Ready meals with a pulse: Gaia Pulses on sustainability from the outside in

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18 May 2018 --- Dining out, in is pegged at number seven in Innova Market Insights top ten 2018 trends, and in this suit, we have seen the face of ready meals drastically change from plastic packaged, typically calorie-laden curries and pizza. Delivering on this exciting front is London based Gaia Pulses; coined the UK’s first ready meal in GM-free compostable packaging. NutritionInsight spoke to Yolanda Antonopoulou, Founder, about the meals which are made for the mindful, on-the-go consumer.

Gaia Pulses are rooted in authentic Greek recipes that have been “passed down from grandmother to grandmother.” Guilt-free ready meals that are based on plant-protein are the philosophy of Gaia Pulses, and bringing ancient and traditional recipes back to life for a new audience delivers “truth and meaning” for the company’s founder.

Click to Enlarge
Yolanda Antonopoulou, Founder
of Gaia Pulses

Quick, healthy and organic
The company has humble beginnings. Starting as a street food stall, growing into a restaurant and finally, manufacturing healthy, plant-based ready meals for the convenience market. The products are, according to Antonopoulou, filling a gap in the market:

“I saw a gap on the supermarket shelves and wanted to fill it. I was a busy TV producer working 12 hour days in London and I had little time to cook. I was very surprised at how hard it was to find real, tasty food that was also healthy and quick. People are working hard and very few of us have the luxury of cooking our own meals. If you are conscious and you care about what you eat, it's not so easy to survive on triangular sandwiches and tasteless salads.”

“My meals are designed to be eaten with ease. They are made 100 percent with real ingredients, with absolutely no additives, preservatives or chemicals. They are fully organic, vegan, gluten-free and they come in 100 percent GM-free compostable packaging.”

Only exclusively organic pulses from Greece are used for the dishes, as they are grown in ideal microclimate conditions. Concerning the vegetables, only organic, locally grown vegetables are used for better flavor and an increased amount of nutrients. The Extra Virgin Greek olive oil, Aegen sea salt and Mediterranean spices are equally paramount to the recipes.

Such characteristics tick the clean label box that is of ever every-increasing importance to today’s consumer, as well as delivering a protein punch without animal products. 

The growing popularity of new product development on a vegan, plant-based platform is substantiated by new product launch data from Innova Market Insights, with a 58 percent increase in product launches recorded with a vegan claim in 2015 from 2014, with a further 35 percent increase in 2016 from 2015. 

Compostable challenges
The role packaging plays nowadays stretches far beyond simply protecting food products. BillerudKorsnäs, a leading provider of renewable packaging material, noted in its 2018 consumer panel report that 64 percent of global consumers would consider changing a brand for another if it provided a more sustainable packaging choice.

Moreover, packaging is an integral part of a brands identity. In this way, Antonopoulou spent nearly four years sourcing the perfect organic, compostable packaging to match the organic, pulse-based goodness inside.

“The decision to use compostable packaging came almost simultaneously as my idea to make a ready meal. I wanted to produce a ready meal that was 100 percent ethical, sustainable and that would bring our world forward. I never thought of releasing my ready meal in plastic packaging. It took me four years to actually release the product. The food has been ready all along but I was trying to source the right packaging.”

“I waClick to Enlargented my product to be organic and certified by the soil association, and initially, I sourced my compostable packaging from popular compostable packaging suppliers on the market. These are standard companies manufacturing compostable packaging in the UK and many cafes and supermarkets are using their packaging for ready meals, takeaways and coffee cups.”

“However, the soil association did not approve these products because they are made from genetically modified (GM) corn. The soil association did not want to support the GM industry, which made sense to me. So, I started my quest for GM-free compostable packaging. Three and a half years later I found the appropriate packaging,” she adds.

The challenge now is to motivate authorities to match the efforts of manufacturers such as Gaia pulses, who, Antonopoulou states, “are doing half the job.” By implementing compost pick up services in more London boroughs, their efforts will be made worthwhile.

Disposing of the compostable material in the normal trash would be a complete waste of resources, however, if disposed of in a landfill compost site, the packaging would “compost fully in 6 to 8 weeks. They will turn back to the soil which will be perfect to grow more plants and resources,” adds Antonopoulou.

Tapping into such a circular packaging strategy is a notion being adopted by more and more suppliers. To illustrate, Innova Market Insights has reported +34 percent global CAGR in food and beverage launches featuring biodegradable/compostable claims from 2012 to 2016.

Arguably, the modern, mindful consumer is just as concerned by the nutritional content of their food as by the sustainability of the packaging that protects it. Luckily, innovative companies such as Gaia Pulses are delivering solidly on this front.

By Laxmi Haigh

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