Organic Super FirmTofuRsp: £2.50M&S says: Organic tofu. Dirty FriesRsp: £3M&S says: Fried potato chips in tomato and vegan bechamel sauce, topped with a grated coconut oil-based alternative to cheese. Vegan Potato SaladRsp: £1.50M&S says: Potatoes in a vegan mayonnaise-style dressing with onions and herbs. Rainbow Veg Sushi WrapRsp: £2.30M&S says: Avocado, sweet potato, pickled turmeric mooli and pickled red cabbage with a ginger, chilli and coriander dressing, wrapped in a cooked rice and dried seaweed roll with black sesame seeds. Mexican SupergrainsRsp: £3M&S says: Rice, black beans, quinoa and pumpkin seeds with a sweetcorn and chipotle chilli dip. Cauliflower PopcornRsp: £3M&S says: Deep-fried battered cauliflower pieces with a pot of spicy chilli dip. Mushroom PieRsp: £2M&S says: Shortcrust pastry pie with chestnut, white and portobello mushroom and gravy filling. No Chic’n Chunks and No Meat MinceRsp: Both £2M&S says: No Chic’n Chunks are gluten and meat-free chunks made with seasoned soya protein and No Meat Mince is gluten and meat-free mince made with seasoned soya protein. Moroccan Lentil StewRsp: £3M&S says: Spiced dates, aubergines, carrots and red peppers with lentils and chickpeas. Beet BurgerRsp: £2.50M&S says: Two chickpea, beetroot, green lentil and onion seasoned vegan burgers with rice and carrots. Cashew MacRsp: £3M&S says: Cooked pasta and roasted mushrooms in cashew nut and mustard sauce, topped with paprika crumb. Expert verdict: Jennifer Pardoe, Plant Based to BusinessWhat do you think?With the number of flexitarians growing annually it’s been a long time coming for M&S to step up its plant-based game. M&S is known for innovative, quality food with their own twists, and not for hopping on the bandwagon of every urban food trend. Considering plant-based eating is more of a ‘dietary shift’ than ‘minor trend’, why did it take so long? Quality can’t be rushed, it seems. The timing, however, of Plant Kitchen’s launch couldn’t have been more perfect: during the double whammy of January’s consumer focus on healthier eating combined with the growing campaign of Veganuary. Also, the choice of celebrity endorsements on the shelf talkers has not gone unnoticed. Paddy McGuiness – who knew?Is the range interesting?I love that no one at M&S has deemed that eating plant-based must always be about rainbow colours, light-as-a-feather portions, or virtuous healthy eating 365 days a year.There’s clear division of uber-healthy versus fast food. There are beet burgers and falafels for the healthy weekdays, and ’fun, street food-style’ eats you might have for a weekly treat, such as the Dirty Fries, Cauliflower Popcorn and Mac N’ Cheese. There’s a raft of more traditional staples and sides such as spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, mushroom pie, margherita pizza, potato salad and coleslaw – and there are three healthier reliable ready meals: Thai Green Curry, Roasted Aubergine, and Mushroom Stronganoff with Cauli Rice. There’s something for everyone.What does this tell us about the wider own-label strategy?By investing in a fully-fledged plant-based development, accompanied by perfectly positioned naming and branding, M&S has reasserted its strengths in own-label and has justified the time lag behind competitors. The focus remains on quality, and being in control of guiding and delighting its customers with innovation. Notably, Plant Kitchen is also free from black plastic packaging, using more widely recyclable trays, as well as foil trays and cardboard boxes. How does it stack up against other own-label vegan ranges?Plant Kitchen feels more hearty, grown-up and accomplished. It’s worth the wait. Competitors have either taken an uber-healthy route or they have rushed products to the shelves and left flavour as an afterthought.Also, there is an oversupply of vegan shepherd’s pies and curries under third party brands and M&S has now proven they are a force to be reckoned with.I’d only improve upon the sandwich range, but cold vegetables between bread is a hard sell. I’m sure the product developers will be working on proper meat and cheese alternative sandwiches, given the main ingredient suppliers are soon to obtain their necessary BRC accreditations.Finally, to the one major flaw in Plant Kitchen, which I do hope I don’t need to wait another year for: what’s for pudding? Marks & Spencer kicked off Veganuary by launching a 60-strong vegan own-brand range called Plant Kitchen. The range comprises a number of fresh meals, salads, snacks and ingredients including vegan coleslaws and potato salad – which it claims are high street firsts. To offer deeper insight into the range, we’ve selected 13 of the new products to highlight what they are, what they’re competing against and what they tell us about Marks & Spencer’s wider own-brand strategy. This time, expert analysis is from Plant Based to Business co-founder Jennifer Pardoe. This showcase is part of a new series of articles examining key trends and developments in own-label and has been introduced to support The Grocer Own-Label Accreditation Scheme. Under this new scheme, all the products we review can apply for accreditation at any time, through a programme of continuous consumer testing and approval developed to help retailers and suppliers promote the best own-label products. Find out more here.You might be interested in our other own-label showcases – we’ve recently analysed M&S ready-to-drink cocktails, Amazon’s private-label brands, Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients range and Aldi’s disruptive Lacura beauty range.,No Chic’n NuggetsRsp: £2.50M&S says: Soya-based nuggets coated in a gluten-free crumb. Plant-based decoded: The Grocer to host free webinar
