Thursday and Friday (8th and 9th September) saw the return of Plant Based World Expo North America (PBWNA). Held at the famous Javits Center in New York City, the third year of the show was an exciting display of innovation and resilience from the industry and the team behind the event.
The second show post-pandemic, PBWNA saw 3722 attendees across 2-days and included new plant based products made from mushroom, mung beans and more. From plant based cheese to shrimp, exhibitors at PBWNA proved that plant based food is getting tastier and more innovative.
Before I jump into my standout brands, I’d like to give a shoutout to a few companies who didn’t make my list, but had great products.
VFC – Simple but effective. The team at VFC has managed to create a simple product that doesn’t disappoint. That in itself is impressive, as creating vegan fried chicken that in my opinion has nothing about it to hate isn’t an easy task.
Miami Foods – I was quite impressed by Miami Foods’ Lincolnshire Sausages. Known for their burgers, I instantly understood their recent rebrand from Miami Burger to Miami Foods. The brand has a lot to offer with a range of products including their Italian Meatballs perfect for food service and retail.
Miyokos – Exactly what I would expect from Miyoko Schinner, an expert in artisanal vegan non-dairy products. It was my first time trying several Miyokos products including cultured butter and liquid mozzarella – I loved them all.
Southern Roots Bakery – Delicious artisan vegan donuts. Loved everything about this brand! Launched and operated by Cara and Marcus Pitts, Southern Roots Bakery has figured out the simplicity of a great tasting vegan treat.
Best doesn’t always mean biggest, but in this case it definitely did. Hands down, VFC and Miyokos.
My standout brands
Once consumers get a taste of this product there’s no going back.
Currently the only plant based cheese company using almond milk across their entire range, Armored Fresh makes a variety of delicious plant based cheese products all free from artificial preservatives. Their products are simply the best plant based cheese I’ve ever tasted. The brand has a variety of slices, spreads and cubes, in all different flavors.
I tasted the vegan cream cheese as well as their cheese cubes. Not typically a ‘cheese as a snack’ person, I was blown away by the texture and taste of the snack-sized cubes. Although my taste buds are very far removed from dairy cheese, Armored Fresh’s cheddar cheese block gave an instant nostalgic feeling.
If you do have the pleasure of tasting these products, vegan or not you will not be disappointed.
With plans to gain distribution in the US, the company says they are ready to scale with the capacity to produce 1500 tons of cheese per year and are currently in talks with distribution partners in the US.
Who says you can’t do multiple things well?
Founded in early 2020 and currently stocked in 2,000+ retail stores across the US with an upcoming launch in Target for both pizza SKUs, Queens (NY) based Blackbird Foods are a great example of a small company that excels at NPD.
The brand debuted their hand-battered wings at the expo which both compliments and elevates their range of already solid products. Made using seitan, the wings are everything you would expect from a great tasting plant based wing – crispy, light and just the right density without the annoying chewiness.
Doing a range of products in separate categories can sometimes be difficult and often brands miss the mark with one product usually lacking behind, but Blackbirds Foods are an example of in-house product development done with care and executed well.
Made using shiitake mushroom stems – a waste product in most countries, Fable uses simple ingredients to make magic.
You can find Fable in popular restaurants such as Beatnic, Gousto, and very soon, STK. Popular names such as the Denver Broncos and The University of Arizona also use the product with more universities waiting to receive orders.
Currently stocked in retail stores in both Australia and the UK, Fable says that a retail product in the US is 18-months away.
Trupo Treats has been on my radar for some time now, but without distribution in the UK I have had to patiently wait for my return to the US.
I tried both their MYLK chocolate and the MYLK chocolate peanut butter wafer bars, and what I liked most about Trupo Treats was that after a day of tasting fried and processed foods, their wafer bars were light enough to not add to that bloated post-meal feeling.
Branded as’ the wafer kings’, twin brothers Brian and Charlie Trupo first saw success with Trupo Treats on Kickstarter by raising $20,000 with over 840 backers.
Since then, the brand has sold DTC via their online shop, as well as increasing their distribution across the US and are currently stocked in over 30 locations.
Food Service First
Retail no longer seems to be the end focus for many brands. Either due to competition, the difficulty of working with buyers, or simply not the strategy for these companies. More and more brands are expressing the importance of working with food service to gain traction.
This is understandable as we are now post-pandemic where many brands were forced to sell direct to consumer, but it was refreshing to hear from companies focused on working with chefs to develop options rather than 100% focused on supermarket listings.
Some of the most innovative and best tasting products have very small teams behind them. The founders and team members themselves are focused on keeping things lean, but scalable with several mentioning the importance of profit and building a business sustainably. On the flip side, I’ve spoken with small brands who have over-hired in areas which creates an unsustainable cycle of continuously raising funds before figuring out their position in the market.
The Future is bright for Plant Based World Expo
As a 100% plant based B2B focused event, PBWNA is simply outstanding. I was taken aback by the magnitude of the event and the consistent buzz in the exhibition hall. A well executed event that provides value to both exhibitors and visitors alike, I believe the event is great for the vegan movement and we should all support it in any way we can. Looking at where the event is today, I am excited for the growth of what’s to come over the next 5+ years and seeing the next event in London late November.