And by: Rick Weis
It has been just over a month since the Natural Products Expo West, which has given us time to reflect and, more importantly, to recover. If you have never been to the expo, we highly recommend it. With more than 3,000 exhibitors (including more than 600 first time exhibitors) and 77,000-plus attendees, walking through the endless aisles can be overwhelming and exhausting. However, the expo still remains the best place to get a good prospective on the where the food industry is heading and what might be the next big trend.
As we walked the floors, we quickly noticed the abundance of not only meat alternatives but also dairy alternatives. This is not necessarily a new trend; however, there is less of a stigma on such types of foods, and consumers have become more accepting as they realize not only the health and environmental benefits, but also the fact that they actually taste good. People no longer look at you like you’re from another planet when you say you’re vegan or vegetarian, or cringe when you suggest going to a vegan restaurant, which was made evident at the expo.
Going beyond animal product alternatives, we also see the slow movement away from soy as the main alternative, whether it be for meat of dairy replacement. We found it curious that the once leading healthy alternative to meat and dairy is now the ingredient many are moving away from by offering soy alternatives. As we inquired into this further, we were told that consumers and manufacturers have begun to consider soy as a “filler” ingredient. Due to its plant-based estrogens with thyroid suppressing properties, soy is seemingly being replaced with more favorable ingredients. The various meat and soy alternatives we came across consisted of black beans, rice, peas, almonds and, among other things, the exotic Southeast Asian jackfruit. The flavor and texture of the products containing these ingredients were very enjoyable, and it is becoming harder to differentiate between animal-based and plant-based products.
We noted a few exhibitors that have either moved away from soy or have made soy alternative versions:
The first is Beyond Meat, which offers products such as soy-free burgers and meatballs made with pea protein instead of soy protein. Even their products that still contain soy now also contain pea in order to limit the amount of soy, such as their chicken-less strips which were very tasty when coupled with a pretzel bun.
Follow Your Heart
Another exhibitor that always had a long line at the expo is Follow Your Heart, who recently switched to an all-vegan product lineup and is also embracing the movement to limit soy with a soy-free version of the their most popular product, Vegenaise eggless mayonnaise. Additionally, they recently launched a lineup of soy and dairy-free cheeses that even melt and taste like real cheese (we highly recommend the pepperjack).
For many vegetarians, eggs are one of the last foods they give up before becoming vegan (the other is dairy). Follow Your Heart has solved this problem with the launch of another new product, VeganEgg. Once you whip up a batch of this egg alternative, you would hardly be able tell they aren’t real eggs. We encourage you to test it out on your egg-loving friends before telling them they aren’t real eggs; we know we couldn’t tell, and they might not either.
Another exhibitor providing a soy alternative in the non-dairy arena was Califia Farms with their use of almond and coconut milk. They offer a wide array of almond milks, both sweetened and non-sweetened, in addition to their coconut almond blend, all of which will make you consider moving away from animal or soy milk. If you are a coffee lover, they have also created a tasty lineup of almond and coconut creamers, as well as cold brew that has been infused with variations of almond milk, all of which were some of the best we tried at the expo.
If you would like to learn more about the plant-based movement, we encourage you to visit the Plant Based Foods Association site.
One piece of advice we have for you at next year’s expo: don’t try to pace yourself nor limit your walking (because that’s just not feasible) but try to limit your snacking. Everything will look so good, but you need to choose carefully and be strategic or else you will fill up before seeing a quarter of the expo, and you will most likely have stomach pains from the large variety of tasty food sampled. But it is hard to resist all the delicious food! We are still trying to recover.