The new college football season promises to be another year of fierce competition with teams ready to give their fans something to cheer about. As in recent years, it also means a changing landscape for many programs.Conference realignment has increased dramatically in the past few years. Since 2010, 32 universities with football programs have shifted to a new conference or become independent. This season is no different, and it’s making way for new competition but also passing by the rich history some programs share and fans have come to love.However, one aspect of college football has gone unchanged and has even grown with the changes: the dominance of the SEC.The kickoff of the 2012 season marks the entrance of Missouri and Texas A&M to this powerhouse conference, bringing its total membership to 14 teams. With six consecutive national championships, one would think it would be hard for the SEC to make a bigger statement about the quality of talent it produces. The addition of these two teams can only produce an even larger pool of top-notch programs hoping to capture a national title.Texas A&M is leaving behind the Big 12 conference, which holds some of its oldest rivalries, for the opportunity to play with powerhouse teams LSU and Alabama in the SEC West. While this transition will be tough, it will also mean its new opponents will play at Kyle Field and face the intimidating Aggie atmosphere it is famous for, a place where fans call themselves the “12th Man.” Unranked going into the start of the season after a disappointing 7-6 record last year, a new conference, head coach, starting quarterback and systems both on offense and defense mean plenty of questions for the Aggies, but in the SEC success is usually rewarded with a more prominent bowl game.Adding Missouri to the SEC mix also brings an end to the great Border War rivalry with Kansas that has roots dating back to the Civil War. A geographical outlier to the rest of the new conference, Missouri is just one of several teams to choose the perks of a top conference. Boasting an 8-5 record in 2011, the Tigers face a much easier schedule than the Aggies. Missouri will likely see a bowl game in the coming years. While neither Texas A&M nor Missouri are favorites in the SEC, both will have an impact in the nation’s most competitive conference.The Big 12 took a big hit this year, but picking up West Virginia and TCU keeps the conference afloat. The move has questionable implications for both teams. Leaving the Mountain West for a conference that puts opponents in a much closer proximity to TCU means better attendance and more ticket sales. However, the program has also dominated its weaker Mountain West opponents in recent years, so the move could very well lead to less overall success on the field.Likewise, the West Virginia Mountaineers would have been a season favorite to win the Big East and qualify for another BCS bowl. Quarterback Geno Smith and 14 other starters returned this year but will face an entirely new set of challenges in the top tier of the Big 12 pack.The conference that appears to be losing most out of this year’s changes is the Big East, which has only managed to retain two of the original programs from the conference’s inception in 1991. One of those teams, Temple, will rejoin the conference after being kicked out in 2004 for underperformance.Also of note, though it will not likely have any big time bowl implications, is the addition of Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada to the Mountain West. Boise State should run away with the MWC title, but next year they will also be running away to the Big East with the Broncos’ departure set for next season (note the geographical irony here, which leaves the door open for the newcomers down the road). Texas State and UTSA will join the deflating WAC, the former home of the Mountain West’s newest members. It will be a just a temporary stay as the teams will jump to the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA, respectively, in 2013.The Big Ten and Pac-12 come into the season unchanged externally and could present the only real roadblock to another SEC national championship. The offensive production at USC and Oregon could give Alabama and LSU a run for their money, and Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State have the potential to earn a spot in the top 10. But it is questionable whether their talent is worthy of a trip to the national title game.So what does this continued migration of teams away from their historic conferences mean? Continued SEC domination, and the strengthening of its name for the possibility of even more additions in the future. But it also means confusion, with the only certainty being added confusion and change in the years to come.Caroline is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. Do you like the recent nonstop rearrangement of college football teams, or would you prefer everyone stay put? Let her know at email@example.com.