Our Origin Story and Early Years (2016-2020)

The Plant Based Foods Association was founded in 2016 founded by Michele Simon, who was inspired by the need for a collective voice of the plant-based foods industry.

In late 2014, Michele learned that her long-time friend and colleague, Miyoko Schinner, was unable to use the word “cheese” on her new company’s cashew-based cheeses. This was due to an outdated law in California that benefitted the dairy industry. Realizing that this emerging industry needed representation, Michele set about to organize plant-based food companies so that they too could have a voice in Washington, DC and in state capitols.

Determined to make this vision a reality, Michele engaged plant-based food company leaders to join her on this journey. To help shape and guide the work of PBFA, Michele recruited a board of directors comprised of industry leaders. In March 2016, the Plant Based Foods Association officially launched at Natural Products Expo West with 23 member companies.

Michele Simon
PBFA Founder

Founding Board Members

Jaime Athos Board President
Jaime Athos Board President

Tofurky Company

Martin Kruger Board Treasurer
Martin Kruger Board Treasurer

Follow Your Heart

Nicole Sopko Board Secretary
Nicole Sopko Board Secretary

Upton’s Naturals

Miyoko Schinner Board Member
Miyoko Schinner Board Member

Miyoko’s Creamery

Michael Lynch Board Member
Michael Lynch Board Member

Daiya Foods

The Board, Michele, and these 23 brands were the pioneers of PBFA. Each company believed in the path of exponential growth and vision of the plant-based foods industry, and this created the foundation for PBFA’s post-launch accomplishments and current successes.

In the five years following the launch of PBFA, the association has become the leading voice of the plant-based food industry. Since its inception, PBFA has successfully become a vocal advocate for its growing number of members.

PBFA Launch Video

Michele’s list of contributions to PBFA is significant and includes the following highlights:

  • PBFA’s Founding and Launch: Along with 5 founding member companies (Daiya Foods, Follow Your Heart, Miyoko’s, The Tofurky Company, and Upton’s Naturals), Michele laid the groundwork for PBFA, ultimately launching the Association in the Spring of 2016 with 23 founding member companies.
  • Building a Strong Network of Members and Support: PBFA has grown to 175+ Member companies, 200+ Affiliate and Investor Members, a full-time staff of 7, plus consultants.
  • Policy and Labeling Victories: PBFA adopted voluntary labeling standards as well as lobbied against harmful labeling laws at both the federal and state levels. Michele led PBFA in its legal fights at the state level (some of which are ongoing), with notable wins such as in Mississippi.  
  • Research and Education Fund: Michele led the launch of a 501c (3) affiliate non-profit organization allowing PBFA programs to expand into retail and food service. She built relationships with numerous key funders, raising the necessary support for these programs.

  • Marketplace Development: Michele and the PBFA retail team led the development of strong retail partnerships and commitment to plant-based foods, including merchandising and marketing programs at Kroger and Lucky. The results from these programs and broader industry trend reports have paved the way for expanded retail partnerships and support for plant-based foods that has created numerous opportunities for our members. 

  • Putting Plant-Based Foods on the Map: PBFA has been one of the most active voices in promoting plant-based foods in the media, and at national conferences and events, including achieving top tier placements in publications like the New York Times and countless others.

During Michele’s time leading PBFA, the staff expanded into a team of dedicated leaders and subject matter experts, along with a team of experienced consultants. This team will continue to elevate the work in their respective areas on behalf of our members and the industry. With the foundation that Michele established, the PBFA team is committed to the success of the plant-based industry, and ensuring every member has a level playing field to thrive.

As we look toward our bright future as an industry and an association, our industry is grateful for the contributions and leadership Michele provided in her 5 years as a founding Executive Director of PBFA.


The Plant Based Foods Association has been an invaluable resource for us as a young and fast-growing business. We look forward to building lasting relationships with PBFA and its members.

Aubry Walch

Chief Manager & President, The Herbivorous Butcher