternatives.  

“We could see that if we could provide a plant-based solution for someone in that [second] category that delivers against a meat-based texture and that gives them a delicious tasting profile, that’s a tick. That is how we arrived at the proposition for Four N Twenty,” Surujpal said.   

In the back end, significant technical work was done to achieve the right flavours and textures as well as produce a scalable product.

“When you have an ingredient that’s different, how it interacts with the pastry for example, is different. We iterated and iterated on the pie version and did lots of customer and technical testing to get it right,” Surujpal said. “Once we got to that point, we then looked at what would be the best way to communicate this. We worked out the category, then it came down to our brand choices and selections.”

Continuous consumer loop

Initially, consumer testing undertaken a few years ago around the Four N Twenty brand showed outright rejection of a plant-based product.  

“That indicated Four N Twenty was a meat-based brand, don’t go near anything else. It was very clear,” Surujpal said. “But a couple of years later, when we tested once more, the feedback was we have a great Australian brand, why wouldn’t we be inclusive?

“I think this reflects the evolution of Australia and efforts to be inclusive in terms of diversity, gender, ethnicity and more. Our Four N Twenty brand had evolved to that, which meant this plant-based product fitted in nicely to the overall desire for our brand to be inclusive for all Australians.”  

For Surujpal, the shift in perceptions shows how important it is for brands to have a continuous process of going back to consumers to check and recheck brand relevance. By listening and acting on the changing views, Patties Foods kickstarted “the most successful thing we have done in the last 18 months”.

A big win has been bringing new users and a younger customer profile of 29 to 39-year-olds into the category, including those ‘flexitarian’, mainstream consumers. Women are also engaging and according to online profiling, make up 49 per cent of the Four N Twenty audience.

Patties Foods' Anand Surujpal (left) with Four N Twenty brand ambassador, Jonathan BrownCredit: Patties Foods
Patties Foods' Anand Surujpal (left) with Four N Twenty brand ambassador, Jonathan Brown

“It’s also made the brand more relevant, contemporary and opened up new distribution points,” Surujpal continued. “Four N Twenty is a 75-year-old brand but continues to evolve. It reinforces us as Australia’s pie of choice and one that continues to evolve with Australians.

“Four N Twenty represents a warm, comforting eat that satisfies the stomach and the soul. It makes you feel quintessentially Australian. Because the brand is quintessentially Australia, when you have a meat-free version, I can be quintessentially Australian because Four N Twenty endorses it.”  

Consistent brand messaging

Initial marketing and communications for the new Four N Twenty product line started through communications via social and digital channels.

“The messaging had a strong level of shareability and we gained a lot of interaction online,” Surujpal said. “Once we established that platform, we moved it to mainstream.”

Latest efforts see the Four N Twenty plant-based brand positioning leveraging its core ‘ritual of the game’ platform, using various sporting talent across core communications. This includes Jonathan Brown, former three times AFL premiership player.

“At no point does the product feel less than a Four N Twenty traditional meat pie. It’s just that it’s appealing to someone that choose to not eat meat,” Surujpal said. “That doesn’t make you any different, it’s your choice and we have a product that allows you to choose.

“So as far as the brand goes, our approach is very consistent in terms of tonality and how we communicate. It’s just the offering that’s different. At no point did we say because it’s plant-based, it’s somehow less of a quality product. It’s a quintessential pie made by Four N Twenty, with great quality ingredients.”

In addition, Four N Twenty now has its first female brand ambassador, AFL player, Taylor Harris. “Again, Taylor is a great sporting superstar, great character with wide appeal and who is gender agnostic,” Surujpal said.   

For more traditional vegetarian consumers, Patties has been innovating under its Herbert Adams range with new premium flavours and artisan ingredients including vegetarian and vegan options. In its meals portfolio, meanwhile, Patties has converted 100 per cent of the Ruffie Rustic Foods range to plant-based. This has led to a doubling of sales.

“Across all our categories, we have a plant-based offer available, and across the brands as well. It’s forming part of the repertoire,” Surujpal said. In all, Patties Foods has doubled the number of products without meat in their savouries portfolio in the last two years, with those products more than doubling in terms of sales performance during this time.

Today, Surujpal said Patties Foods’ market shares have grown and the categories in which it’s participate in are in growth as well. Plant-based product is now in the double-digit percentages across the full portfolio.

“As brands of scale normalise it, it will further grow,” Surujpal said. “We are happy we have an increasingly balanced portfolio, which sets us up to do more things.”

As Patties Foods’ retail customer partners give plant-based more shelf space and more airtime, they’re helping to generate further growth, too.

“It’s not just product but also availability and accessibility on the shelf plus the normalisation of the offer that’s seeing this evolution,” Surujpal said. “We are sharing with our retail partners lots of consumer insights, we’re doing tastings and testing with them, bringing them along the journey with us. They’re part of our development process. The earlier we include them, the better – they have very powerful insights too.”

As to the future, Surujpal and Patties will ultimately continue to look to changing Australian behaviours, beliefs and values for guidance.

“We are seeing a change and wider conversation in Australia towards cultural diversity and inclusion. We are a diverse country. We have an opportunity to lead and we will try things – some things may not work, and we have a mantra of failing fast and go again,” he said.  

“As a brand over time, we have been at the forefront of being inclusive. If you look at the way we communicate for example, we have ambassadors from Ben Simmonds to Taylor Harris, Steven Bradbury, George Gregan and more. It’s a portfolio of stars that are all legendary sporting individuals in their own right, but who also represent everyday Australians. People recognise those actions and gravitate to our brands.”

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